Frequently Asked Question: How Do I Read So Much?

I have a new habit that I truly love: every Sunday night, I post a photo on my Facebook Page of all the books I’ve read that week. Doing this gives me enormous satisfaction.

Because of my also-fairly-new habit of quitting any book I don’t enjoy, if you see a book in the photo, it means that I enjoyed it enough to finish it.  No matter when I started a book, I post its picture for the week that I finished it.

Some weeks I read very little; some weeks, I read a lot. I often read several books at one time (a habit I picked up from my husband).

On weeks when I’ve read a lot, people often ask, “How do you read so much?” Some people have even accused me of…not telling the truth. Which I find hilarious, I must say. If you look at the books pictured, you can just tell that I’m telling the truth.

But here’s the thing: I have no idea when or how I read.

I feel like I have no time to read. In fact, when I was working on Better Than Before, I tried to keep a time log to track when I read. And somehow, I could never manage to pull that off.

I did come up with all sorts of habits to help me read more. I stopped finishing books I don’t like, as mentioned; I do “Study Reading” every weekend; I put reading time on my schedule.

But still, I feel like I’m never reading.

I do know that I get more reading done when I’m traveling.

And I read more when I’m going through one of my periodic obsessions — such as my recent obsession with May Sarton’s journals, or memoirs of people about their dogs, or the novels of Sharon Shinn (still working on that one).

And my reading is also influenced by my writing. I read a lot more when I’m in the research phase for a book; on the other hand, when I’m doing heavy writing or editing, I tend to read less, or to read less challenging books.

I’m not trained as a speed reader, but I must read fairly fast.

I check out books from the library, and I think that helps me keep up my pace; I feel like I have to keep pushing ahead, or they’ll become overdue.

Unlike many people, I almost never read much before I turn out the light. By the time I’m in bed, I’m ready to go to sleep. However, I love to read in bed at any other time of day.

I keep lists of books that I want to read, so I often have an almost panicky sense of wanting to read more, more, more.

For me, reading a book often counts as a “billable hour” –when  it’s a book that supports my writing or thinking, it doesn’t count as pure leisure. It’s easier to justify reading during the work day when that’s true.

So I don’t have a very satisfying answer to the question. I’m unsatisfied by my answer to that question. When the heck do I read? I feel like I never read, and yet I see that yes, books do get read. It’s a real mystery to me.

What are your secrets and tricks for getting more reading done? I’d love to know. And if you want to read more about reading more, here are 13 tips for getting more reading done. You may also enjoy Daniel Pennac’s 10 inalienable rights of the reader.

 

  • I read a lot as well. I’m an artist and primarily work at home, so I’m sure that helps. I read a few minutes while eating breakfast. This year I’ve decided to read the Bible all the way through so that is my morning book. I take a longer break for lunch and read 30 minutes to an hour. My husband and I usually watch a show off Netflix just before bed. If my book is really good, I’ll tell him to watch one of his shows while I read. I also read very fast, but I think the more you read the faster you get. There is also *ahem* bathroom time…but that’s when I read my magazine. I use Goodreads to keep up with my want to read/read/read in what year information.

  • Natalie

    I love reading several books at a time, then I can cater to my mood of the moment. And I borrow a lot from the library, otherwise I could never afford my habit. I read while I’m eating, while I’m watching TV, in the bath, while the kids are doing sport and whenever I need a break (I also work from home). At the moment I’m reading a fantasy fiction novel, a collection of short pieces by over-60s intrepid travellers (I’m 45 btw), a New Scientist magazine and a health magazine. Hmmm, only four, if you count that magazines! Usually there is much loved book I’ve read a million times in there somewhere.

  • Lori

    I looked for the first time to see your FB pic of the books you read last week but couldn’t find that pic….would it have been on the 31st?

  • Rebecca c.

    I am not going to lie Gretchen, i would truly love to have coffee with you! I laughed out loud so many times during the happiness project because it sounded so like me! I recently found myself leaving for a trip and nearly panicking about what books to pack because I wanted to take every single one of the books o have been wanting to read. Oh the joys of bibliophilia. 🙂

    • gretchenrubin

      That’s so nice to hear!

  • annelibera

    I also have several books going at once (currently The Eustace Diamonds, My Brilliant Friend, and work research about silent film comedians) and like you I read pretty quickly. During our last vacation, I realized that something that feels luxurious to me is to read a book when I wake up before getting out of bed. So on the mornings I wake up early, I roll over and pick up my book or Kindle. Speaking of the Kindle, Whispersync for long books is brilliant (Trollope and Dickens) – I listen in the car when I have lots of child driving to do and then when I get home I pick up the book at the same place I left off listening.

    • gretchenrubin

      What a great idea. A terrific way to wake up.

  • Mimi Gregor

    Wait… what? I had to look to make sure this was your blog, and not something that I wrote… because this sounds so like me. Since it seems that the more you read, the faster you can read, I can get through a book pretty quickly. And, I, too, will jettison a book if it doesn’t resonate with me. I also feel compelled to finish a library book quickly, not only because it is due in three weeks, but because someone else may want to check it out, and I don’t want to hold them up. My “library list” — books that I eventually want to put on hold and read — is very long. Even though, theoretically, I could take out 99 books at a time, I think it would be rude to do so, as not even I could read that fast. That’s just being piggy, as others may want to read them, too.

    The main difference is that I love to read in bed before I turn in. It’s much more difficult to fall asleep unless I’ve had my reading time.

    I also use spare moments to read: while eating alone, while waiting for something to finish cooking, in a waiting room, etc. Even if I may not have enough time to read the main book I have going, I always keep some periodicals on hand (also from the library) that have short articles to read. Reading is an obsession with me!

  • michaelmelcher

    Gretchen, your speed and devotion to reading is an inspiration to us all, including those of us who already read a lot. Own it! I think some people just read really fast. My elder sister has always read about twice as fast as I do, all the way back to childhood. But I still read a ton, mainly because (drum roll please), I love reading. Periodically I will try to convince myself to watch more television via streaming (since apparently this is the Golden Age of Television) but TV seems so boring and slow. I would rather re-read a Stephen McCauley novel than watch anything on Netflix or HBO (except maybe “Veep.”) Incidentally, one blessing of living in NYC is the SUBWAY. I am always reading something on the subway, and all my friends from California who visit become great book readers for the time they are in NY. But then they return to their suburban lifestyles and endless driving of cars and stop reading. Sad for them.

    • gretchenrubin

      So true!!

  • joanna

    I love print books and my kindle, but audiobooks do the most towards helping me read a lot. If you add audiobooks to some of your low focus tasks like cleaning, working out or commuting it’s not hard to add an extra dozen books a year.

    I find having books in a couple of different genres on the go at the same time helps. That way I can easily switch to something lighter if I’m tired or reach for something more challenging if I’m in the mood for that.

  • Marie-Claire Ording

    You have inspired me to post a picture of my monthly book pile on FB! I love to read in bed, both morning and evening, but I have also started scheduling daytime reading time. I go on topic binges: this month’s seem to be on home clearing and downsizing, Mariology, and meditation, with a couple of novels thrown in for good measure! Also, my son and I read a scientist’s biography every month and compare notes along the way, e.g. Newton, Galileo, etc., very enjoyable!

  • Caroline Starr Rose

    I adored The Rights of the Reader. Donalyn Miller has written several great books that mirror nicely Pennac’s rights (They’re aimed at teachers, but others can certainly benefit, too!): The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child and Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits.

  • Randi Shelton

    Reading has been a serious hobby of mine since childhood. I have no qualms about not finishing a book I don’t like. If I don’t like it, I just don’t finish it… Simple as that. I often have several books going at once and will read certain books over and over. I belong to several book clubs as well. I often read at work on lunch breaks. With audiobooks so portable and prevalent, it’s easier than ever to devour a good book anytime anywhere. Happy reading!

  • I love reading! You never know what new skill, piece of knowledge or super-power you might pick up from a good book. I’ve found that I have to balance fiction and non-fiction books otherwise I burn out on one or the other and stop reading altogether for a while. I fit my fiction reading in by listening to audio books. That way I “read” and be entertained while doing mundane tasks like doing my hair or making supper.

  • millions2

    If you fall in love with a book, you will always find the time to read it. Probably more than once.

  • SweetiePie54

    I read on the way to and from work since I take the train and bus. I also read during my lunch break. I’m a pretty fast reader so I get through quite a few books during the week. I love to read so I’m happy that I have that 2-3 hours a day to read without invading the time I set aside to be productive and get stuff done. 🙂

  • My secret for reading more is to listen to audiobooks. I listen in the car, while I’m doing house work or yard work, while I’m on the treadmill. I have recently “read” four Sharon Shinn books at your suggestion. Well, the author is at your suggestion, but it seems my actual list books does not match yours. She has written a lot of books!

    • Kate Ostrem

      Audiobooks in the car is my trick too! I don’t have a very long commute so it takes about two weeks to get through a book, but it makes any driving I need to do SO pleasant. This doesn’t answer the question of how you read so much, Gretchen, since it’s just listening, but it’s been a good way for me to cram in a couple more titles per month. Oh – and my mom taught me to never go anywhere without a book. A lesson that I have passed on to my kids. In fact, at my daughter’s basketball game the other night, my second grade son had his nose in Harry Potter #5. Another parent was amazed that he could read in that noisy gym. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, I guess!

  • I have a 1 year old baby… only recently i was able to resume reading. I feel myself again (I am a Science Fiction addict). Speaking of babies, I wish you wrote more of how you managed everything when your girls were small. You are an inspiration to me at so many levels, that I am sure I would find precious insight in a post on the respective topic.

  • Melanie

    Reading is my escape so I always make time. I read on breaks at work, waiting at appointments, during solo meals. There are certain tv shows I watch, but I definitely spend more time reading. I love my Kindle and Audible books saved my sanity while healing from an eye injury last year. Many times I have 2 or 3 books going at once, depending on mood or location. I also don’t finish books I’m not enjoying. On to the next! ☺

  • Kelly

    Listening to audiobooks is a great way to read more. I wish I could do it, but unless the narrator is excellent, I can’t do audiobooks. Unlike a lot of people, I can also only listen to them when I’m commuting to and from work–it’s the only way I can actually focus on the book (otherwise, I start doing other things and will stop listening entirely).

    I’m a librarian, so luckily, reading is what I do. I tend to read more/faster if I only read one book at a time, but it’s rare that I only read one book at a time. One of the biggest keys for me is knowing what I’m the mood to read. I’m a mood reader, so if I know what I’m in the mood for, I am much more likely to read more and faster; otherwise, I end up forcing myself to read things I’m not enjoying (or that I might enjoy when I’m actually in the mood for them).

  • Danielle

    Gretchen, I think that the secret probably comes does come down to the fact that you read quickly. I, too, feel as though I don’t have enough time to read, but somehow I go though a stack of books every week. I am a fairly quick reader and usually have a book near me that I pick up even if it is just for a few minutes at a time. That adds up.

  • Jade Spilka

    I think it is great that you read so much. Reading your books inspired me to read more. Your excitement for books has definitely got me more excited about books! I was wondering how you found time to read so much after seeing your Instagram posts, actually. I usually find time to break during winter break or summer break, but it is rare during the school year to read a book for leisure.

  • RethinkHappy

    Gretchen, I love the idea of the “billable hour” when reading books that can be considered research or gathering information about what you are currently working on. Any good recommendations for reading as a fellow writer about Happiness?

  • JJ

    I’m an audiobook listener as well. I spend too much time in the car although I listen at other times too. I hate to admit it but I read physical books way less than I used to because of “reading” the internet. I read more when I travel by myself. There is something about my reading that causes my husband to need attention and I can’t stand the disruption! I am a fast reader although I didn’t realize it until I was an adult. I always thought it was because my mother read to me growing up. Recently though, my father became ill and started reading more. He is a super fast reader so maybe there is some genetics involved! 😉

  • Megan

    I would love it if you posted your books on Goodreads! I love seeing the statistics there and it’s easier to incorporate books I’m interested if I see them on your profile.

  • Rebeckah Gillins Watkins

    I always carry a book in my bag and read whenever I have to wait for anything. A few minutes here and there add up to a lot of books. I also read very fast, but I don’t skim like many people assume fast readers do. You mention that you are currently reading memoirs about people’s dogs. “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” is written as a dog’s memoirs about his person. It is funny, tender, and full of life lessons. Written by Garth Stein, or by Enzo the dog. Take your pick.

  • Michelle Kunisky

    Audiobooks are key for me too. I can multitask. I also love Goodreads which gives me the opportunity to cross it off a list which is a great motivator for me. I love lists.

  • felisdarkmoon

    I don’t like this new tendency which I call “sport reading”, when people read just to can update their goodreads, FB or other social accounts. I still believe into the read and analyze what you read, in understanding the text and draw conclusions. This is what is precious into the books for me.
    For my The Happiness project I’ll comment on my blog, not every book that I read, but only those which are really impressed me.