Since I started tracking my reading progress at the beginning of the year on Instagram stories, I’ve had so many people respond and say something along the lines of, “Wow! I can’t believe you’re reading so much!” And yeah…30 books in three and a half months is a lot.
Logistically, I’ve been able read a lot because I’m a fast reader and I listen to audiobooks on 2x speed for the most part, and even listened to a recent book on 2.5x speed because the narrator was clear and easy to follow. But still. 30 books is a lot.
I think reading is one of those things that a lot of people—myself included!—wish they did more of. One of my goals in 2020 was to read more books; that’s why I started counting them on my Instagram story and, in many ways, why I started this blog as well. And I’ve definitely read more. Like I shared on my story when I hit book #29, my goal when I started on January 1st was to read 30 books in 2020. In the entire year. I hit book #30 on April 20th, and honestly, if I stay quarantined another month, who knows how many books I’ll get through this year? I’m a little scared of what that number looks like?
I think we’ve gotten to the point where 30 books in this time frame feels a little overwhelming for people who are just trying to get into (or get back into!) reading. And yes, I spent most of my childhood curled up in a chair with my nose in a book, shelves filled with favorite books and books that would become favorites soon enough; for this girl, 30 books feels a little more like a fun challenge to complete rather than a daunting task with no hope of achievement. And actually, my 4th grade teacher did a “Book Bingo” where we filled out a square for every book we read, so I’m realizing this scenario might be more real than I first thought. So far quarantine has looked a lot like that too: a lot of time on the couch, escaping the confusion and overwhelming-ness of a global pandemic by challenging myself to hurry up and get through my “to be read” stack so I can hurry up and order more books. (Don’t worry, I’m still doing my job too!)
But I think back to me in high school and college, who read so much dense material for class that reading for pleasure didn’t really exist anymore. After 100 pages of a textbook, the idea of reading more was a chore, not an escape. For that person, 30 books in less than four months is an overwhelmingly large number. And frankly, reading just wasn’t fun anymore. In the words of Marie Kondo, it didn’t spark joy.
When I made it a goal to read more in 2020, it wasn’t because I wanted to brag about how much I’ve read on social media or because I wanted to spend more money on books that I don’t really have a place to put in my small post-grad apartment. It was because I wanted to rediscover the feeling of losing myself in a book, to lose track of time as I fell in love with characters and settings and plots. I wanted to fall in love with reading again.
It wasn’t an immediate switch. I didn’t suddenly wake up on January 1st and say, “I want to sit around and do nothing except read!” To be fair, on January 1st I didn’t envision that three and a half months later that all winter and spring sports on my own campus and everywhere else would be cancelled and I would be quarantined, working from home while a global pandemic ravaged the world. So yeah, some unexpected things happened in that time frame. Like many other hobbies that take practice, reading more takes practice. It takes dedication! I had to settle myself back into it and remind myself why I loved reading in the first place.
At the beginning of the year, I set a goal for myself: read for 30 minutes every night before bed. I did not do it every night. Between spending time with friends and working athletic events, I probably hit this goal 3-4 times per week. But that was okay. Like I said, it wasn’t an immediate switch. I didn’t always want to read 30 minutes a night, especially if I wasn’t particularly enjoying the book. I was also frustrated that the fast pace at which I’d been able to read as a kid was somehow gone. But as I read more and more, the pace came back, and so did my ability to read for no “purpose” other than pure enjoyment.
So you want to read more?
I’ve been able to finish this many books so far this year because I’m always reading one book and listening to another on Audible. I got into audiobooks when my mom and I would drive between Minnesota and North Carolina twice a year to move me in and out of college and we needed a way to pass those 18 hours that was not a playlist with the same 30 songs on it, over and over (we tried that the first time). In non-quarantine times, I listen to audiobooks in the morning as I’m getting ready—while brushing my teeth, doing my makeup, making breakfast, and walking to work. It ends up being about an hour or two of audiobook time a day, and I listen on 2x speed, so books rarely take me longer than a week to finish.
If you’ve never listened to an audiobook or podcast on 2x speed before, the first time you do it it might sound like weird, halted gibberish. In one of Audible’s recent updates, they added a ton of additional intervals between 1x, 1.5x, and 2x speeds, and I’ve found that this is the best way to “train” yourself to listen on a faster speed. Start at 1x, then listen for a while at 1.2x, before going to 1.5x, 1.7x, as slowly as you need to while still understanding everything. Soon enough you’ll be listening to books on 2x speed without missing out on anything that makes audiobooks so great: the inflection from the narrator, the pauses, the varied voices, and more.
I’ve also found that it’s a LOT easier to listen on a faster speed if you’re wearing headphones. For example, with a recent book, I was able to listen to it at 2.4x speed with headphones, but 1.7x without headphones. The quality is much better with headphones in, and the sound will be clearer and easier for you to follow.
So start there. Start small. Don’t look at how many books I—or anyone else, for that matter—have read this year. Like anything else (working out! learning a language! baking!) my goals shouldn’t be your goals, and your goals shouldn’t be mine. Start with 30 minutes a night, three times a week. Maybe it’s 15 minutes. Maybe it’s 15 pages. Start there.