Date Tags fun / books (5 min read)

This year, I read 104 books. My goal was 100. This is probably the maximum number of books I can read and still get something out of. The last year I read 100+ books was 2014, and that was - oh man - a very good year for reading. I discovered some treasures like Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Asterios Polyp, Spam, The Everything Store, the first set of Michael Palin's diaries, and forgotten sf classic Floating Worlds. Hooo man, such book nostalgia. What a year. This year has been - meh, pretty good. Fine. Whatever.

Anyway, people sometimes ask me how I read so "fast". I don't think I read very quickly: it's more like a marathon, using many different vehicles, than a sprint. But I love reading, and I love talking books, so here are my current reading habits:

1. Audiobooks

This year, 60+ of the books I read were audiobooks. I discovered audiobooks in 2016 when I had a super long commute (1.5 hours daily) and, following the dramatic and emotionally wringing Election 2016, I needed a break from podcasts. Rather than staring into space or awkwardly avoiding eye contact with other commuters (SO AWKWARD), I decided to start climbing my mythical book mountain - a mountain I had been building since the late 90s. Could it be summited?! Audiobooks made the dream... well, a possibility.

Also! Around the time I started audio-reading, a friend of mine said two things which further changed my reading life:

  1. "You should 'speed' listen." Yes! My attention actually wanders less if I speed audio up to 1.5x or 1.75x. I think audiobook narrators read intentionally quite slowly (and enunciate really well!), so 1.5x - 1.75x is just a bit faster than normal speech. This can get a bit weird for highly produced audiobooks or radio plays, where there's music and sound effects, but meh - it's not a huge deal. At these speeds, I can get through a standard ~300 page book in 2-3 days, usually.
  2. "There's no such thing as chore time anymore, there's just podcast time." I don't love tidying, but I love a tidy space, and I realized that I could crush all my daily TODOs if I was jamming to Tversky and Kahneman's bickering or sobbing uncontrollably over Eleanor and Park's teen romance. Hell yeah, laundry time! Does that tub need a scrubbing?! LET'S DO THIS.

Also, exercise is another notable chunk of time when I get my audio-reading jam on.

Buying wireless headphones made things even easier - now I could cook to Trevor Noah, jog to Ursula K. LeGuin, and deadlift to Kim Stanley Robinson. Glorious!

2. Technical books

My mythical book mountain now has a considerable second peak devoted to computer science and machine learning. Enter... O'Reilly. And Manning. And No Starch. I read these at work, mostly.

3. Graphic novels

Graphic novels are great - gorgeous art, witty writing, some really out-there storylines. I didn't start reading graphic novels until a few years ago, when a friend shoved Y: The Last Man into my hands (well, external hard drive) and, lo! A great love was born.

4. Digital sabbaths

Digital sabbathing merits its own post, but the basic idea is: no screens of any kind for 24 hours. After some debate, this includes Kindles. I have a pile of dead-tree books that also need a-readin', and digital sabbaths are often the only times I actually get to them.

5. Always be reading

As I said, it's a marathon, not a sprint. I always have at least one book in circulation and I'm always (audio-)reading. My favorite feeling is those brief moments being in between books - "OH BOY WHAT SHALL I READ NEXT" - and I love curating and re-ordering my various wish lists.

6. Cut the chord

Another thing that I would recommend is getting ruthless about DNFing (did not finish-ing). Life's too short to plow through terrible/boring books, and languishing in that "must finish boring book" limbo is never worth it.

7. I already bought these books with my taxes

It was this year, 2017, that I discovered that: ho my God, you can borrow audiobooks and ebooks from your local library! So magical! I use the Libby app now and max out my holds.

8. Social motivation, i.e. Goodreads, i.e. ego (let's be real)

Most book clubs I've gone to have been wine-and-snacks clubs, really, but Goodreads! Ah! How that website has motivated me. I love seeing what my friends are reading. I love showing off what I'm reading. I love writing my reviews and I love reading my friend's reviews. Hell, I love reading my old reviews. It's like a diary, with books! It's like a book club that never ends! It's inspiring, and fun, and the ego-boost of seeing my friends like one of my reviews, or seeing myself inch closer to my annual reading goal, is big. BIG. I think that's also the reason I can't get many of my friends to do Goodreads: the most common complaint is, "Oh, I don't read enough." I always tell them not to think of it as a race, but - well - I guess there is a performance aspect to it? I dunno. I just love writing reviews.

9. Insatiable/ravenous curiosity

I often overestimate books and expect most of them to change my life. A few do! A FEW DO. The human brain releases the most dopamine (and gets addicted quickest) when rewards are randomly dispensed, so there you go: this book may change your life. Who knows! Pull the lever!