Dr Yang Zhang’s lab does genome structure sequence modelling and analysis. Over the past
Six rules I follow to read a minimum of 50 books a year and how to properly set your goal
Only read what you want to read. What you’re interested in. This might sound easy, but it's not, or you would have done it already. But it is simple. These are the key rules you need to follow if you’re going to read all the books you want to read this year. They’re all important.
Read what you like
When people say they don’t read much because they don’t like reading. They’re being ridiculous. In this day and age, you read all the time; you can’t not like reading. If you know someone who says this they just don’t like what they are reading. But that doesn’t have to be the case. I guarantee there are books out there that you would enjoy reading. You just need to know what you like and how to find them.
If you know what you like, this part is easy. What you like will not change just because you are reading a book. What do you like? There’s a book for that. Read it. Books were doing what apps are doing now, for centuries. There’s a book for that. Are you a shop assistant who plays football on the weekend? There are books for you. Are you a games developer who gardens in their spare time? There are books for you.
The books you like might not be organised how you expect. Don’t be put off. First, think fiction or non-fiction? If you’re looking to learning something, about something, about someone, really about anything, you’re looking for non-fiction. If you’re looking for a story, a tale, to read for entertainment, you’re looking for non-fiction. These are not hard and fast rules, but until you know what you like, they’re good enough. Then think about what you like. If you’re a game developer, maybe you like the escapism of games, look in the sci-fi or fantasy sections. If you like the structure you can impose or the technical challenges, look at the auto-biography sections or in the classics section. I could do this categorisation all day, Tweet at me if you want my help.
Now that you have found your section, you need to get the book. If you’re new to the section, pick one that’s highly rated with lots of reviews. Find your local book store, buy it, and check the back of the book. Look at how many pages there are, work out what 10% of that is (multiply by 0.1), and read that many pages. If you get that far and you don’t like it. Stop.
Put the shit down
There are more books to read than there are stars in space! That’s not quite true, but there are a lot of books. If you don’t like the one you are reading, stop. There are more. There are better books waiting for you. Go back up to the first section of this article and give it a read. There are a few easy ways to know if you should keep going:
- You didn’t notice you reached 10% until you passed it.
- You started to feel feelings.
- You want to know what happens next.
- It’s giving you ideas that you're filing away in the back of your mind.
- You’re realising you were wrong about the earth being flat.
Until you know what you like, if none of these things happen, put it down. Donate it to charity, sell it, use it as decor so your friends know you read. Whatever you want. But now you know, and that counts as one. 1 book down.
That’s right. If you read a book but didn’t like it so stopped reading, you finished reading that book. Tally it up, leave a review and look for something new. It might be worth buying more than one book at a time, especially early on, I want you to find what you like as fast as you can so you can gobble up books like me.
More might well be merrier.
If you’re only reading one book at a time, it better be a good one. If you’ve gotten past the 10% mark, you should know whether or not you like it. If you don’t, put it down. But let’s assume you do. That’s great, but as we said in the beginning, we spend so much time reading every day, on social media, on cereal boxes, on Netflix that it’s okay to get tired of reading. So its also okay to get tired of reading one book. Even if you’re enjoying it, move on to another.
I usually have a fiction book and a non-fiction book going at any one time. I find non-fiction books really interesting, but I can’t read them quickly. I pick it up when I feel like it, read a chapter, and give myself time to think about it. But I don’t stop reading, I just grab my fiction book the next day and read that instead. Unless it’s really good, don’t feel like you can only read one book at a time. You wouldn’t have the same food every day for a week; you shouldn’t have the same book.
Authors are people too. Mostly. I’m not sure about Kazuo Ishiguro; he could be a minor deity. But today being a person means you’re online. They have Twitter or Facebook. Maybe they have a YouTube channel or their own website. Go and find out. Send them a message, tell them you like their book, let them know you’re reading it. Whatever. More often than not an author (especially a fiction author) will have a place where you can chat. A Reddit forum, a Twitter thread or maybe even their own discourse. Go, say hi. If they’re not there, other fans will be. People you can talk to about the book, ask what they thought, give your opinions, discuss how you might use what you learnt from it. Whatever tickles your fancy.
Book clubs are great, but only really if everyone enjoys the book. Comment sections or discussion threads are like a book club per book, except sometimes the author comes! Look through YouTube or GoodReads; odds are if the book your reading is good, there will be interviews with the author online. Find out a bit about them; why they wrote the book, what they’re doing next, maybe they’re doing a signing soon?
Timing is something.
It’s not everything. But it’s something. They say when you’re building habits that one of the most important things is consistency. I don’t know if that’s true, I don’t build habits, I read books. But I do read books at more or less the same time every day. There are exceptions when I read more often in a given day, but the time is set aside.
For me, this is before I go to sleep. Whether I get into bed at 9 pm, or 10 pm or 11 pm, I always read at least a chapter before I go to sleep. More often than not, because I put shit down, I end up reading more than one chapter because I want to know what happens. And sometimes I fall asleep with it on my face and have to work out where I got to the next day.
Reading is good for you. I’ll do a whole other post about that soon but know that however much sleep you miss because you read a chapter or two of your book it's not wasted. If anything, it's beneficial.
Do the maths, then set a goal.
Don’t panic. It’s not hard maths. It just helps you get into a groove and understand how you read a little better so you can meet your goal. These are the simple steps to get your numbers:
- Pick up a book. As long as its not a picture book it really doesn’t matter which one but would be better if you like it.
- Look at a clock, write down the time, and read.
- Read for as long as you like, enjoy yourself, want a tea?
- When you're done or take a break, look at the clock again and write down the time.
- Work out how long you were reading for and look at how many pages you read.
- Divide the number of pages you read by the number of minutes it took you to read them. This will give you your ppm (pages per minute) number. If you read for longer than an hour, you can do the same to find your pph (pages per hour) number.
Now you can set your goals. Just knowing these numbers is useful, it will help you make a better guess at how much you can read before you go to sleep and how much reading you can get in on the train. If you are, or you become, a hardcore reader, there are some cool tricks you can do with these numbers to optimise your reading habits. But that’s another blog post.
To set your goal, we do a bit more maths. This is a really rough estimate, and we’re going to underestimate a little bit to be nice to ourselves. A novel is considered long if it is 400 pages or more so we’ll use 400 pages. If your pph number is 50 and you plan to read a book for an hour every night before you sleep, then it will take you 400/50 (pages/pph) hours to read a book. That’s 8 hours. Great, so you could read a long book in just over a week. How many books a year? There are 365 days in a year; if you take 8 days to read a book, then you can read 45 and a half books a year.
That’s 45 books that are considered long, not taking into account holidays where you can read more, power outages where you can read more and not accounting for the shit you put down. Crack on. After a couple of months do these checks again, if you’ve stuck to it you’ll find you’ve gotten quicker.
If you’re struggling with the maths or want help working out these numbers comment (if you can?) or Tweet me, I’ll do it for you.
Don’t give me excuses
People have said to me:
- ‘I don’t have the time.’
- ‘I’m too busy.’
- ‘I get distracted too easily.’
- ‘The world has gone insane I can’t focus on books for goodness sake!?!’
These are excuses—even the last one. Reading books is good for you and its great fun. If you don’t have time, or you're too busy, just read before bed. Just half an hour, just 15 minutes, you’ll be better off for it. If you get distracted easily, you’re reading the wrong book. Find a better one. If you can’t focus on a book because the world has gone insane, go read something Obama wrote, he’ll make you feel better.