A self-confessed bookaholic who read 225 books last year shares tips on how to increase your reading capacity
In 2021, I read 225 books or over 80,000 pages, depending on your preferred metric. Rather than being surprising, this is just the culmination of my interest in reading.
Like any skill, I’ve worked on it—whether that’s making sure I can access books, looking at when, how and what I read, or considering how I can best reflect on what I have (or haven’t) enjoyed.
It's often noted that reading and collecting books are two different hobbies—and buying books can get expensive. Charity shops are one solution, especially if you aren’t looking for recent releases.
The emergence of online charity marketplaces makes it even easier to find books when you’re looking for something specific. If you’re struggling for space, why not return books to charity shops after you’ve read them?
Libraries are also a great resource. However, it can be tough to find time to visit and the pandemic has often shortened their opening hours. There’s a simple solution. Many libraries now have online offerings, from e-books to audiobooks to magazines, all accessible via apps like Libby. All you need is your library card.
You can even request books and they’ll be automatically downloaded to your device when ready. It’s a great way to support libraries and authors (they still receive a payment when books are borrowed) while saving space and limiting your spending.
This does tie your reading ability to your phone’s charge and could increase your screen time. But it’s also a great way to associate reading with something you already use, alongside providing free access to books. The library system also encourages immediate reading rather than an endless “to be read” list—if you don’t use it, you lose it.
Once you’ve got your books, the next step is reading them. That’s not as easy as it sounds, as anyone with shelves of pristine, unread books can testify.
Building a new habit into your daily routine can be tough. James Clear’s method of habit stacking is a good solution. Just as reading on a phone or tablet associates reading with a device you already use, habit stacking involves using activities you already do to build reading into your daily routine. For example, brushing my teeth prompts me to read before bed. This causes a new habit to emerge and it’s relatively easy to keep this up.
Often, though, it’s not simply a matter of practicality. It’s easy to feel we aren’t reading “properly” and this can arouse complex feelings.
To someone still traumatised by secondary school English, the world may seem to be full of dull classics. While there’ll probably be a piece of canonical literature for everybody, there’s no benefit in forcing yourself through a book you hate. Instead, find something you think you’ll enjoy and then look to expand your horizons.
"To someone still traumatised by secondary school English, the world may seem to be full of dull classics"
In recent years, I’ve re-read a children’s book series each summer, ranging from Alex Rider to A Series of Unfortunate Events. Often these remain enjoyable in themselves. They’re also an opportunity to reflect on how my perceptions have changed. The typically disabled villains of Alex Rider, for example, went unnoticed as a child but now I find this pattern troubling. Regardless of its social capital or place in the canon, any book can provide a rewarding and enriching experience—and if you pick something you enjoy, you’re much more likely to finish it.
Non-traditional formats like audiobooks, similarly, often cause worry. It’s not the way we’ve been taught to read—so is it “real reading”?
There are some clear advantages. The slower pace allows more time to digest information. This is particularly relevant for non-fiction (where it can be tempting to skim pages of facts). Audiobooks can also make texts more accessible, particularly for those with busy schedules or who struggle with the act of reading.
They can also be more impactful. My experience of David Olusoga’s Black and British was so powerful because of Olusoga’s narration, adding another layer of emotion to his unflinching and vivid history of Britain’s troubled past. Audiobooks provide another tool for readers, allowing them to alter their approach to a book.
If a 2022 resolution is to read more, keeping track of your progress can be a source of encouragement and motivation, reminding you how far you’ve come. I also love seeing what I tend to read rather than imagine myself reading— I never realised how much I skewed towards modern literature.
GoodReads is the most established tracker with the largest community while newcomer The StoryGraph offers beautiful graphs of monthly and yearly reading. Analogue trackers like reading journals are also an alternative if you want to get offline. A middle ground is Excel trackers; they also tend to be more customisable as you choose the data you’d like to analyse but do require more upkeep.
However, tracking can also be being detrimental; like all social media, there’s a tendency towards unhealthy comparison. If it aids your focus on reading experience, then go for it. But, if it causes disruption, there’s no shame in not tracking your reading and considering more holistic measures of enjoyment.
"However, tracking can also be being detrimental; like all social media, there’s a tendency towards unhealthy comparison"
Ultimately, that’s all there is to trying to read more. It’s easy to over-theorise whether reading after making your morning coffee or your evening tea will best optimise your reading journey. Read what feels natural—whether that’s comforting, challenging, both or neither—in a way that feels right. The important thing is simply to start and go from there.
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