How a super reader gets through 52 books a year – News Couple
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How a super reader gets through 52 books a year


For a certain subset of the population, there is nothing quite as comforting as a New Year’s resolution.

These are the people who can’t solve the problem, the people who happily sit back and watch as others work their way through weeks of self-denial in January.

I’m usually with those spectators, but this year, the desire for self-improvement in a particular area struck me. In 2022 I would like to read more books.

That realization arose last week when I came across a seemingly impressive phenomenon in a pandemic year of distraction: lists compiled by people who managed to read at least one book a week last year.

“I learned a lot” about the year-long journey as he met his New Year’s resolution to read 52 books in 2021, Tom Calver, data journalist for the Sunday Times, wrote.

Some made him cry. Others left him sleepless. Being a numbers person, he ranked them all in fun order, starting with Tom Wolfe vanity fire and ends with against nature, an 1884 novel he found “miserable and completely useless”.

Calver’s List surfaced a day after a friend in Australia, Richard MacGregor, took to Facebook to post 52 mini-reviews of the books he had read last year.

McGregor, a former Financial Times journalist now at the Lowy Institute Study Center in Sydney, has been writing these lists for a while. As usual, the latter was full of tales gleaned from epic page-flips, like this one from the more than 1,000 pages in the latest volume of Stalin’s biography of Stalin Kotkin.

“What a man. Well done,” shouted Stalin, when it was said of Hitler in 1934 on The Night of the Long Knives. “He knows how to act!”

Stories like this are one of the reasons I envy McGregor and Calver. It is a reminder of the joy, knowledge, and absolute benefit that can be gained from reading books.

As American author and library owner, Ryan Holiday says: “Reading is the shortest and most rooted path to total self-improvement.”

Holiday sends out a monthly list of recommended books to 250,000 subscribers to his newsletters and says he reads “about 250” books a year, putting him in a daunting group of super-readers. Canadian scholar Vaclav Smil reads up to 90 novels, biographies, art and history books annually, as well as work’s own art books.

Everything pales before Tyler Coen, the American economist whose annual list of recommended books is one of the best-read items on his famous economics blog. He claimed that on a good night he could read “five whole books”.

This is impressive, even if not every page is read. But the question is how do they do it? Where do these voracious readers find time? What do they give up?

Each undoubtedly has its own strategy, but here are some of the most popular ways to reach a massive readership.

  • rise early. Quinn gets up around 6.30 am, by which time McGregor has already been up for an hour.

  • Be tough. If you hit a bad book, put it aside. Don’t give up on it, Quinn says. “It can hurt people.”

  • Read anywhere. Big readers do this on the bus, on the sofa, in bed, and while walking the dog through audiobooks.

  • Skim non-fiction. Imagination requires reading document word for word. It’s more important to understand, not to read most factual books, says American author and consultant Peter Bregman. This can often be done by limiting yourself to the table of contents, introduction, conclusion, and a few pages from each chapter.

  • Read books simultaneously. It’s a good idea to have several of them on the go at once. The trick is to change it. Don’t try to experience two huge dates at the same time.

  • Read varied. Don’t just stick to fantasy or realism. Switch authors, eras, and topics.

  • Read what you don’t know. It’s more fun.

  • Read in groups. Don’t stick to one book about Marie Curie. Read a few of them

  • Disconnect. Calver had to put his mobile phone into airplane mode sometimes. Smil went without one for decades.

  • Stay committed. Netflix is ​​possible, but not at the scale many of us are used to.

  • Finally, keep in mind that a lot of big readers tend to stick with books that are in one volume. Stay away from Proust.

pilita.clark@ft.com

Twitter: @pilitaclark.com





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