“The Reading Challenge”
Five weeks ago, I noticed that I hadn’t been reading much lately. I just never seemed to be in the mood. My excuse was that working all day and raising four little girls by night is exhausting and there’s no time or energy left for reading books.
But reading books is really important to me, it’s something I’ve always loved doing, and so I resolved to find a way to make it work for me. Somehow.
“The Reading Challenge” was born!
I committed to reading a book a week for one month. That’s four books in total. At the end of the month, I would evaluate my results and decide whether or not I wanted to extend the challenge for a full year.
The first book I started reading was “The Righteous Mind” by Jonathan Haidt.
I’m happy I started with this book because I found the ideas in it extremely stimulating and even, dare I say, paradigm shifting. It changed the way I understood why some people gravitate towards one end of the political spectrum and other people gravitate towards the other end.
While I was reading that book, I noticed that there was plenty of downt time during each day that I had time to read, but that reading just wasn’t technically possible: specifically, while driving and while exercising.
Hence was born Reading Hack #1: Audiobooks!
Using the free phone app Libby, which works with the Los Angeles Public Library system to provide free loaner books to library card holders, I downloaded my first Audiobook, “The United States of Trump” by Bill O’Reilly.
Not a great book, I give it only a 6/10 (sorry, Bill), but it really warmed me up to the medium of Audiobooks in general. I listened to that book while exercising in the mornings and also while driving and I found I was able to concentrate and absorb what was being presented.
One of the great features of audiobooks is that you can listen to them at the speed you prefer, either slower or faster than usual. I found with this particular book that I could listen to it at 1.5x the recorded speed, without losing comprehension at all. This greatly shortened the time it would take me to “read” the entire book from 8 to about 6 hours.
Reading Hack #2 was born: High-Speed Audiobook Playback!
The most amazing thing about reading these two books was that I quickly came to the realization that reading a book a week wasn’t a realistic goal:
It wasn’t too much, it was too little!
So I upped my weekly reading goal to 2 books per week and decided that I would read two books simultaneously: one audio book plus one ebook.
I created an ongoing list with all the books I wanted to read so that I wouldn’t waste any time trying to figure out what to read next; I would simply skip from one book to another without losing time searching between books.
Here are some of the books I put on my list:
The order of reading wasn’t crucial. The important thing was that I was only going to read books I could get for free on Libby and I had to be flexible with the order because particular titles weren’t always available when I wanted them; sometimes I had to wait for my turn in the queue to be called.
Over time, my list added due- and completion-dates, ratings, type of book, etc., and here’s what my list looks like as of today, November 22, 2019:
Amazingly, I’ve stayed on track with (at least) 2 books per week and have read a total of 9 books in the one month period.
As you can see, I’m splitting my reading into two categories: non-fiction and fiction. All the fiction works are older books; I want to read or re-read the classic books which had been assigned to me in High School, before I was mature enough to truly understand them. “Brave New World” was my first work of fiction, and I was surprised to discover that the book contained several very mature and controversial themes which I definitely wasn’t ready to grasp at the age of 15.
I have since decided to extend my reading challenge to a full year, which means I’ll be reading (at least) 104 books over the next year. I feel like I’m back in college.
One of the things I love about ebooks is that if I read something I want to save, it’s easy to digitally highlight, then copy and paste the text into another document, to either save or share with friends. The Kindle reading app has a slick feature which allows you to turn a highlighted passage into a nicely designed picture-quote which you can email or text; it looks like this:
One of my frustrations with Audiobooks is that it is difficult, nearly impossible actually, to save and share passages that you like. I recently came up with a hack for that:
Reading Hack #3: Use both the Audiobook and ebook at the same time!
When I hear a passage of the Audiobook that I like and want to save, I switch to the ebook version (also borrowed for free on Libby), search by keyword for the passage I like, then copy and paste it to be saved and shared.
Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.
Henry David Thoreau
7 Things I’ve learned to far:
- If I start a book and don’t care for it, I bail on it quickly. No long and silent suffering for me. This happened to me only once with Ben Franklin’s “Autobiography.” I found the old fashioned prose hard to digest and just wasn’t feeling it. Next!
- Now that I’m reading a lot, I’m doing a lot less Twitter scrolling and Youtube video watching. Which is fine with me. Those time-wasting activities are great for the content providers whose readership numbers I am enhancing, but not that great for me. Good riddance!
- I am trying to always be reading one Fiction and one Non-Fiction book at the same time. I find that this provides a sort of welcome “balance” to my reading.
- My reading list evolved over time. If an author I really like mentions another book which he/she really liked, I add it to my list and try to put a hold on it on Libby.
- I’m trying to avoid overtly political books. My politics are pretty much set in stone, they’ve stayed pretty much the same since my college days. And I’ve found there’s not that much of a point in simply reinforcing what I already believe. While there are a few exceptions to that already on my list, I’m doing my best to read non-fiction works which offer me the possibility of some sort of powerful paradigm change, that enable me to see the world in a different way than I currently see it.
- I’m learning a lot of new vocabulary words. One of the great features of ebooks is that when I come upon a word I don’t know, I simply highlight it and the definition automatically pops up. New words like quixotic (unrealistic and impractical), defenestration (throwing something out a window), anodyne (inoffensive), peroration (concluding part of a speech) and gallimaufry (a confused jumble of things), have entered my lexicon.
- Reading is the best way to challenge myself intellectually. Nothing else seems to even come close in terms of stimulating my mind.
To my dear readers, if I have any, here’s a LINK to my ongoing reading list, which I will be updating each week.
“How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book. The book exists for us perchance which will explain our miracles and reveal new ones. The at present unutterable things we may find somewhere uttered. These same questions that disturb and puzzle and confound us have in their turn occurred to all the wise men; not one has been omitted; and each has answered them, according to his ability, by his words and his life.”
Henry David Thoreau
ADDENDUM: December 6, 2019
One of the things I enjoy most about reading is the collecting of quotes I find inspiring and memorable. The great thing about reading ebooks is that it’s easy to copy and paste the great quotes, share them with friends and save them for later re-reading. Here’s my ongoing collection of QUOTES that I find powerful, useful and inspiring, I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!
ADDENDUM: December 28, 2019
Reading Hack #4: Watching the Film versions
I’m starting to experiment with watching the movie versions of some of the books I’m reading. The first film I watched was 1984 starring Richard Burton, which was released in 1984. Unfortunately, it’s not a great movie, and I wonder how anyone who has not read the book can possibly appreciate the film. But it was interesting to see how the director was going to translate the book into a much shorter story. More later once I’ve watched more film versions from my book list.
ADDENDUM: June 12, 2020
Milestone reached: I just completed my 50th book since I started this reading challenge on Oct 20, 2019, a little over 7 months ago. Here’s the list:
A couple of things I’ve learned over the past couple months:
- I’m achieving better comprehension and absorption of material from the audio books than from the ebooks. I always try to download both the audio and ebook versions and switch between them, depending on my mood. During my morning hikes I listen to the book, while in the evening at home I’ll continue the same book by reading it. Right now, I’m preferring the audio books.
- Some books I just can’t listen to at an accelerated speed. I tried listening to The Success Principles at 1.15x speed, which is only slightly faster than normal, and it just didn’t work for me; I had to go back to normal speed.
ADDENDUM: July 21, 2020
I had five realizations this morning while listening to my current audiobook:
- Libby really is a revolutionary invention. I can’t get over the fact that so many audiobooks and ebooks are available to me totally free of charge. I’m finding that reading so many books is giving me a depth and breadth of education that I could only dream about when I went to college in the 80’s. Young people today have so many resources for learning that we simply not available to my generation.
- Where do Podcasts fit into the scheme of things? Lately I’ve been sprinkling my reading hours with listening to some choice podcasts. But I must say that overall, I’m not a huge fan of podcasts as compared with listening to books. To me, a podcast is a very diluted and time-consuming form of learning. I’m not saying that I don’t learn anything from podcasts, I’m just noticing that I’m learning a lot less per hour of time invested, than I am with books. Podcasts entail so much fluff, so much babble, so much “fat on the bone” that one has to endure just to get to a few choice morsels of learning, whereas books have been worked on for years, have been edited by a team of professionals to make them as short, concise and to the point as humanly possible, while still providing a beauty of expression. In my book, there’s no contest between books and podcasts when looked at from the point of view of investment of time and attention. That having been said, below this section are my favorite podcasts right now.
- It’s crucial to have both the audiobook and ebook at the same time. As I’ve gotten more experienced with high volume reading, I’ve come to the realization that for me it’s crucial to borrow both the audiobook and ebook at the same time. When I just listen to the audiobook alone, there is no practical way for me to save quotes and passages which I find powerful and worth saving. When I have both, as I’m listening to the audiobook and I hear something I find valuable, I stop listening, switch to the ebook and search for a phrase from the quote I want to save, find it immediately in the ebook, highlight it and save it to a picture file. Takes seconds and is super valuable!
- Abandoned books. When you look at my completed reading list, what you don’t see is the fairly large number of books I start and abandon before finishing. I only list the books I actually complete. I’ve becoming ruthless with abandoning books as soon as I notice they are not “sparking joy,” as Marie Condo would say!
- Audiobooks carry me along in a way ebooks don’t. I’ve noticed that listening to audiobooks enable me to more easily get through difficult material without getting as bogged down as I might it I were reading the book instead. For example, if there’s a very abstract or difficult to understand part of a book, this might be the point in reading where I get bored and give up on the book. But when listening to an audiobook, the book plows forward with or without my understanding and I’m able to just let the words flow over me with less effort, and I’m able to wait it out until the books naturally comes to a more relatable topic.
FREE CHAPTERS (added August 11, 2020)
When I’m reading books, once in a while I come across a chapter which is so good, I immediately want to share it with friends. I say to them, “don’t read the whole book, I know you won’t anyway, but please, just read this one chapter, I promise you’ll love it!”
With that in mind, I decided to create one spot where my friends can have access to all my favorite, single chapters from some of my favorite books. Here’s a LINK to that place I store pdf’s of those awesome chapters!