How I went from barely reading to reading 40 books per year

Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash. Source

Background

Many people tell you about how they were a total bookworm as a child, and they only stopped reading in high school or college when they no longer had the time. That was not me. I didn’t read a lot as a kid; I never read Harry Potter, or Lord of the Rings, or any of the other stuff my friends never stop talking about. I sort of have the excuse that I immigrated halfway across the world to North America at age seven, but that still left me many years to learn English and read a ton, which I just didn’t do. My favorite book from childhood was The Giver, but I didn’t read it per se…it was read aloud by my fourth-grade teacher Ms. Barbieri.

A spark

One of the groups I joined in college formed a book club after we graduated in 2019, as a way to keep in touch and continue to learn outside of school. Every time we’d select a book for the month, I’d get all excited, order the book on Amazon or find it online, and either not start it or never finish it. After one or two rounds of this I stopped trying.

A slow evolution

So did this one book make me realize I loved reading after all and I must read 40 books this year? Not quite. But it started a snowball effect. Once I remembered the power of fiction — once I relearned that you can literally be transformed into another world for a few hours in your day with nothing but words on a page — I began to pursue books with a little bit more zeal. I added more books to my list, I began to delve into different sub-genres, and reading became more and more something I consider crucial for a good day.

Onward

In case you need a little bit of selling on what’s nice about books, here are some of my favorite things about reading as a hobby:

  • It requires minimal resources and setup: literally just a book and a light source. It’s also a stable cost — unlike other hobbies or interests that may require increased spending as you get more specialized (e.g. producing music), you will spend about the same on books no matter how far you go with them.
  • It never ends. Not even close. There are always way too many books to read.
  • It leaves you feeling refreshed, energized, curious. Any good book leaves me feeling this way.
  • Reading books is a great way to leverage hedonic adaptation. With material goods, the story goes like this: you consume a good; well-being improves; then you stabilize and want more. This can quickly become unsustainable (see: species called homo sapiens on planet earth). You can think of the knowledge and stories you obtain from books as a “cognitive good”: you absorb ideas/stories, it feels great, then your well-being stabilizes, and now you want more ideas/stories. But then you can just consume more — there is virtually no physical limit!
  • Relative to short-form content (news, opinion pieces), the nature of the medium leaves much more room for in-depth exploration of a topic and less room for noise and distraction.

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