Excerpted from How to Read More
“I just sit in my office and read all day.”
This is how Warren Buffett, one of the most successful people in the business world, describes his day. Sitting. Reading.
He advises everyone to read more, and that’s certainly a goal we can all get behind.
How fast do you read?
Staples (yes, the office supply chain) collected speed reading data as part of an advertising campaign for selling e-readers. The campaign also included a speed reading tool that is still available to try. Go ahead and take the test to see how fast you read.
The Staples speed reading test includes data on how other demographics stack up in words per minute. According to Staples, the average adult reads 300 words per minute.
- Third-grade students = 150 words per minute
- Eight grade students = 250
- Average college student = 450
- Average “high level exec” = 575
- Average college professor = 675
- Speed readers = 1,500
- World speed reading champion = 4,700
How much do you read?
How many books do you read a year?
A 2012 study by the Pew Research Center found that adults read an average of 17 books each year.
The key word here is “average.” There are huge extremes at either end, both those who read way more than 17 books per year and those who read way less—like zero. The same Pew Research study found 19 percent of Americans don’t read any books. A Huffington Post/YouGov poll from 2013 showed that number might be even higher: 28 percent of Americans haven’t read a book in the past year.
5 ways to read more books, blogs, and articles
1. Read for speed: Tim Ferriss’ guide to reading 300% faster
Tim Ferriss, author of the 4-Hour Workweek and a handful of other bestsellers, is one of the leading voices in lifehacks, experiments, and getting things done. So it’s no wonder that he has a speed-reading method to boost your reading speed threefold.
His plan contains two techniques:
- Using a pen as a tracker and pacer, like how some people move their finger back and forth across a line as they read
- Begin reading each new line at least three words in from the first word of the line and end at least three words in from the last word
The below image from eyetracking.me shows how this concept of perceptual expansion might look in terms of reading:
The takeaway here: If you can advance your peripheral vision, you may be able to read faster—maybe not 300 percent faster, but every little bit counts.
2. Try a brand new way of reading
Spritz and Blinkist take unique approaches to helping you read more—one helps you read faster and the other helps you digest books quicker.
First, Spritz. As mentioned above in the speed reading section, there is a lot of wasted movement when reading side-to-side and top-to-bottom.
Spritz shows one word of an article or book at a time inside a box. Each word is centered in the box according to the Optimal Recognition Point—Spritz’s term for the place in a word that the eye naturally seeks—and this center letter is colored red.
Spritz has yet to launch anything related to its technology, but there is a bookmarklet called OpenSpritz, created by gun.io, that lets you use the Spritz reading method on any text you find online.
Here is what OpenSpritz looks like at 600 words per minute:
The Spritz website has a demo on the homepage that you can try for yourself and speed up or slow down the speeds as you need.
Along with Spritz is the new app Blinkist. Rather than a reimagining of the way we read, Blinkist is a reimagining of the way we consume books. Based on the belief that the wisdom of books should be more accessible to us all, Blinkist takes popular works of non-fiction and breaks the chapters down into bite-sized parts.
These so-called “blinks” contain key insights from the books, and they are meant to be read in two minutes or less. Yes, it’s a lot like Cliff Notes. Though the way the information is delivered—designed to look great and be eminently usable on mobile devices so you can learn wherever you are—makes it one-of-a-kind.
Here is an example of the Blinkist table of contents from Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things:
I’m sure we can agree that it’s a lot easier to read more when a book is distlled into 10 chapters, two minutes each.
3. Read more by making the time
Shane Parrish of the Farnam Street blog read 14 books in March, and he tackles huge totals like this month-in and month-out. How does he do it?
He makes it a priority, and he cuts out time from other activities.
If you look at it in terms of raw numbers, the average person watches 35 hours of TV each week, the average commute time is one hour per day round-trip, and you can spend at least another hour per week for grocery shopping.
All in all, that’s a total of 43 hours per week, and at least some of that could be spent reading books.
4. Buy an e-reader
In the same Pew research study that showed Americans’ reading habits, Pew also noted that the average reader of e-books reads 24 books in a year, compared to a person without an e-reader who reads an average of 15.
5. Read more by not reading at all
This is quite counterintuitive advice, and it comes from a rather counterintuitive book.
How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, written by University of Paris literature professor Pierre Bayard, suggests that we view the act of reading on a spectrum and that we consider more categories for books besides simply “have or haven’t read.” Specifically, Bayard suggests the following:
- books we’ve read
- books we’ve skimmed
- books we’ve heard about
- books we’ve forgotten
- books we’ve never opened.
3 ways to remember what you read
Train your brain with impression, association, and repetition
A great place to start with book retention is with understanding some key ways our brain stores information. Here are three specific elements to consider:
Focus on the four levels of reading
Mortimer Adler’s book, How to Read a Book, identifies four levels of reading:
Keep the book close (or at least your notes on the book)
Take good notes.
Scribble in the margins as you go.
Bookmark your favorite passages.
Write a review when you’ve finished.
Use your Kindle Highlights extensively.
And when you’ve done these things, return to your notes periodically to review and refresh.
(Kindle has a rather helpful feature online, too, where it shows you a daily, random highlight from your archive of highlights. It’s a great way to relive what you’ve read in the past.)
It’s not important which method you have for note-taking and review so long as you have one. Let it be as simple as possible to complete so that you can make sure you follow through.