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How to read 100 books a year (and still have a life) (forrestbrazeal.com)
79 points by forrestbrazeal on Dec 4, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 68 comments

So, a word of clarification.

Some comments are expressing either disbelief that one can read 100 books in a year, or that one would have to read them so fast that one would get nothing useful from them.

In the post, I talk about the importance of varying the difficulty level of what you read.

Of these 100 books, not every one would meet the standard of this community as "difficult" - after all, I read five books in the juvenile/YA category, one of which (Stranger at Green Knowe)I consider in the top 10 books I read all year.

Of the really deep, difficult books, I tended to take a longer amount of time and return to them repeatedly.

For example, Russell and Norvig's "Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach" was assigned in a grad class. I read it over the course of a semester from January to April (and took multiple tests on it).

Did I get every possible insight from every book I read? Of course not.

Did I get more than if I'd not read them at all? Yep.

For the "Keep track of what you read" section I'm surprised there's no mention of https://www.goodreads.com/. It's a fantastic webapp for tracking books you've read, along with the ones you want to read, and what your friends are reading. Some of the reviews are very well-written and insightful.

They also have a "reading challenge" where you can set a target number of books to read that year (in this case, you could set it to 100).

If you'd rather not provide Amazon with even more of your personal data, LibraryThing (https://www.librarything.com/) is a great alternative.

I use Goodreads due to the social aspect, but I did try LT a while back and it was pretty good.

Argh, didn't know Goodreads was acquired by Amazon :/ thanks for saying so

There's something that seriously skeeves me out about giving my reading habits to someone who can be subpoenaed by the US government. At least I know my local library and independent bookstore will fight for my rights to read freely even if subpoenaed by the government. I have zero confidence in an Amazon owned corporation to do so.

So... don't do it.

I don't, but I feel there's a legitimate reason to bring this up anytime anybody suggests things like Goodreads in order to have a discussion about the privacy implications of using Goodreads.

+1 for goodreads. Started using it a year ago,and I really like it.

I really like goodreads. If you do the yearly challenge it tells you your progress for the year. Also, love the Kindle integration where your notes sync to it.

I find that the true challenge is not reading, but internalizing what I have read. I often find that books that I read eventually get summarized to a few pithy statements in my memory (if I am lucky). Most of the body is gone after a few months. I sometimes wonder if there is any point in reading books (particularly non-fiction) if you will eventually lose most of it.

I have tried using Anki to capture my knowledge, but it's not easy to stick to it regularly, and it may even be an overkill. Two of the reading projects that I wish to complete are Campbell's "Biology" and Myers' "Psychology". These are not difficult books, but tax the memory quite heavily. I have covered significant chunks of both books earlier, only to give up in the middle and move on to the next shiny thing. Next year I wish to resume at least one of them and cover them systematically with the help of Anki until I have truly mastered the content. I don't think you can undertake reading 100 books like these if your intention is to truly imbibe the content and make it available to you in an active form.

Also, some books contain not just information, but skills. Mathematics and programming are more like swimming or riding a bicycle rather than studying History - you are learning to do stuff, not just absorb data. Readings like these where there is significant amount of doing in addition to the reading itself will also be slower than what the post mentions.

Think of it like training data for a neural net. An image classifier is impacted by every image was trained on even if it does not remember it and was little changed by a specific image.

I think it's worthwhile to simply be exposed to an idea even if you disagree with it because it may shape how others think. It took me a while to understand that the religious mindset is based on the idea you're accessing a source of truth. I am used the Bayesian mindset of updating probabilities, so it's a very alien mindset.

PS: It's often the little ideas that really stick with you. Legally marketing something as "The Best" is a meaningless statement, so subtracting it from marketing copy is interesting. "These are --- ---- steaks!" Ha Ha, true enough.

You don't need to memorize the books - likely the information you gained is there without you even realizing it.

Re-reading is always an option as well.

I have this same issue, but the point is not to "have a bigger tree trunk," the point is to "spread your branches further" - if you need to expand upon a single topic further, you can delve into a book you've already again with a pad and pen and start taking real notes, and get similar books to explore the topic further.

As for simply remembering what you've already read is about, I find leaving a quick review on GoodReads takes care of that. I can go back and look over my review when I'm listing books to recommend to people.

I tend to feel the same as you regarding the body of the book being gone after a while. However, I do feel like every book I’ve read colors in my view of the universe just a bit more. Over time, I think it adds up to more than we might think. Also, I would imagine that our subconscious minds are gobbling up a lot of the major points of these readings, to be used at a later date. It’s all going into the intuition mill!

I hear you, but I also fear that these sort of intangible benefits that we think ought to exist might not exist after all. When I read a book I definitely feel that I have accomplished something. I even take notes. I certainly acquire bragging rights! But when I actually try to pin down exactly what I have learned from the book after a few months, I am mostly lost except for a grand overview of the subject.

I think I might retain only around 10% (if that) of a good book that I read. I wonder if I might have been better off reading just the 10% in the first place (provided I can get the right 10% somehow). You could cover 10 times the number of books at that pace with nothing lost!

For sure! At best I’ll usually be able to recall the main idea of the book, and a few supporting examples. I still think it seeps into our minds in other ways :)

Sounds like you might enjoy Blinkist. It’s a paid app that gives you the highlights of a book. I tried it and thought it was interesting, however, I actually enjoy reading entire books. So it felt like I was doing CliffsNotes for stuff I enjoyed reading about. Also, you’re depending on the service to pick out what’s important. What resonates with them vs what resonates with you could be two different things.

I think we get too hung up on trying to wring every last drop out of life. If you like reading, read. The important themes you come across in different books will naturally reinforce and connect amongst themselves.

I totally agree with you and have been on a similar mental journey on the last few years. I used to read phenomenal amounts.

But I’ve found myself very disillusioned by the reading of books, to the point that I don’t actually do much of it anymore.

I’m too distracted by the fact that it seems pointless. Or I’m dispirited by the thought that to make it not be pointless requires large amounts of school-like study (notes, self testing, regular revision etc.)

I’m not sure what to do about this. I don’t think not reading is a viable life strategy, I just don’t quite get it right now.

Perhaps it might help to deflate your expectations. I look at books, like I look at tv shows or movies. The long term usefulness of consuming might be questionable but that does not make the act of watching / reading any less worthwhile. I actually think that reading less is good if you were reading prodigious amounts. When I read A LOT it's usually an indication of a lack of balance in some aspects of my life that I try to correct. If you want to ease back into reading without taking it too seriously go for the fluffy page turners. There's tons of non-fiction books too which are engaging and quite readable. Anytime somebody tells me they don't read a lot, it's usually because they are not reading anything that interests them.

I also have this problem. I've seen a few sites around that take reference notes. sites like blinkist.com, or even personal book notes like sivers.org/book

I like the idea of these sites, my brother and I have been working on our own version for fun: https://bookbreakdowns.com

But I feel like just trying to write your notes in your own words by memory forces you really to digest the material, and is way more useful than any notes someone else takes. I'll often find that I can't even write down what I just read 5 minutes ago.

I think for nonfiction books because so many expound similar concepts, that if you get 1 or 2 good ideas from a book, it was time well spent.

At least with Campbell, you can find corresponding study guides from the publisher filled with ways of testing your knowledge which are amenable to SRS.

For books in general, you might find Mortimer Adler's How to Read a Book useful.

I seems that reading 100 books a year as a goal will filter out lot of books that might be too long/difficult. For example. Would you take "Gödel, Escher, Bach" into your reading list when it's obvious that reading this book with some understanding retained will take lot of time? Instead of 100 books a year I would go for some specific author and his works, trying to read everything by them if possible and let these authors lead you to next authors etc. etc.

For example. I was interested in psychology, this led me to Carl G. Jung, this led me to gnosticism, this led me to Philip K. Dick etc. And now I'm mostly reading his fiction.

This seems like an organic path of discovery, instead of constructing artificial list of possible books that might interest you.

I would just point out that "Gödel, Escher, Bach" is one of the books he read this year. As is Anna Karenina, which took me several months of devoted attention to read.

Those are two of my all time favorite books. I don't know anything about you but I bet you are a great person!

Yes and the mere fact of reading doesn't imply an engagement with the content, which can't be forced. One can imagine hearing the words of one hundred audiobooks playing at 1.5x speed in the background, but, like an inane radio talk show, not listened to very closely. Then there's Sturgeon's Law, which implies that most reading is just skimming/searching for the good stuff.

Besides, Arthur C Clarke boasted that the true intellectual reads a book every day :-/

I can't read 100 enormous books in a year - not without making serious life changes. But I can read 20 or 30 really big, impactful books (examples from this year: Godel, Escher, Bach; A Secular Age; Anna Karenina; Chernow's life of Washington) and 70 other books that may not be as impressive, but provide significant value for a shorter investment of time. I'd put books like Cal Newport's "Deep Work" in this category. It's not an either/or proposition. You can read for quantity and quality.

Agreed, I was on a Charlotte Bronte kick this year - can't read her novels in 2 or 3 days.

Establishing an evening reading habit and using 1.5x audio books are great tips. I would personally add/tweak:

* Don't try to pick/buy a book during your reading time, otherwise you will spend your time deciding what to read. Have a queue of books already bought and ready to go.

* Don't feel bad about skipping around or stopping a book that you aren't getting anything out of

* Buying books is a very cheap investment so I don't worry about the cost or trying to get things from the library. If you take one key idea away from a $15 book, it is well worth the cost.

* Getting recommendations from people is useful, but often there are books that I really enjoy because of the order I read them in or the melding of ideas in two books I am reading at the same time. Context and background do matter so let your own interests guide you.

(Disclaimer: I only read about 30 books per year)

I like your tips, save I don't listen to audio books and I do get most of my reading material from my public library. In my case, I'm fortunate to have a great library with a substantial budget for new books and an easy to use reservation system to request books that aren't available at the time or are on order.

I'd add the following tips

* Don't narrow your focus onto books whose topic you know and are already interested in. If you expand your range to related topics or completely new topics, you'll benefit greatly.

* Don't weigh yourself down with meaty, dense books. Read some lightweight fiction just for the pure enjoyment. I got into reading detective stories a couple years ago and am delighted working my way through authors like Connelly, Grafton, and Parker. There are many more waiting to be explored, as well.

* Make time during your day to do nothing but read. Schedule it like any other activity for which you budget time. Never believe that it is wasted time.

* If you have young children, read to them. I can't stress this enough. Give them a good habit they can follow for the rest of their lives.

I was spending a few grand on paperback books a year (1+/day). Jumping to 15$ books adds up faster than you might think.

Is there a post, "How to read 1 book a year, work 70 hours a week, and still have a life"? I think I need to read that one. If I'm going to read a book, it's going to be read carefully and contemplatively.

One way to help with this is to take reading breaks when stuck on a problem. If I am working on something and I can't seem to figure out the issue I stop and pull out my book or Kindle and read for 5-10 minutes to let my brain ponder. Usually, by the time I get back I have figured out the problem. Works better than just staring at the problem for hours. Gotten through about 30 books this year using that method, while also bootstrapping my business.

For anyone interested, the full list of 100 books (actually 101) is here: https://forrestbrazeal.com/2017/12/03/the-100-books-challeng...

I'd appreciate thoughts and additional recommendations!

>...and random trips through goodwill as inspiration

I'd be interested in a little more rigorous of an algorithm when choosing books to read. Given that, particularly for history books, there are a good deal of "duds" out there, do you have any recommendations for finding books? Like, you said goodreads, but my goodread recommendations are either NYT Top ones (which at one point had 50 shades of grey - not exactly a list guaranteeing quality) or a bunch of "intelligently sourced" recommendations which means entirely YA fiction because that's what half my "read" bookshelf contains (been adding books to goodreads for a while).

How much time did you spend on Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid? Be honest.

I think I read about 50 pages a night for a couple of weeks. Definitely a heavy book and difficult at times, but worth taking slowly.

"Read before going to bed."

By doing this you'll train yourself to associate reading with sleep, and it may get harder and harder for you to stay awake for long after cracking open a book at night.

I'd call this a feature, not a bug. Going to sleep at night is good. If I can come up with a reliable life hack for putting myself to sleep at night, maybe I can start getting up earlier and reading in the morning!

Yup! I often have trouble falling asleep, but reading a book before bed has helped tremendously. Clears out all the loose ends and thoughts in my head.

Ditto, though I have to mainly read fiction. I've tried reading non-fiction before bed and I think too much about the text which stymies actually falling asleep.

This had been done for generations to kids and we are all fine :)

Maybe we should stop trying to maximise the number of books we read a year and focus on reading, critiquing, and meditating on a few good ones ?

I would be happy to read a single volume from knuths art of computer programming book per year

I do something similar... though I haven't had reason to set myself a goal. I usually read 2-3 books per week, though. (I count a re-read, because some stories are mental comfort food.)

Actually I have books that I read in different places. There's a copy of All The Songs (the story of every Beatles song) in the bathroom, for instance. I only read a few pages at a time... which is just fine with me. I wouldn't be inspired to bring that book into the living room. On the other hand, I read cookbooks most often when sitting at the dining room table. (And I read a lot of cookbooks.)

This. > Did I have to give things up in order to find 100 books’ worth of reading time? Sure – I didn’t watch as much sports this year, and I wound up deleting the Facebook app off my phone.

To meet this quantity you will by definition have to read mediocre / non-new (i.e. new in the Alan Kay sense) stuff. Books that are mind-augmenting require time commitments that make getting to 100 impossible in a year. Any decent math text cannot be read in a week (or month even) and take time from reading other books to get to 100.

German philosopher Schopenhauer remarked that it is much better to read less then more exactly for the same reason - quality over quantity.

Apart from this setting such goals as 100 books a year is a real killjoy (as if todo lists had not enough items to check off already).

I'm just asking and trying to get a better understanding, but how can someone read roughly a book every four days for a solid year? I'm reading one book about every 30 days.

Sure, I can read the 400-page sci-fi novel in about a week, but I recently started to read a history book, and my page reading rate dropped dramatically.

For junk reading I often read over 100,000+ words after work. At a casual 400ish wpm that's only ~4h. 8 hour workday and 15 minute commute means I have around 6 hours most evenings.

I'm guessing the author doesn't have children.

I read every day and I get through probably no more than 1 or 2 books per month. Obviously books can have extremely variable lengths and difficulties, and I would say my average book is probably longer than "average".

Two kids, actually.

My mistake!

For me, installing the free Overdrive app and linking to my public library account--boom, 60-70 audiobooks listened to in one year:


I haven't had the time to read that many books a year since high school, but I've also realized that I'm better off reading fewer books more slowly. This sort of arbitrary pace of 100 books a year is probably going to prevent you from really taking the time to digest books that deserve to be read carefully. Case in point, when I read War and Peace in high school I ploughed through the whole thing in two weeks. Can you guess how much of that book I still remember today?

You're better off not worrying about how much you read and worrying more about how well you read.

I set a book-a-week goal for myself this year and hit the reading pretty hard up until June-ish. I was able to get though about ~2 books a week reading ~3 hours a day (mostly fiction). I basically afforded myself no free time on the weekdays as I would get home->exercise->eat->read->sleep. On the weekends I rise early, get my reading in, and feel like I still have the whole day ahead of me. Overall, I'd recommend it. An added benefit is that by sticking to such a regimen you're likely to save some money. I know I did.

While the list of books is fantastic (I've read many of them) I'm skeptical of reading them all within a year while not having that be the primary focus of your life.

How did you read them? Did you just speed read them all? Some of them (like Anna Karenina) in my opinion deserve months if not years of reflection. It seems like the point was to just get through the books as fast as possible, rather than appreciating the beauty they all offer. But I could be wrong.

...yea if your goal is about a quantity of books and doesn't include some qualitative goal how do you ensure that you are fully absorbing each book and not just racing through them without learning anything.

I read not more than a book or two a year (but I do read o lot of blogs).

I find it kind of pretentious to claim “I have read X number of books in a year”

Trying to read so many books, leaves very little time to contemplate.

So I’m not sure why is there a craze of reading X number of books, and later bragging about it (either literally or by “book-name dropping” in conversations).

I hope there are more readers out there who enjoy slow reading !!

I like reading, so I'd guestimate most years I end up somewhere well north of 100. For me the key has always been in binging. I might read 6-7 books in a week and then not again for 3-4 weeks.

Two caveats being that a) I naturally read pretty fast and b) I'm not trying to reach any given number for the year. I read when I find something interesting

Another solution for certain type of books is to have the audio version read at 1.5x speed during your commutes. 100 books in a year is totally feasible (assuming it’s not textbooks or anything that would require you to look at illustrations)

I got an Audible subscription 3 years ago and it has been one of the best investments I have ever made.

I do 200-600 movies a year, for decades. Lot of fun. My wife goes with me. Cannes, Sundance, Berlinale, Karlovy Vary, ...

Lately I've been avoiding reading full books. I do mostly skimming to get information, figure out if something makes sense or not, and cross reference it with other sources of similar information.

Though I don't read fiction this way.

I'm wondering if there is a different between actually reading a book and listening to a book... I use Audible.com to listen to books commuting to/from work, it's a great way to not care about traffic.

I was able to read about 100 books in a year by using "Voice Dream" at 360 words per minute.

I started off with Audible but their selection is a bit limited, especially for technical books.

whats the rush?

How much are you absorbing. How do you define "read" .

What's the point? There are some 3 page papers out there with ideas that could take years to fully absorb.

I wonder why people refer to listening to audio books as "reading"?

As someone who re-reads his books again and again for years, I have never understood this mad rush of reading as many books as possible. The same books mean different things to me at different points in my life. This gamification of how many books a year have you read is so dumb.

Not sure of the downvotes but I also agree with this. I find it also helps to really internalize the contents of a book, by reading it multiple times in different contexts and at different time periods. Books which I value highly I tend to purchase a hard copy and put in a visible location to facilitate this. A book has to be really good to be put in this category though.

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