For a small group of the population, there is nothing more comforting than tackling the New Year.
These are the stoic people who happily sit and watch others mull their way through the wine-free weeks of January torturing themselves.
Normally I’m with these audiences, but this year, I was driven to improve myself in a particular area. In 2022, I want to read more books.
Last week, I noticed a phenomenon that seemed to shine during the five distracting pandemics: lists compiled by people who pored through at least one book per week last year.
“I learned a lot,” Written Sunday Times data journalist Tom Calver on the year-long adventure he took in response to his New Year’s resolution to read 52 books by 2021.
Some made him cry. Others kept him awake. As a number, he ranks them all in order of interest, starting with Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities and ends with À Rebours (The opposite of nature), an 1884 novel that he found utterly “wretched and meaningless”.
Calver’s listing comes a day after a friend in Australia, Richard McGregor, left On Facebook to post 52 accurate small reviews of the books he read last year.
McGregor, a former FT journalist now at Sydney’s Lowy Institute, has been writing these lists for a while. As usual, the latest installment is filled with anecdotes gleaned from turning the pages of his epic, like this one from over 1,000 pages in Stephen Kotkin’s latest book. Stalin’s biography volume.
“What a lad. Well done,” Stalin exclaimed when told about Hitler’s Night of the Long Knives in 1934. “Knows how to act!”
Stories like these are just one reason why I envy McGregor and Calver. They are reminders of the sheer joy, knowledge, and utility that comes with reading.
As American author and bookstore owner, Ryan Holiday, puts it, “Reading is the shortest, surest way to self-improvement.”
Holiday sends his monthly list of recommended books to 250,000 newsletter subscribers and says he reads “about 250” books a year, which puts him in the dreaded super-reader category. Canadian scientist, Vaclav Smil, read up up to 90 Novels, biographies, art and history books a year, on top of technical books for the job.
It all pales in the face of Tyler Cowen, the US economist whose annual recommended book list is one of best readings on his popular economics blog. He claimed that on a good night he could make it through.”whole year book”.
That’s impressive, even without reading every single page. But the question is how do they do it? Where do these voracious readers find their time? What do they give up?
Without a doubt, everyone has their own strategy, but here are some of the more popular avenues to reaching an extraordinary readership.
Early development. Cowen woke up around 6:30 a.m., by which time McGregor had been up for an hour.
Be ruthless. If you rate a book badly, put it down. Cowen said don’t even let it go. “You may be harming people.”
Read anywhere. Big readers do it on the bus, on the sofa, in bed, and when walking the dog, through audiobooks.
Non-fiction skimming. Fiction requires you to read word for word. But it’s more important to understand, not read most nonfiction books, says the US author and consultant, Peter Bregman. This can mostly be done by limiting yourself to the table of contents, the introduction, the conclusion, and a few pages of each chapter.
Read books at the same time. It is good if you move at the same time. The trick is to change them. Don’t try two epic histories at once.
Read variety. Don’t just stick to fiction or non-fiction. Switch authors, eras and themes.
Read about what you don’t know. It’s more fun.
Read in clusters. Don’t stick to a book on Marie Curie. Read a few of them.
Disconnect. There was a time when Calver had to put his cell phone on airplane mode. Smil has been gone for decades.
Keep your commitment. Netflix is possible, but not on a scale many of us are familiar with.
Finally, keep in mind that a lot of big readers tend to stick with books that come in a single volume. Stay away from Proust.
Twitter: @ pilitaclark.com
https://www.ft.com/content/6783bf36-7efd-44e1-bca9-010cf17e746e How a super reader reads 52 books a year