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« Order and Harmony | Main | Report on Progress »

How to Get a Book Read

I nearly called this post “How to Read Books”, but decided that would give the false impression that I’m going to write about speed reading or skimming or some such. 

Instead this post is about how to prevent one’s house (or Kindle) filling up with books that have been started but never finished - or in some cases not even started. As such, I want to make it clear that I have just as much a problem as any of you. I often declare that I’m not going to buy any more books until I’ve read the ones I already have. That’s usually just before I go and buy the latest volume to catch my eye.

So I’ve finally come up with a way to get these books read. It’s working well for me at the moment, but I warn you that I’ve not been doing it for long - so I don’t know what the long-term results are going to be. However I think it is a good enough idea to let you in on the secret so that you can experiment with it yourselves.

Here’s how it works:

You read two books at once.

The two books should be reasonably compatible in length and ease of reading. 

Both books should be in either electronic format or paper. Don’t try and mix the two formats.

If you are reading with a Kindle or similar device, it will tell you what percentage of the book you have read. On each reading session, read the book which has the least amount read. So if one book is 35% read and the other 38% read, you read the one which is 35% read.

It doesn’t matter whether the book you are reading catches up with the other one or not. Just read for as long as you want and then apply the rule again the next time you read.

Putting two books in competition together like this is remarkably effective. 

If you’re reading paper books then go by the number of pages read. This is why the books need to be reasonably compatible in length. When the shorter book gets finished, you’ll still be in sight of the end with the longer book.

I’m also using this method with magazines. You don’t need to confine yourself to two magazines though. I’m currently reading six! 

Reader Comments (8)

This sounds interesting. Are you still doing the method of reading a book twice? (
March 5, 2017 at 21:26 | Unregistered CommenterMaureen
I also have many books (Kindle and paper) that I never got around to reading, so I started a new system this year that is working great for me so far. I am reading three books at a time, although I am not worrying about matching length or paper/electronic format.

Following one of Mark's earlier suggestions that mornings are best for creative work, afternoons for action and evenings for reflection, I have divided up my reading accordingly. I have three reading blocks each day as follows and choose one book from each category.

Reading blocks:
1 morning = inspirational; devotional; growth-oriented
2 afternoon = professional; academic; study-materials
3 evening = leisure; fiction; relaxing

This keeps my reading varied and also makes me not want to miss a block because I would have to wait until the next day to get to it rather than just wait for the afternoon or evening. I've gone through my Kindle and paper books that are waiting to be read and listed them as morning, afternoon or evening books, so I have a great stock to choose from for each reading block.

I keep a daily reading list in front of me that not only lists the books I'm currently reading in each block but the three books that are up next that I can't wait to get to. For example, here is my current daily reading list:

1) A God-Sized Vision (Next up: Incomparable)
2) The First Chapters of Everything (Next up: Habits of Grace)
3) Ride the Dark Trail (Next up: News of the World)

Using this method I am enjoying reading more than ever and also making great progress on my backlog of books that I've been wanting to read. I read twelve books in January, another twelve books in February, and I am almost through my first three books for March. It feels great!
March 5, 2017 at 21:28 | Unregistered CommenterRay Fowler
I have way too many articles flagged in Pocket. ( lets you flag and download webpages for later offline reading, several platforms.) The value of the articles varies widely.

Last year, I started tagging each article with the month I downloaded it, to make closed lists. Finishing a closed list makes me happy. There are more tags for type (reading, meditation, sound or video), since Pocket lets you put multiple tags on each article.

Starting in January, I read those tagged the previous month before any older ones. It took me three weeks to read all of December's articles. In February, I added keeping even with two magazine subscriptions, and it took me the entire month.

This month, March, I increased my two magazine subscriptions, at 1.5 or 2x the rate they arrive. Yes, I want to keep the pressure on, so I am more willing to delete things unread. My intention was to read them before the Pocket articles, but often find myself reading on the tablet instead. Not a big worry, since it's only March 5 and I'm mostly done all the magazines.

I also count the number left, to see if I'm on track or need to delete more without reading them.

Sometimes I delete five (or ten) then flag five (or ten) to read next. It's counter-intuitive. If I say delete-one-read-one, I'll think, "Probably not worth reading, but it's only one." If I have to delete ten at once, I'll think, "Yay! Another step towards choosing ones to read."

Another benefit is seeing how many videos there are. I've started watching some most nights and knitting to them. Knitting and backlog: Double win. There are also several guided meditations set aside for when I'm done the current series.
March 5, 2017 at 22:41 | Registered CommenterCricket
Oh this could be fun!

Pair up The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft (stopped on page 33 of 1098) with Neal Stephenson REAMDE (not started, 1044 pages). Although there are about 520 words per page in the first book vs about 300 in the latter. The variety sound more appealing than being stuck with one of those at a time.

A Game of Thrones (re-read) and Dune (re-read), both about 800+ pages.

I could pair up playing time in audiobooks.

(Sometimes I think it would be funny (and impractical) to read page 1 of every book I have, and then page 2 and so on.)

Volumes of comic books don't have page numbers but you could probably do it visually. Assuming you don't finish it in one session anyway.

Would you ever pair up a book that is 50% read with one that's just being started?

Do you also use the two-bookmark method while doing this (the method that has you read a book twice by reading whichever bookmark is farthest behind in the same book)?
March 6, 2017 at 15:03 | Unregistered CommenterDon R
Don R:

<< I could pair up playing time in audiobooks.>>

...and of course you could also use it for watching videos and/or DVDs. Thank you for giving me that idea. I have six DVDs of classic world cinema which I really want to watch but have got completely stuck over.

<< (Sometimes I think it would be funny (and impractical) to read page 1 of every book I have, and then page 2 and so on.) >>

Someone gave me the tip once that if you want to choose a book to read or buy then read the same page (say p. 100) in each competing book. That will give you the best possible idea of which you would enjoy the most.

<< Would you ever pair up a book that is 50% read with one that's just being started? >>

In theory you could by finding a new book with approximately half the number of pages of the old book.

<< Do you also use the two-bookmark method while doing this (the method that has you read a book twice by reading whichever bookmark is farthest behind in the same book)? >>

No. On Kindle (or similar) it will tell you which has the least percentage read. With printed books and magazines, you just keep them in the right order. So Game of Thrones with 552 pages read goes on top of Dune with 556 pages read if you're keeping them in a pile, or on the left if they're in a bookshelf together.
March 6, 2017 at 17:59 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
The 100th page is a good test for another reason. According to publishers, most people decide based on the first 4 paragraphs, which means those are polished and re-polished, and might reflect the editor/buyer rather than the author. By page 100, it's into the story. (It also might give a spoiler. Sigh.)
March 6, 2017 at 18:50 | Registered CommenterCricket
Around 5 years ago I got into the habit of reading an hour a day. I set the countdown timer on my phone to one hour and just sat down to read. When the hour was up I would finish the current sentence and make a little mark next to it, or on the Kindle just make a note at the end of the sentence. I didn't wait around for the end of the chapter -- I just stopped right at the sentence I was reading.

I kept track of the page and number of hours on a bookmark. If I missed a day then I would read two hours the next day to catch up. Also, because I knew how long I had spent reading the book and what page (or location) I was on, I could estimate the number of hours it would take to complete the book. For some reason I found it very motivating to know that I had 5 hours left in a book, and at an hour a day I would be finished in 5 days.

For the longest time I stuck to reading just one book from start to finish, and while I was reading I would be thinking about what I would read next. The mental 'queue' would start to build up, but because I had plenty of time to think about what I wanted to read next, I avoided false starts.

The median length of all books I read over the past five years was about 12-13 hours. However, some books were quite long -- Infinite Jest (David Foster Wallace) was 58 hours, City On Fire (Garth Risk Hallberg) was 49 hours, The Wealth Of Nations (Adam Smith) was 43 hours and The Luminaries (Eleanor Catton) was 38 hours. All of these took more than a month to work through, and I did wonder whether there might be a better strategy to add a bit of variety, rather than sticking to the same book for 1-2 months.

Also, if I am drowsy, even the best book will put me to sleep after about 20 minutes. I found this was a great way to catch a good nap on Saturday afternoon -- read for 15-20 minutes until the words start swimming, nap for 90 minutes, then wake up and finish the last 40-45 minutes. But it did make me wonder whether one hour was the right unit of time for reading.

So in the past year or so I've tried something a bit different -- depending on my mood either two 30-minute blocks or four 15-minute blocks scattered throughout the day. I tend to read two books at a time -- usually (1) a computer programming manual, and (2) a novel. Each book gets half an hour a day. The 15-minute blocks are great for focused reading, and in fact I can easily read for 2 or 3 hours a day in 15-minute chunks, although you don't get the "immersive" feeling from a good long reading session.

Also, this may sound a bit nutty but I have discovered how easy it is to read a Kindle book on my phone while I am walking around town. If I have a book to get through "on the side", I have made excellent progress just reading while I am waiting for the elevator, walking over to the grocery store, walking back home after a run etc. Those little bits and pieces of 5 or 10 minutes really add up.
March 7, 2017 at 1:32 | Unregistered CommenterSimon
Thanks for this book reading idea Mark. At first I was using it for pleasure reading. The books were totally different, one well written and interesting, the other, just interesting. Now I am using it to blast through two books I need to read for my work.

April 1, 2017 at 0:05 | Unregistered CommenterErin

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