How to read 50 (or more) books a year

by KJ in #AmReading

Indulge your bookworm fantasies with these 12 strategies for adding more reading to your life


HEY! Have I been reading? I have. More on that next week—because one of my very favorite writers is letting me share her strategies for reading more, and I thought you’d love it. Below is a post from Vanderhacks, a short week-daily email from Laura Vanderkam about “doable strategies for making the most of your time and your life”. I LOVE IT. So here is her advice for reading more, below. If it rings true for you, you can sign up at the link to get more.

How to read 50 (or more) books a year

When I ask people what they’d like to spend more time doing, reading comes up a lot. Between work and family responsibilities, time can feel scarce — particularly the sort of relaxed leisure time that invites curling up with a good book.

But there are plenty of busy people who do make time to read. They don’t have extra hours in the day. Instead, they tend to have a few good habits that make more reading possible. Try these ideas and you can also easily read 50 (or more!) books a year.

1. Steady does it. You can get through a lot if you just keep going. Reading a 300-page book in a week (and thus being able to read at least 50 books a year) just requires reading 43 pages per day. Most adults could read that amount in an hour or less. Someone who reads two hours a day could get through 100 books. You don’t need to find tons of time in order to read a lot. People who read a lot just find time consistently.

2. Manage your “to be read” list. If you are going to read a book a week, every week, you always need to know what’s on deck. If you already know what you’re dying to read, great! But if not, ask friends for recommendations, check out the lists over at Modern Mrs. Darcy, follow some book reviewers on social media, or just generally keep your eyes and ears open. Maybe an intriguing author will be mentioned on a favorite podcast, and you can read the three books she’s written. That gets you through three weeks! You’ll see a novel referenced glowingly in an interview with someone else and then that’s your fourth week. Add in that classic you somehow never managed to read in school (Persuasion? The Age of Innocence? Mrs. Dalloway?) and now you’re good for a while.

3. Spend out. Once you know what you want to read, you need to actually obtain the books. I know some people are geniuses at managing library holds, and they can shuffle their “to be read” lists to accommodate whatever becomes available. That’s awesome but…if you don’t want to spend the time, spend the money. The vast majority of books cost less than $30. A lot of paperback and ebook versions will run you less than $20. If you spent $20 a week on books for 50 weeks, that’s $1000. It’s not nothing but it’s also fairly cheap as hobbies go. Let’s just say that golfing would be a lot more expensive.

4. Block time into your day. Even if you can’t block a full hour at a time — and lots of people can’t — blocking some regular time (like 20-30 minutes) into your daily schedule will help you make progress toward that one-hour-a-day goal, particularly if you can find multiple 20-minute spots.

Try tracking your time and seeing what might be regularly available. Some people get up 30 minutes earlier and use that time to read. Some people make a little time during breaks in the day. Twelve minutes during lunch 5 times per week is another hour spent reading each week. If you read 50 pages an hour that adds up to an extra 2500 pages each year, which is the equivalent of 8-10 books. You might get ready for bed 45 minutes before lights out time so you can read in bed for 30 minutes a couple nights each week. Maybe you decide to read first for 30 minutes during your baby’s naps on weekends, and then clean the kitchen (Bonus tip: Or just don’t clean the kitchen during nap time! Do it when your baby’s in her high chair and you’re in the kitchen anyway.)

5. Deepen time with audio books. In another post this week we’ll talk about “deepening” time in general, but for the purposes of this Vanderhack, see if you already have 20-30 minutes blocked out for something else in your life, and whether listening to audiobooks could help you add reading to the mix. For instance, listening to an audio book during your 30 minute commute twice a day could add up to 20-30 books per year right there (most narrators read a little slower than most adults read printed books). If you lope along on an elliptical machine for 30 minutes three times a week, that can become book listening time too. Ever since I started listening to Bach for 30-40 minutes per day as part of my project to listen to all his works in 2024, I’ve become aware of just how much listening time I have in a day as I run errands and pick up kids. Perhaps you will find this too.

6. Be able to read at any time. I always have my phone with me. I do not always have a paperback book with me. So while I prefer physical books, I’ve made my peace with reading a lot of stuff on the Kindle app. I can read while my 4-year-old is playing independently, or while I’m sitting in his room as he’s going to bed. I can read at a lesson or while waiting in line somewhere. All these minutes can add up, as anyone who’s looked in shock at the screen time tallies on their phones can attest. Speaking of which…

7. Read first. One of my Tranquility by Tuesday rules (Rule #9) is “Effortful before effortless.” Challenge yourself to do just a few minutes of more effortful fun (like reading) before effortless fun (like headline scrolling/social media/watching TV). You don’t have to read for hours, but if you’re feeling tired and unmotivated, tell yourself you’ll read for 2 minutes, and then you can watch YouTube all night. Most likely, you’ll keep reading, but even if you don’t, that’s a few minutes more than you would have read.

8. Track your reading. Lots of people find it motivational to see their lists of finished books add up. You could also track pages read each day, and when you read. That might help you see that while reading during the morning goes swiftly, you don’t get through many pages at night because you keep falling asleep. Good to know!

9. Abandon books freely. Not everything works out. As mentioned in a previous Vanderhack, I often download the free sample of a book on Kindle before I buy it. This is kind of like browsing in a book store — you get a sense of whether a book is right for you. In any case, if you’re not into a book, feel free to abandon it after 40-50 pages (the equivalent of one reading day if you’re on the 50-book-a-year pace). Move on to the next book on your list.

If you only lose one day, you’ll still be on track. Reading a book a week for 50 weeks (350 days) leaves 15 more days in the year to play around with. You could even adopt this as a goal — abandon 15 books this year! Being fine with that DNF rate might actually make you open to trying new things. What you don’t want to see happen is that you stop reading completely (or only read a few pages a day) because you aren’t enjoying a book. That is how people wind up in slumps.

10. Read what you like. While I am all for experimentation, if you’re not in school (or writing book reviews, or copy-editing books for a living) then you don’t really “have” to read anything. I don’t like false accusation plots. I don’t do well with any sort of cruelty either. I’m sure a psychiatrist could have a field day with this, but there are a lot of books out there. If you read 50 books a year for 50 more years (an optimistic assumption for those of us north of 40) then you will only read 2500 more books in life. You won’t read thousands of books that you would love. So unless there’s a really good reason (such as your spouse wrote the book) then there’s no point spending time on a book that’s just not for you.

11. Try a reading project. Paradoxically, being open to anything can make choosing your next read harder. By narrowing the lens you might reduce decision fatigue. A reading project makes your next book more obvious. Jeremy Anderberg read a biography of every US president. I read all the works of Shakespeare in 2022. I can imagine reading projects devoted to all the works of Agatha Christie (or at least her greatest hits), John McPhee, Dave Barry (you’d laugh a lot!) or any other prolific author.

12. Go light. Speaking of Dave Barry, not everything has to be long or difficult. A book is a book. Humor books are books. Books of essays are books. Kristin Lavransdatter and War and Peace are both great books (clocking in at around 1400 pages). So are To the Lighthouse and The Great Gatsby (both about 200 pages). If you’d like to make it through a “big” book, then feel free to tackle several shorter books in order to still feel like you’re reading a lot. It all balances out in the end.

Please let me know how you make time to read! I’d love to hear your ideas.

If you liked this guest post, get more from Laura at VanderhacksLaura or in her latest book, Tranquility by Tuesday.

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