Thoughts and Reflections upon Reading My 1000th Book
Several years ago, a friend who studies Eastern philosophy shared a parable about a monk who, after their death, awoke in a room covered wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling with books. The monk went to a corner, reached to the top shelf, grabbed the first book, and opened to the first page. The monk sat with the book and upon finishing the last page, they returned it to its place and grabbed the next one on the shelf. The monk continued until they had read all the books in the room. Only then were they allowed to move on to their next life.
The thought of sitting in a room with no doors or windows, only bookcases staring down at me, was thrilling. I’ve always enjoyed visiting libraries and often take refuge in bookstores to escape a stressful day. In 2009, I decided to take reading and writing more seriously. I challenged myself to read 100 books in a year; I read 105. I’ve been reading at least 100 books per year since. This month, I reached 1,000 unique books* (you can follow my progress on Goodreads).
When people learn about my yearly reading goal, the first thing I hear is, “You must have a lot of time.” Nope—not any more than you do. I work full-time, am co-owner of a side business, have a family, and many of the same obligations most people my age have (like making time to write a weekly blog—oh, and did I mention I’m an author?) I do make time for reading, which many people don’t. And I listen to audiobooks whenever I’m in my vehicle and when I lace up my running shoes for my afternoon jog. If you take a critical look at how you spend your 24 hours, I’m sure you’ll find the time to read more, too.**
Reading is a trend among successful people. Most CEOs read four or five books a month (48-60 books/year) and according to Blinkist, 88% of financially successful people read at least 30 minutes a day, including Warren Buffet, who spends 80% of his time reading. Two other celebrity examples include Agatha Christie, who, according to the BBC, read 200 books per year, and “President Theodore Roosevelt read a book a day, and increased this to two or three when he had a quiet night.”
Our technology is evolving and so is the way we communicate knowledge, so this doesn’t mean you have to read books to become knowledgeable. Based on how you learn best (listening, reading, or viewing) the first thing you need to do is pick a format.
How to Create a Knowledge Goal
Select Your Format
You can get your knowledge from a variety of sources, including: books, blogs, podcasts, documentaries, or film.
Create a Target
The number you choose should be just outside of your comfort zone, but not too far that it becomes unreasonable or too intimidating. You can always ramp up the goal later. Be sure to check-in monthly on your status to see if you are on track.
Part of your goal should be looking at a variety of sources and/or covering a range of topics. Reading broadly has given me more of an education than my nearly two decades of formal education. I read a wide variety of books: fiction, nonfiction, pulp “airport novels,” classic literature, poetry, plays, memoirs, biographies, business strategy, religious texts, anthropology, sociology, women & gender & cultural studies, philosophy (so much philosophy), psychology, physics, biology … you name it, I’ve read, am reading, or will read about it. Here is my reasoning: the more diverse your knowledge, the better you will be able to make connections between ideas. On top of that, I’m more confident mingling with strangers at events, because whatever they’re interested in, chances are, I’ve read something about it. And it allows me to ask questions, so I can learn more about the person and whatever they’re interested in.
Retain Your Knowledge
Reading 100 books every year isn’t valuable unless you can retain what you’ve read. The goal should be to accumulate a large base of knowledge. Based on some research I reference in Age of Agility, I have developed a three-step system to retain what I read.
1. Destroy Your Books: If you love your books, you will destroy them. I highlight, make notes in the margins, bend the spine, and flip the front cover around so it’s touching the back. Yes, book collectors, I can feel your blood pressure rising! I love my books—I just love them in a different way than a collector. Books should be used as the tools they are, not put on a shelf to collect dust. (I also keep my books to use as a reference later, when I need a refresher.)
2. Summarize: After reading, I summarize the main points in a Word doc. Recalling what you learn and putting the key concepts in your own words helps your brain conceptualize the information and it makes it sticky—it’s easier to recall something if you’ve already recalled it once. Another benefit of putting your notes into a document is that it’s searchable; if you can only remember a word or two, the search function makes it easy to find. Posting a review to Amazon or Goodreads is a great practice to get into (one I need to do more often), and can lead to a conversation about the concept you are working to retain.
3. Put the Knowledge into Practice. Have a conversation with someone about what you learned. In a way, you are teaching what you are learning, and the best way to learn something is by teaching it. When I tell a friend about a book I’m reading, they often have questions, which encourages me to meditate on what I’ve read on a deeper level.
Whether your goal is to read a book per week or listen to a new podcast every month, you are capable to learning more (and retaining it) than you think.
More than luck,
*1000th unique book. I’ve read hundreds multiple times. Good books should shared and read often.
**You can do this by monitoring your day in 15-minute increments to see if you really are too busy—chances are, you are making something a priority you shouldn’t.
Andrew J. Wilt is the author of Age of Agility, a book that addresses the skill gap between school and work. He can be reached at Andrew.firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @andrewjwilt