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How to read 50 books every year

Jan 10, 2016 Success, Sunday Nation

I have a target I set myself every year: to read fifty books. For those of you quick on the mathematical uptake, that’s approximately a book a week. It seems like a reasonable aim to me, and I find I usually get close to it every year.

As 2015 closed, I hit exactly fifty books. I tweeted this accomplishment, and found it led to an interesting online debate. Some thought it infeasible to read that many books every year; others wanted to know how it is done; and a few just wanted the list of books and what I thought of them! So I thought I should elaborate a little this Sunday.

First things first: reading fifty books a year is something hardly anyone is going to accomplish. It is not an achievement to brag about, nor one to recommend to others. There is too much sanctimony about reading.

When I was younger, I regarded book reading as a universally desirable thing, something everyone should do. It would surprise me then that more people did not do it, as a habit, as an imperative, and as a delightful pastime. I wrote here in 2007: “Two degrees have given me nothing in comparison to what I have learned from my collection of books. Kenyans who complain about not having access to higher education are spurning the greatest treasure trove of knowledge there is. Whatever it is you want to know, someone somewhere has probably written a very good book about it.”

Well, I’m older now, and perhaps somewhat wiser. I understand that brains are wired differently. A few of us rejoice and revel in the written word; but most people regard reading as a chore, a task, a necessary evil. We are not all the same, and that is a good thing. Some people do learn deeply from immersion in a good book; others are more likely to learn from interactive conversation, from discussion and debate, from watching and listening rather than reading.

Make no mistake: everyone would benefit from making the effort to read at least a few good books every year. Reading a good book on a subject you need to master is a very good idea indeed, one that’s well worth making an effort to achieve. Books provide far more depth and coverage than sporadic conversations or videos do. So even if you find reading a chore, do it anyway – within reason.

Reading thirty or fifty books a year is another matter altogether. That is only going to be done by those who take sheer delight in reading; or by those who are hellbent on doing so. The rest of you need not exercise yourself unduly. Pick out the handful of books you really want to read in a year – get those done.

The rest of today’s column is aimed at that small group: the bibliophiles. You love reading books, you say, but still can’t get it done? Now why would that be? No time, you say? You confuse me, you really do.

All you need is one or two hours a day devoted to book-reading. Ask yourself: where are those precious hours going? If they are being expended on television, YouTube or Facebook, perhaps you need to get real about how much you really love books. It’s OK not to love them with an unrelenting passion. You just have to accept it and stop making yourself unhappy.

If you’re not reading books because you’re too busy working, you have a different problem. You are plugging away in the present, but investing nothing for the future. Much of my bibliophilic investment is in books about the world to come: about the technologies, strategies and social constructs that are portended. When it come to money, you would agree that it makes no sense to spend all of it today and invest none of it in the future. Well, your time is a similar asset. Invest some of it. Don’t spend it all.

Put aside an hour or two every day if you can. If you can’t, put in more reading time at weekends, or on vacations. Have a tome bookmarked at your bedside at all times. Put aside any book that bogs you down – keep the flow going. Don’t just read; be enraptured by what you read. Then, it is no task at all, simply a necessary part of being alive. Fifty books will be clocked in no time.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my second book of the year is calling for me.

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