How Do You Read So Much?

I was asked again the other day at a writer's conference: “How do you read so much?” It’s asked every so often, particularly when people learn that I read roughly 70 or more books a year, and last year read 100. I suspect that, once upon a time in our country and culture, that would not have been considered “so much,” by any means. I betcha folks like Winston Churchill and Teddy Roosevelt and other fairly active, busy people of generations past read far more. But that was then, this is now. Nowadays time that may once have been spent reading is probably consumed by watching television and movies, surfing the web, fiddling around on Pinterest, and so on.

And I don’t read nearly as much as I want to. I’m constantly anxious to get back to this book or that, frequently aware that (as my bumper sticker would say if I had one), “I’d Rather Be Reading.”

Still, as an insanely busy husband, father, grandfather, and occasional writer, how do I read more than a book a week?

1. I pray. Daily. Actually, twice daily most of the time. And usually those times of prayer involve reading. So once or twice a day, I’m reading from (of course) the Bible and one or two (or three) other books. Right now those books are The Mosaic Bible and Simplifying the Soul by Paula Huston.

2. I read in the bathroom. A dear friend of mine, who has since moved away, used to stop in at my house unexpectedly every so use our first floor bathroom on his way home from work. Since we live less than fifteen minutes from where he lived at the time, I asked him once if he just couldn’t “hold it” another fifteen minutes. He explained, only half-jokingly, that he came for the reading material in the bathroom. In addition to a varied assortment of magazines (Biblical Archaeology Review, Leadership, The Christian Communicator, Poets & Writers, etc.), I keep a current book in the rack....usually one with fairly short chapters, for obvious reasons. The current tome: The Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

3. I keep a book with me at all times. My wife, the lovely Robin, once expressed righteous indignation because I left the house for one of our weekly date nights with a book under my arm. “Am I such bad company,” she said, “that you need to bring a book?” I tried to explain that, no, she is sparkling, scintillating, captivating company....but that one just never knows when one might have the chance to read a page or two. She didn’t buy it. I stopped that abominable practice immediately. However, I still take a book everywhere else I go! (And, as a happy and proud iPhone user, I am able to have a book on my person at all times, anyway...I use several applications for that purpose: Stanza, Classics, iBooks, Nook for iPhone, and Kindle for iPhone).

4. I "read" while driving. I admit, there have been times in the past when I actually read a printed book while driving...but only on the expressway. But my wife disapproved that practice as well, so nowadays my “reading” in the car is via audiobooks....books on CD or on my iPhone. I also listen to audiobooks while mowing the lawn, which takes about two hours a week. In this way, I "read" about a dozen audiobooks a year.

5. I read while walking and running, particularly in Spring and Summer and early Fall, I like to listen to an audiobook while walking and running. I choose these books (like those I listen to in the car) fairly intentionally, making sure they’re not books I would want to underline or make notes in. So mostly fiction and biographies. Like Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen (the one I just finished) or Gulliver's Travels (my current audiobook) by Jonathan Swift.

6. I read while waiting in line, while eating, while waiting for someone to show up, at the doctor’s office, at the airport, etc. I even read while waiting in line to buy a book. There are hundreds of opportunities in a given week when I can steal enough time to read a page...or two...or more.

7. I watch very little television. The lovely Robin and I do DVR a few shows to watch together, but I almost never watch television alone. I’d usually rather be reading.

8. I observe a Sabbath. Once a week, I spend an entire day (as God has always said to do) observing a Sabbath--a break from doing, and a day to practice being...with God. On that day, I pray, walk, nap...and read. Most of the time it’s spiritual reading, but not always. And sometimes I read an entire book through the course of the day.

9. I retreat. I take an annual prayer retreat (sometimes more than annual), during which I talk to almost no one but God, and listen to him...primarily through the reading of his Word and other books that foster “interior conversation” with God.

10. I read on vacation. The ideal vacation for me involves a lot of time to read. In a hammock. On a beach. On a porch with a cup of coffee in hand. On the balcony of a cruise ship with a cup of coffee in hand. In a coffee shop with a cup of coffee in hand. You get the idea. (In fact, one of the things I love to do is connect my reading thematically with the place. So, on a recent vacation in Durango, Colorado, I read a couple novels set in that part of the country. On a recent cruise, I read Charles Nordhoff’s Mutiny on the Bounty trilogy. On a California vacation, during which the lovely Robin and I enjoyed a memorable drive down the Pacific Coast Highway from northern to southern California, I read Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana, which visits and revisits much of that coastline.)

That about covers it, I think. By the way, in addition to the 70+ books I read each year, I also read feeds from 30+ blogs almost every day. And I peruse a couple news-related websites every day or two. And yet, with all that, I still can’t satisfy my hunger for reading. For books. For words. For the experience of turning a page in anticipation, reading a line of prose or poetry repeatedly because it’s so striking or beautiful or apt, turning a book over in my hands or closing it with gratitude. It’s one of life’s simple--and best--pleasures.

Matter of fact, gotta go. I hear a book calling my name right now.


  1. That's awesome Bob. You have inspired me to pick up some books and get reading. I haven't done it for a while and I do have many books that need the binding broken in. And it can be such a spiritual discipline as well. Looking forward to finally finishing a book in the near future. (I just wish my brain could grasp and retain the detail of those books I read) Blessings on your journey. Deb Stacy

  2. People often ask me the same thing. It's usually because I'd rather read than do about anything else. I listen to books on CD as I cook and clean, I have a book in the living room, one by my bed, and one with me whether I go. (And, yes, I had the same conversation with my husband about taking books when I'm out with him...)I watch little TV, although I do spend maybe a bit more time online than I ought, but I still manage to read at least 100 books a year. Next to prayer and spending time with loved ones, it's the most worthwhile pursuit in the world.

  3. Bob, I felt that I was reading about myself as I read this post (except maybe for the praying part). In the bathroom, I generally keep anthologies and am currently working through the Norton Anthology of Literature by Women there. He-who-caters-to-my-every-whim recognizes my addiction and lets me know when we are heading off to a restaurant whether there is already a book in the car or not. He doesn't complain when I'm listening to a spoken book on my bluetooth-ready hearing aids while out on a walk with him through the neighborhood. I don't carry a cell phone, but might have to start if it is a way to always have a book with me. Read on, Bob!