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  • Writer's pictureMel

You don’t have to finish every book you start – and other thoughts on reading

Updated: Jan 3

I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions, but for a decade now, I’ve been setting a Goodreads reading challenge goal on New Year’s Day.

Since 2018, a pivotal year in my life, I’ve averaged about 52 books a year (and that’s excluding all the partially read ones). Apparently I’ve finished 439 books in the past 10 years, including 90 in 2018 alone. 2023 was my second-best year in terms of books completed: 68.

I get asked about my reading quite a bit, as it’s often one of my answers to ‘How do you know so much about X?’ and ‘How have you changed so much?’ So, in no particular order, here are some of my tips and thoughts about reading:

1. You don’t have to finish every book you start.

Paradoxically, this is probably the single biggest thing that’s helped me read more, not less. There are more good books out there than I’ll ever have time for. It’s okay to quit and move on. It’s also okay to have learned only 10 things out of a possible 100 – that’s still 10 more than when I started.

2. Use your local library.

Not only does it make my reading habit much more affordable, a loan period of 2 or 3 weeks gives me a manageable deadline.

3. Switch between books and audiobooks if/when you can.

For me, that’s dependent on the genre, narrator (I’m sorry), and availability from my local library (and now, also Spotify Premium). I listen to audiobooks on my walks sometimes, so every now and then I’d find myself in a particular location, thinking, Oh, this was where my mind was blown by [some idea from an audiobook I was listening to]. The spatial element helps make things more memorable, and to top it off, where I also have access to the book version, I’d (re-)read certain bits and make notes too.

4. Talk to people about what you read.

It’s a good way to retain more of what you read. I also find in my reading a lot of great topics for discussion, which often leads to meaningful conversations.

5. If you read self-help, do the exercises and find ways to apply them in your life.

You have to actually do self-help for it to work. Sure, keep reading until you find particular topics, stories, and examples that resonate so much that you feel compelled to take action, but the point really is to start doing something different. I think a lot of people hope to find some big ‘Aha!’ moments that’ll change everything or some answers that seem groundbreaking, but it’s really the boring stuff that matters.

6. Make conscious efforts to diversify your reading in terms of genre, discipline, culture, language, gender, time period, etc.

It helps expand our perspectives, get us to question what’s ‘normal’ to us, remind us of what’s pretty much universal, and keep reading interesting. I also consider it my responsibility to educate myself and not put the burden on other marginalised groups.

7. It’s a matter of how you spend the time you do have.

I have a fair amount of choice over that, due to my life circumstances. I also happen to enjoy books more than TV shows, movies, social media, surface-level social events, etc., so it’s not that hard for me to spend more time on reading than the average person does.

8. Appreciate the depth that comes with books.

Sure, some books really don’t need to be 300+ pages, but I think most have about 100+ pages of content that’s worthwhile – just enough examples, stories, vignettes, etc. to have something that connects with you and shut down the ‘Yeah, but…’ I often find in conversations and social-media discussions people asking questions or making arguments that they could’ve easily found answers to if they’d just engaged with the topic with a bit more depth. I mean, you’re most likely not the only person to have ever thought of this particular point. Follow that curiosity and go find out what other people have come up with.

What do you think? What else would you add?


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