How I read

Someone asked me yesterday "how do you find the time to read so much?". This post is an attempted answer. It always starts with books. I read around 2/3 of them per month on average. I started posting lists of all of them for a given year. Here are the books I've read in 2022 typically. There is no secret. I make time for reading on an everyday basis. It's usually the last thing I do before going to bed. I don't read in bed though. I read in our living room - often with a hot tea - until I feel my body just wants to go to sleep. I usually read for an hour. Sometimes way less, sometimes more. I don't put any pressure on myself. The goal here is just to relax, and read. Across the day, I look forward to that moment.

During that evening-reading-time, I only pick up the main physical book I'm reading at the moment. Then I leave it in the living room. I usually have a second physical book in our bedroom, next to the bed. It happens I slip through a few pages before falling asleep. But it's not usual.

I read a few books in parallel. But the medium changes. I always have my 'main' one, physical version. Then a 'second' one, physical version as well. Then a digital one on my phone. I sometimes have a digital one on my laptop as well but I try not to because I hate reading books on this tool. And finally an audio one. Since we stopped our Audible subscription though, I'm not listening to any audiobooks anymore. I miss it. I'm following Spotify's development in that area.

Since we're back in France, I use heavily our local library network. At least for the french books. I borrow one book a month on average. When I borrow a book, it instantly becomes my 'main' one. I always read cover to cover. I know this is weird but I never succeed to stop completely reading a book. It actually happened once. Typically because I borrowed it from the library, hated it, so I started reading something else during the evenings, and then came the date I had to bring it back to the library. I know I should do this more. From time to time I look at my tail end and got reminded I only have a limited small amount of books I can read in total during my lifetime so I better not waste time on mediocre ones.

Livraria Ler Devagar, LX Factory, Lisboa -- one of my favorite bookstores when we were living there

My evening-reading-time is the only moment I intentionally make space in my calendar. So I know it'll happen. Then, all the other times I read during the day are more opportunistic. Hence the digital version of a book on my phone. These are if I'm waiting in a queue, or when I'm in a bus/ subway, or in the bathroom. All these few minutes here and there. I don't have any games on my phone so the habit is really to go read a few words.

I still have mixed feelings when I think about owning books. On one hand, I aesthetically love the accumulation of books somewhere and consequently want to reproduce that feeling at home. On the other hand, I hate the idea of accumulation itself, I find that pretentious and sad. Since I won't re-read most of them, it's obviously better they continue their life to make someone else think. So far I manage this through phases. Since we move from one country to another pretty often, we accumulate while we're settled somewhere and we massively  get rid of when it's time to move. When in Lisbon, I wrote about my experience donating books.

Beyond books I read online a lot: blog posts, essays, newsletters. I follow around 200 feeds [blogs literally] on my Feedly. I subscribed to more than 200 newsletters on Substack. Feedly: I read both on my laptop and phone. I scan very quickly titles and excerpts and bookmark everything I might find interesting in a 'weekend board' folder. Then during weekends - mostly afternoons while my kids are having their nap - I read and empty the folder.

Newsletters on Substack: I read almost exclusively on their app. I'm the one dropping the kids to school so every morning then, while I'm having my coffee, I sit for around 30min to read.

So then, across the whole day, during all those stolen moments where you take your phone [even though I'd like to get rid of that habit entirely], I either open the feedly app or the substack one and read a few posts.

Generally speaking, I'm a slow reader. I read Tony Buzan a few years ago; my grand-pa was a fan and introduced me to his mind mapping technique. He offered me his speed reading book and I learnt all of his tactics. But frankly when I do this, I don't feel I'm reading. It feels more like I'm scanning some content. So I'd do this when reading online - depending on the content - and for some chapters I feel less connected with when I'm reading books. But as soon as I really lean towards something, I go back to reading slow, with that little voice in my head, sometimes some images, thinking more deeply about what I just read. I can feel - physically speaking - I'm activating different parts of my brain. More often than not, when I read something I find impactful, I read it again out loud to Mat [my other half]. I'm not sure she enjoys this. When I do it 10 times in a row in the last 15 minutes, well, I'm sure she hates that. But when it's only once in the last 30 minutes, she doesn't complain. I think she just let me do it because she knows it's the best way for me to engrave the thing in my mind. And from time to time, that sparks a wonderful discussion between her and I - and we both truly enjoy this.

I love magazines and used to read plenty of them. But nowadays I have a hard time going through them. If I think about how and when I was reading them in the past, I think my 'reading online' style came up as a direct 'competition'. So when I go down a magazine, it's usually instead of taking my phone to go through my Feedly or Substack. I might need to find a better balance in the future with this.

Finally, I listen to podcasts. I do this as soon as I'm outside by myself; either walking or cycling. So on an everyday basis, it means at least around 20-30 minutes of listening. Sometimes it's dramatically more because I walk a few hours. I listen usually at x2 speed for english speaking podcasts; and x2.5 for french ones. It's a habit. I don't remember where it comes from. I started listening to podcasts more than 15 years ago on iTunes. Now I use Spotify.

Lately I enjoyed Rob's 'how I read' post. He's an avid reader. I look forward to reading his book typically. Because he's pretty harsh on audiobooks though, I also enjoy Simon's 'audiobooks are books' post. Generally speaking, I highly recommend both these newsletters.


Objet du jour

I might listen to music while reading but never with the headphones on. Which is the opposite when I'm working. And since I received some replacement ear pads for my beloved Audeara headphones, I'm really happy. Relationship recorded with Objet.