How I’m Trying to Read More Books

I’ve been feeling guilty about my reading habits for more than 10 years now.

The problem: I don’t read enough books.

Reading books is universally praised. It’s good for your career they say. Bill Gates averages around 50 books a year. Icons like Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama regularly share book recommendations.

Thirsting for attention but don’t have a gym selfie? Post a page from your fave book and watch the likes pour in.

My “problem” isn’t actually reading though. I’ve always been a reader. Growing up, I remember weekly visits to the Times bookstore in Penang — usually leaving with a new Enid Blyton book. But in my teens, I discovered the Internet — and my attention switched away.

I’ve become a master of Internet articles. Long-form, short-form, mainstream media, independent blogs — you name it. I read wide, and I read fast. I even contribute my own articles to other websites.

But I suck at books. For the past few years now, I’ve had “spend time reading before bedtime” in my new year’s resolutions. If I had spent only 30 minutes a day reading, this website estimates I’d finish at least 55 books a year.

Last year, I think I finished five.

Why the Obsession With Books?

Is not reading books a real problem? I’m actually doing well in my career, and perhaps more importantly, I enjoy reading online.

I’ve thought about it — there’s good reasons and there’s bad reasons.

Good reasons: Online articles can only go into so much depth. If I’m serious about writing my own book one day, I should study deeper. Every writer and leader I admire is a voracious book reader.

Bad reason: Status. It bugs me I can’t humblebrag how smart I am because I finished 24 books last year. How does everyone else achieve this!?

I’m gonna try to ditch the bad reason. This year, I will stop reading books so I can show off. I’ve already got so many commitments at work — I don’t need another obligation, which just repels me from reading more.

No, this year I wanna do it for the love.

Dealing With Guilt: Ditching Books

The first book I clearly recall ditching is “Your Money or Your Life.” I remember it because in the personal finance/FIRE world, that book is pretty much sacred.

Even though I agreed with a lot of the content, I somehow didn’t enjoy the book. I desperately wanted it on my finished list (STATUS!) though, so I kept struggling through. When I finally gave up, it felt like blasphemy.

Why do we feel guilty when we start but don’t finish books?

My biggest challenge is likely my hate of waste. For years, I’ve forced myself into this mindset where I try to optimize everything. Unfortunately, it’s also crept into the money I spend on books.

The stingy inside me still tries to finish every single grain of rice at every meal. Even if it’s an RM 8 nasi campur. How dare I not finish every page of an RM 88 book?

“And what about the 40 unfinished ones scattered around your home bitch?”

I’m stuck in this loop: I feel guilty about the books I have but haven’t finished. Even when I get excited about new books, I force myself to numb my curiosity. So I continue struggling through material I’m tired of, driven by an irrational goal of “completion” — becoming a chore I secretly dread.

All the while, the list of books I really wanna read grows longer.

Price vs Value

What’s the alternative? Ditch books quickly, and buy new books whenever you like? I think so.

Here’s Naval Ravikant:

“I probably spend 10 times as much money on books as I actually get through. In other words, for every $200 worth of books I buy, I actually end up making it through 10%. Iโ€™ll read $20 worth of books, but itโ€™s still absolutely worth it.”

(Highly-recommended source: Everything I Knew About Reading Was Wrong)

But how do you reconcile that with responsible spending?

I know — books can seem expensive. If you look at just the price. But look at the amount of value you’re getting vs what you’re paying, and books might be the best investment ever.

How else would you be able to explore the thoughts of the wisest people who’ve ever lived?

All my life I’ve looked at books as an expense. Even if that were true, I could have clearly afforded them just as entertainment.

But if I look at them as an investment, I realize I’ve just been stupid.

New Goal, New Systems

Many years ago, I remember reading one of Robert Kiyosaki’s books backwards. It happened to be lying around in my uncle’s home during a vacation.

I didn’t have much time, so I went straight for the conclusion. But it was so interesting, I started going backwards chapter by chapter. When I reached the middle, I decided to just start from the beginning. Within a day, I’d finished a book I never intended to start.

Realization: if I’d been willing to go against the “rules” of reading, I would have likely finished more books and had much more fun. Indeed, my favorite two articles about reading more books (by Michael Simmons and Johnny May) suggest going directly into chapters that interest you, and skipping immediately when you get bored.

We’re not kids following strict learning plans anymore. Our books should serve us, not the other way round.

I don’t have a guaranteed system that works yet, but this is how I’m planning to read from now on:

  • Read books out of interest (not status)
  • Skip chapters (and books) whenever I get bored
  • Buy whatever books I fancy
  • Accept there’s nothing wrong with reading online

– – –

In January 2021, I finished three books I’d put off for a long time: Atomic Habits, The Big Short, and The Psychology of Money. (YES I can finally #humblebrag.)

Last week, I got bored with “Thinking in Bets” so I bought five more books online, and switched to “Liar’s Poker.” I lost momentum there too so I skimmed through the CFA Institute’s “Guide to Bitcoin, Blockchain and Cryptocurrency for Investment Professionals,” and CoinGecko’s “How to DeFi.”

I don’t know how many books I’ll be able to finish this year, but it seems like a good start. And even if I fail to beat my record last year, I think I understand the secret now.

As long as I’m enjoying myself learning, who cares?

– – –

Pic from Pexels: Maรซl BALLAND

I buy all my books online nowadays — mostly from Bookurve and Kinokuniya. Check out Book Depository (free delivery worldwide, just that shipment takes longer), if your book is rare.


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16 comments

  • After all, As long as Iโ€™m enjoying myself learning, who cares?

  • Hi! I like this recent post. I am the worst procrastinator for books. I do read, but I follow my mood. It’s complicated but sometimes I climb back the mountain many times in order to reach the peak end (Goal is to read at least 12 books a year) . So, What I do is I set 1 hour or 30 minutes reading daily before hit the sack in order to maintain that momentum. I have took out books that I want to read and then I read 1-3 pages per day. The rest of my past purchases, I sort it in my closet so I will only touch the one I took out. The recent book I am reading is Robert Kuok’s Memoir (bought it in 2018) and going to finish soon in a few weeks. And also, I prefer E-books nowadays because we can just read on screen (need a Hard-disk & Tablet). While reading, I played relaxing music in low volume to create a “reading atmosphere”. It helps to brought back the reading mood and calm our minds. You can try this: Richard Templar’s Books, Kitchen (Banana Yoshimoto), Almond (Won Pyung-Sohn), The Selfish Gene (saw this in Kdrama Sky Castle), World Without Walls. Used to only read chick-lits and romance but now I’m open to non-fictions, thriller, historical, personal growth etc. Huge changes. HAHAHA~

  • Ah! I definitely like your notion that we are all just learning! It’s the same as people went for a better alternate choice after experienced the tough ones (the boring chapters) . I personally love the genres of fantasy, romcom novels and all that. And I am NOT embarrassed about reading them even people might think it does not count as learning materials and solely for entertainment. I learnt a lot from the dreams, utopia world and creativity. My creative ideas for content creation are definitely bursting out after reading them.

    • That’s amazing to hear Vivian. One quote I’ll always remember from an author I admire is “read fiction to learn storytelling.”

  • I have similar challenges, a self-professed reader, who can barely eke out a couple of books a year , due to online distractions. It is so easy to read whatever interests me online that I barely pick up a book.

    Year 2020, due to staying at home and to conciously rest my eyes from too much screen time, I managed to read 18 books. Atomic, 5am club, the Yuval Harari trilogies, fictional but based on true story bestsellers on WWII, Mexican immigrants, North Korea life, I am so glad I found some gems, the best kind of books are those that lingers on long after I finish, not the ones that lingers on because I can’t finish.

    This year though, the reading goal is different. I am going back to the basics, learning a new language and learning to read, so now I’m back to Enid Blyton-ish books but in another language.

      • Here are my faves in recent years. Quite a mixed bag here, hope you can find a few to enjoy !
        American Dirt – Jeanine Cummins
        The Girl With Seven Names – Hyeonseo Lee
        When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi
        Secret Diaries Of A Junior Doctor – Adam Kay
        Becoming – Michelle Obama
        The Power Of Now – Eckhart Tolle
        The Tattooist of Auschwitz
        All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
        Educated – Tara Westover
        Yuval Noah Harari trilogy

  • Welcome to the real world fellow reader! Honestly, there is no right or wrong in either not finishing a book or hoarding books (There is a term for it called ”Tsundoku”). In fact most readers have the same problem! I’m in a book club (KLBAC) and we normally share our pain and gain there so, yeah, it is a universal problem only readers would feel LOL! We have TBR (To Be Read) piling high which we might not finished in our lifetime. We either DNF (Did Not Finished) or speed read books which started to make us yawn. We do keep reasonable reading goals to motivate us to read more (via Goodreads) and many more! We are just humans who enjoy reading so fret not, just relax and enjoy reading whatever suits your palate ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thanks for dropping by and your kind words Susan!

      Wow I didn’t realize there’s actually a book appreciation group here. Wishing the best for everyone there.

      Do you have any lists of your favorite books of all time to share? Would love to read.

      Thanks again!

  • This blog post was really good. I felt like it spoke to me. I rarely finish a book, then I feel bad I stopped short by 2 chapters. Its a conundrum, but I am glad I am not alone. I read vicariously online, but I always found blog posts to be missing a bit of intellect. It’s an authors opinion on something, even if based loosely on fact. While books can be this as well, it feels less so. Nonetheless I have contributed to posts and am writing a book myself. The time commitment and research to put words into a book are far greater. Now that I see that for myself, I am more encouraged to read more. But, I never looked at it as an investment or even that reading 20% of books is far greater than 0%. I have a huge bookshelf of books I want to read. I better get started. Thanks!

    • Thanks for dropping by Danielle!

      I wrote this because it’s something I’ve struggled with for years, and am so glad that it resonated with you too.

      I’ve kinda resigned myself to the fact I’ll never finish all the books I want — but I’ll do my best.

      All the best on your writing journey, and hope your book is published soon!

  • Great article!
    I should skip chapters (and books) whenever I get bored too – who am i trying to please? Also, it bums me out and i tend to procrastinate starting the next book.
    Highly resonate with Naval’s sentiments on reading books. So for this year, i plan to read 12 books, so I too can humblebrag. Haha

    This was my (pathetic) reading list for last year (this is NOT in any way a humblebrag) :
    1. Predictably, Irrational – Dan Ariely
    2. Lean in – Sheryl Sandberg
    3. Quiet – Susan Cain
    They were all good reads – worth every cent spent!

    Good luck and i’ll see you on the other side!

    • Hi M,

      Thanks for your kind words! Yes, let’s all read more this year and do it for enjoyment.

      Those books you mentioned are real classics. All the best, and I’ll see you on the other side!

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