Picture it: I dunno like two weeks ago. One of my followers–oh that’s right, I’ve got a posse–read one of my Monthly Books Read Lists and replied like so:
Reader gentle, reader dear–reader feral, reader I fear–I have a problem which is common to many of us: I was raised to think that assessing myself as Good At anything was Arrogance and Pride, and probably Communism as well. But this is nonsense, as illustrated by one of my favorite Twitters:
To whit, I can agree with my pal up yonder and say without ego or false modesty that I read a hell of a lot of books, and I know many people wish they could get more reading done. I don’t think I could teach you My Ways, and you shouldn’t want to learn them anyway; you should figure out what works for you, but seeing what works for others is a good place to start. (Sidenote, for this exact reason I also recommend the podcast Reading Glasses, which is specifically about the struggles of Reading Culture and how to overcome them.) My bud didn’t ask me to write up a Boost Those Rookie Numbers The Bageler Way article, but they clearly wanna read more books, and a wish voiced by one is a wish held silently by many (such as our unspoken desire for Jack In The Box to bring back those waffle breakfast sandwiches). And so:
The Bageler Presents:
Put More Books In Your Face, Or Don’t, I’m A Blog Post, Not A Cop
Method One: The Way Of Kings
Stephen King—pardon me while I genuflect—would be the first to admit that he is not a source to which one should look for Life Guidance, generally speaking. Like he’s got a deep well of spiritual, human truth, obviously, but he also spent a good chunk of his career so deep in a snowdrift of substances that he literally doesn’t remember writing Cujo, which is a shame ‘cause it rules. Also he once tweeted this and the internet agreed it was the scariest fucking thing he’s ever written:
That said, he knows what’s up in more than a few areas, and he gave me the single best piece of reading-related advice I’ve ever received:
This, more than anything else, is how I get my book-count every month. But if anything, I would say the King doesn’t take it far enough; yes read while On The John, y’know, workin’ on a Project as it were, but also in the quick 30-second pee-break during the epsiode of Only Murders In The Building you’re enjoying so much. You know the one, it has that huge twist and that witty dialogue, and Martin Short made an out-of-date Showbiz reference! Yes, read while you eat, but also while you’re cooking your Mac and cheese or waiting for your Mac and cheese to be delivered or microwaving your salmon. Yes, read in line at the pharmacy, but also in line at the drive-through, extremely really very carefully and also while promising not to sue your good friend The Bageler if anything goes wrong. Hell, read at work between calls or customers or waiting for your Uber fare or whatever if you can get away with it, or while you’re on the treadmill or walking the dog, or while your partner, who is also a reader of this blog, is taking a 30-second pee-and-reading break during an episode of Star Trek: Voyager. You know the one, it has something go wrong with the holodeck that raises uncomfortable ethical questions about the distinctions between holographic and biological life!
The point is, big chunks of reading-time are absolutely important, but finding space and energy for them in your day-to-day can be hard, and if they’re the only reading you’re doing, you’re not doing nearly as much as you could be. Look for the wee cracks of time where you can fit a paragraph or a page in, be in on paper, tablet, phone or audiobook, and you’ll see your count get BEEFY, you’ll see it BULLYING NERDS ON THE BEACH, then doing some inner work and REALIZING THE ERROR OF ITS WAYS and becoming one of those Positive Kings from the meme. That said, decompression and non-productive rest are non-negotiably vital to our mental and emotional well-being, so only carve out these micro-chunks if the idea excites you; treating it like a chore you have to scramble to find time for is a good way to burn out and come to hate the thing you love.
Method Two: The Pokémon Champ
So let’s say you’re hungry, but you’ve decided to only eat at one restaurant until you’ve tried its entire menu because you make confusing life choices, and that restaurant doesn’t sound very good right now. What are you going to do? Probably either order from it anyway and not enjoy it very much, or scrumble around for something you have on hand that won’t be very satisfying because you’re settling for it, not choosing it because you want it. You all see where I’m going with this: learn to cook, you lazy assholes.
JOKE, that was a joke, please come back. Thank you. No, food represents books in this scenario, and the same problems and same solution apply: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with only reading one book at a time if you’ve got software that will allow it, but in doing so you run the risk of not being in the mood for what that book has to offer and as a result either casting randomly about for something else that will do in a pinch or, more likely, just not doing any reading at all right then.
One possible solution to this Common Conundrum is to, if it doesn’t rustle your jimmies to an unacceptable degree, is to have a full roster of books going at once, theoretically assuring that you’ll have something available to suit most of your probable reading-moods. For example right now my Pokémon team consists of The Nightmare Stacks, Words Of Radiance, The Big Year, Kabu-Kabu, How To Invent Everything, and of course a million comics, and reading The Book Of Fun and The Stand to my wife at bedtime. As is probably obvious that covers a wide spread in terms of content, touching on Lovecraftia, high fantasy, nonfiction, afrofantasy short stories, hilarious instructional, nonfiction again, and cathartic plague-psalm, respectively, so odds are at a given time there’s something on hand I’ll be in the mood for.
The obvious drawback here is that books, unlike Pokémon, do not have an EXP-share feature and this will take an enormous bite out of your completion-speed, but we didn’t get into reading to win the race, we got into reading to enjoy the journey, because we saw the road and couldn’t not walk on to it. Some of you also want to win, in a way I don’t understand, so badly it scares me, but Making Number Go Up should not be the sole goal in mind or you’ll miss the trees for the…logging. Yes.
That said, this is explicitly about how to get more reading done, and obviously Making Number Go Up is an element of that; I’d be lying if I said I don’t love to add a finished title to my monthly list, and that sometimes that’s the only drive I have to finish the book at all. And, if you’re anything like me, you’ll appreciate that this method, if applied properly, allows you to make roughly equal progress across several titles at once, meaning that you’ll finish several titles in relatively close proximity; on the right Friday night you can unsheath your pharmacy magnifying-readers and add a handful of names to your body count:
God lookathem combos 👏stackin’ 👏up, you LOVE to see it, I have been the Most Productive Boy at this recreational activity that no-one is making me do, which is both normal to want and possible to achieve.
Anyway, this method isn’t key to VOLUME of reading like the first method above, but it IS key (for me, at least) for FREQUENCY of reading; by making sure I’ve got enough titles in the hopper to suit most of my moods, I can drastically reduce the odds that I’ll go ‘meh, none of this sounds good right now’ and just go scroll Twitter or work on this blog or whatever. Part of being a better reader is about building better habits, and building those habits (like with any habit) requires creating conditions that allow you to engage and reinforce them more easily, more often and more consistently.
That said, sometimes a body is just not in the friggin’ mood and wants to do some DuoLingo or color in a coloring book or play with your collection of dice or a video game or sing a song for your cat or whatever, just like some days you just can’t bring yourself to get on the exerbike or what have you, and it’s important to learn to distinguish days you need convincing from days when you need to listen and just do something else; see the earlier method re: forcing it, and burnout.
Method Three: The Killer On Your Trail
Much as everyone speaks different Love Languages, such as Words Of Affirmation, Heists, Acts of Service, Conquering Spain, Gifts, and Revenge, everyone has different Motivational Languages that drive them to do stuff even when they don’t wanna. In my limited and amateurish experience, these fall roughly along the lines of Push and Pull; some people are pulled forwards by the thought of accomplishment or leveling up or what they’ll get to do after they finish a thing, be that a reward or new option it’ll open up for them, and some people are pushed forwards by consequences and threats that loom ever closer behind them. I generally fall into the latter category, not because I don’t wanna do things (I want to do ALL the things) but because my drive is scattered, see the above about keeping a stable of books and projects instead of one at a time. Given that, schedules and deadlines and consequences are SUPER helpful for me and other people who are bad at time management, which is part of the reason I produce and edit several podcasts (one of which is quite literally a book club), and also the thought process behind this here very blog.
You don’t need to necessarily go to those extremes, and you certainly don’t need to do anything that requires to you to show your results to the public—in a rare contradiction of Ben Lee I urge you not to catch my disease—but having some kind of accountability system is absolutely what does it for some people, be that a book club, a project like this blog, a group agreement with your pals that you can’t go see the movie together until you all finish the book, or just a deal you make with yourself and/or your deity of choice:
My beloved Percy Jackson read-through podcast, The Jackson Two is currently between seasons, but when we’re on I need a reading schedule to make sure I get my chapters read and my notes transcribed into Evernote, and this blog actually requires a dedicated calendar of upcoming releases in series I read, because it’s hella embarrassing and I genuinely feel bad when a New Comic Book Day comes along and I get a new volume and have to admit I can’t really have thoughts about because I haven’t read the last one:
And yes, I’m fully admitting that it’s fear of embarrassment, in articles that I write voluntarily for fun, and ask you people to read, that motivates me. You hold me accountable! And I dare not fail you, at this task that you did not ask me to complete and would in no way suffer if I were to abandon. Stay tuned for my next essay, which will be an infomercial for my lecture series How To Make Trauma Work For You!
The potential pitfall here, of course, is that which lurks and lies in wait for the unwary foot of every Type-A or otherwise goal-oriented person: becoming trapped in a prison of your own design that was supposed to help you, and being all the more stressed out and miserable because of it. And the only antidote I can offer to that is not to take it too seriously, and remember that these are goals you’d like to achieve, not requirements for deserving to live another day; for example in the first calendar there, I did not catch up on Delicious In Dungeon in time for Vol. 11 and the World Guide, but I did get current on all of the others listed there, and with my goal pointed at Progress, not Perfection, that seems like a mighty fine result to me. Now if you’ll excuse me, uh, I really need to make some progress on Blade Runner Origins, Vol. 2 and figure out…how many volumes of Silk I have to read???
And now, my final, most powerful secret: I don’t know how to end articles.
Give a shout in the comments if you have any book-count boosting methods I haven’t thought of, or if you’re also consuming apocalyptic literature as a kind of therapy, or if you were also surprised to learn that’s what a vole looks like! And if you’d like, you can sign up for my newsletter here, and get a once-monthly roundup of everything I wrote during the previous page of the calendar and make sure I’m hitting my quotas.
Until next time, be good to yourselves, be good to each other, wear your goddamn masks, microwave your salmon if you feel like it, and if you see four lights, say four lights.