How to Read Twice as Many Books in Half the Time (Even if You’re Illiterate)


When I was a kid, I read constantly. I would devour stack after stack of books from the library. I read through dozens of Boxcar Children, Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew books, developing a huge crush on Iola (Joe Hardy’s girlfriend) and Nancy Drew. I remember the thrill of staying up late reading under the covers with the glow of a flashlight.

And then I got older.

And started getting crushes on real girls.

And went to college.

And stopped.

I don’t really know why I stopped reading in college. Maybe it was all of the forced studying and time with books. Nothing kills joy quite like obligation. If you’ve ever done your own dishes as opposed to doing dishes for a friend, you know what I’m talking about. But somewhere in there, I went from reading dozens of books a year to reading one or two. And even those, I would read as quickly as possible so I could get on with my life. I would skim large portions of books, just trying to get through.

Part of this is likely due to my personality. I should likely have been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, though I am grateful that this never happened. I am impatient and a chronic pacer. Sitting still and reading became more and more of a challenge, especially as my adult life always found myself on the proverbial “go.” Even now, sitting down to write and be in one spot is a challenge.

My journey back to reading was a bit circuitous. Two years ago, I found myself feeling very lethargic and dull. The lethargy was an intellectual lethargy, as I was two years removed from college and had ceased reading and learning in general, at least compared to the pace of my collegiate years. A few weeks before the New Year, I downloaded my first Podcast (NPR’s Planet Money). What I heard on Planet Money was so interesting, so noteworthy, and so exciting, it rekindled a love of learning. It was only a matter of time before that love of learning spilled back into me reading books.

What I found soon after is that audiobooks resolved two things for me: my desire to learn and my inability to stay still for very long. The biggest complaint I have often heard for audiobooks is that they are too slow and that one could read much quicker. While this is undoubtedly true (you should, at least, be able to read in your head quicker than someone can talk aloud), I actually find that I read audiobooks quicker if you’re counting the total time to consume a book. Whereas when reading an actual book, I can take up to a month to get through it, trying to cram in time to read between work and play and social life, an audiobook can be consumed anywhere and anytime.

Moreover, I have found audiobooks to be a fantastic way to practice Pleasure Bundling. Pleasure Bundling is a fairly new idea that I heard of on HBR. The idea is that you pair a task you don’t like to do (say, exercise) with a task you do like to do (say, listen to audiobooks). I am often able to compound this effect by doing household chores (say, doing dishes) and thus simultaneously scoring points with the Mrs. Diffenderfer–which is a win-win if I’ve ever heard one.

“But wait!” you say. “Audiobooks are expensive!” Sure, that’s true. But not nearly as expensive as you might think.

For classic books that are in the public domain, provides a massive free collection of audiobooks read by volunteers. You have to be a bit selective, as the quality of the narrators varies widely. But some of them are quite astoundingly good and professional.

Your local library has a huge collection of audiobooks just sitting there for the taking. Many libraries these days also have ways for you to access audiobooks online.

An Audible membership costs roughly $15 a month (which gets you one “free” book per month). If you select a good, long audiobook, this could last you most of that month. This means your per-day cost is less than $0.50, which is a bargain to pay for have your intellectual brain muscles tickled. Also, one of the big advantages for Audible is that they have frequent sales. I recently bought 10 audiobooks for $4.99/each. So, for the price of two books at my local Barnes and Noble, I got 10 audiobooks. #worthit

However, the best deal in audiobooks today is to sign up for TuneIn Radio’s premium package. This gives you access to a huge collection of audiobooks for just $9 a month. Not a bad gig. The only downside is that you don’t have an offline mode.

In short, if you practice a bit of Pleasure Bundling and squeeze in audiobooks when you are doing other mundane activities, you will not only double your book consumption, but likely multiply it by a factor of four or more. You’ll be shocked at how many excellent audiobooks you can squeeze into a month, let alone a year.

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