As of today, December 30th, I have read precisely 172 books in 2021. Yeah, I know it sounds ridiculous. I am surprised, too! This has been the most prolific reading year of my entire life. For context, I read 12 books in 2018, 16 in 2019, and 40 in 2020. My reading goal for 2021 was 50 books, and I, too, am still shocked that I was able to more than triple it!
But even more importantly, 2021 has been the most joyful, fulfilling, and exciting year of my reading journey. I have rediscovered myself as a reader, set and stuck to a strong habit of reading, and shared my love for reading with my students more than ever before. I am a better teacher AND human because of it.
But if you would have told me a year ago that I would read this many books in 2021, I would have laughed at you like a true skeptic. I would have told you that there’s no possible way, not unless I was some kind of reading hermit who never left her house (hey, I did that sometimes, but it was 2021). I simply would have said, “No, I don’t have enough time.” After all, that was what kept me from reading during college and the first few busy years of teaching.
While I didn’t have much time then, what I realize now is that there’s always time to read. If you’re already rolling your eyes at me, I get it. I really do! I’ve been there, but now that I’m on the other side, I feel compelled to share everything I’ve learned, all of my hacks, secrets, and tips about how to read more. If you’re too busy or too skeptical to scroll through this whole post, just read tips 1-4, and you’ll catch on to the real catalyst here.
1. I fell in love with Libby and Overdrive.
For the longest time, I was a stubborn reader who didn’t dare touch ebooks or audiobooks. I wanted to physically hold my books while I read them and feel the crisp paper as I turned each page. After getting an iPad a few years ago (and hardly touching it), I finally decided to give ebooks a whirl, although I remained prejudiced against audiobooks (more on those in #2). It wasn’t until I downloaded Libby and utilized the wonderful world of FREE books in my public library’s digital collection. If you’re unfamiliar with Libby, it’s the app version of Overdrive, a digital library platform that your public library most likely uses. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, head HERE to learn more about Overdrive and how I use it, go straight to https://www.overdrive.com/, or check out your local library’s website for more info.
Long story short, I became obsessed with Libby. I stopped spending so much money on physical books and started reading more than ever before. Even though I had (and still have) stacks of books I haven’t read on my shelves at home, I had virtually any book I wanted at my fingertips. It was a game-changer! In fact, I read the majority of my books via Libby. Even if I have a physical copy of a book, I almost always check out the audio on Libby, too. Which brings me to the next game-changer in my reading journey: AUDIOBOOKS!
2. I stopped being so stubborn and gave audiobooks an honest chance.
Even as I began to read ebooks via Libby, I was reluctant to try audiobooks. At first, I thought I could only enjoy audio when I was reading nonfiction, because it felt like a podcast to me (and I love podcasts). When I finally decided to give fiction audiobooks an honest chance, I realized just how much more I could read. I could listen in the car…on a walk…in the bathroom doing my makeup…at the grocery store…etc. The possibilities were endless! I could “sneak” in reading during the time I already had. I even began to look forward to things I previously hated (grocery shopping and cleaning, mainly) because it meant I could catch up on my latest book. That, my friends, is how you hack your own brain and read more books than you could ever imagine. It is my only true secret in this blog post, so if you’re bored, feel free to stop now and go check out an audiobook. (Okay, #3 is actually another sneaky little tip, if you’re interested).
3. I maximized my access by checking out both audio and ebook versions of the books I read.
Once I was hooked on audiobooks, I hacked my reading brain yet again. To make it even easier to read, I made sure that if I was reading a paper book (or ebook), I automatically checked out the audio at the same time (and vice versa). I found that many times I’d start reading a book, get really into it, and then I’d want a way to keep reading while I was driving, standing in line, or vacuuming my apartment. I know some people like to listen to one book and physically read another, and I enjoy that separation sometimes, too. But I also know myself as a reader, and I know that I need options. The more options I have, and the more accessible my books are, the more likely I am going to read.
I usually read most of my books with this kind of audio + ebook/paper book combo. For example, I might start listening to an audiobook while I’m doing the dishes, then curl up with the ebook version when I have time to read right before bed. Come morning, I’ll switch back to the audio on my commute to work. This method really helps me because it lets me fit reading into my schedule in whatever way is best for me that day. Whether I’m at home on the couch relaxing, or sitting in an annoying drive-thru line, I always have a chance to read, which brings me to my next reading breakthrough…
4. I realized I could listen to my audiobooks while doing the things I already did every day without taking up any “extra time” in my schedule to read.
Can you tell that audiobooks were the catalyst for my 2021 reading obsession? Over the course of the year, I realized that I actually had so much more time to read than I ever imagined. And I’m not even going to go with the “time you spend scrolling social media” argument because I love a little scroll as much as the next reader does. But hear me out…
We all are humans doing things each day, right? (Intellectual commentary, I know). Okay, more specifically, we all have set tasks, routines, responsibilities that we complete each day (or on a regular schedule). Think about how many of those tasks are mindless, boring, or even easy, but just time-consuming and necessary. For example, we all prepare food, clean our spaces, drive/walk, etc…the list goes on. These are just a few examples of opportunities for reading (aka listening to audiobooks) that do not require you to set aside any “extra time” in your schedule. Even if you’re the busiest person on the planet, you probably have at least a few minutes to spare each day, and those minutes can really add up!
Here’s an example of how much audiobook time I can fit in a regular day, without specifically carving out any extra time to read.
- Getting ready in the morning: 30 minutes
- Driving to and from work: 20 minutes
- Doing the dishes, folding laundry, vacuuming, or any housework: 20 minutes
- Going on a walk: 20 minutes
That’s an hour and a half right there! I do these things every day, so that adds up to 630 minutes, or 10.5 hours each week. That’s a book right there! At the very least, I know that even if life is busy and chaotic, I can sneak in an audiobook each week during these pockets of time.
5. I signed up for multiple library cards.
Do you know that you’re probably eligible for more than one library card?! Yep, you can totally max out your borrowing privileges and beat the system by signing up for multiple cards. For example, your state may offer a digital library collection via Overdrive/Libby. Mine does, so if you’re a fellow Ohioan, head HERE to get a card for free.
In addition to my statewide card, I have cards for two different local libraries. It sounds excessive and obsessive, and it probably is. But the books I want to read are almost always available through one of the three cards. And if they’re not, I can place a “hold” at all three libraries and grab the book that’s available the soonest. I am able to access more books “on demand,” and when I can get the books I want right then and there, I am much more likely to read them!
6. I set a manageable reading goal.
At the beginning of 2021, I was more comfortable in my reading journey, but I was certainly not prepared for the volume of books I’d end up reading throughout the year. After reading 40 books in 2020, I set my 2021 goal at a healthy, achievable 50 books. This meant I’d read around 4 books a month, aka one a week. That felt completely manageable to me. After all, with my new BFF audio, I could get through a book a week just by listening during all my daily tasks. I quickly realized I could double my monthly goal, and I read 8 books in January! This gave me the momentum I needed, but I still kept my modest goal in mind.
I didn’t set any other goals, restrictions, or deadlines on my monthly reading. I read what I could, I read what I wanted to, and I read how I wanted to. It worked better than I ever dreamed!
7. I made sure that I always had multiple books checked out and “on deck,” ready to read on Libby/Overdrive.
Once I was zooming my way through my monthly goals, I realized that if I wanted to keep up my momentum, I needed to have multiple books “on deck” to read next. There’s nothing worse than finishing an incredible book, nursing a quick reading hangover, facing the overwhelming decision of what to read next, and then realizing it’s unavailable on Libby. To combat this, I started checking out multiple books (a ridiculous amount, truly, but that’s why I have 3 library cards). Once again, my goal was instant, immediate access…the books I wanted at my fingertips! If I had another 5-star book ready to read, I found that I was much more likely to immediately start reading it than if I had to search for a new book after finishing a favorite. While I still went through reading slumps (I’m a human after all), they were much shorter and less frequent. And most of the time, they happened when I hadn’t taken the time to round up a handful of new books on Libby.
PS: Wonder what this looks like? I have 19 books currently checked out and 3 on hold. Ridiculous, but it works.
8. I made sure that I always had book set out and easily accesible around my home.
I am a very visual person, so if things are out of sight, they’re out of mind. To make reading easier and more attractive to me, I started grabbing books on my to-read list and setting them out around my apartment. I’d keep a book or two on my nightstand, a few on the side tables next to my couch, more in my 3-tiered-cart, and others on display on shelves I’d see every day. Just like having multiple books checked out and ready to read on Libby, I wanted to have multiple options at home. Once again, my goal was to eliminate the “What should I read next?” indecision, shorten the inevitable reading slumps, and soothe those pesky book hangovers with plenty of ready-to-read options.
It worked like a charm! In fact, it’s worked so well that I am thinking of getting a small “to-read” bookshelf to house the books that are “on deck” and ready to read. I also like the idea of somehow displaying the books I read as visual proof of my progress, almost like a little reward. 🙂 Let me know if you have any ideas for that!
9. I started an audiobook + walk habit.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I took up walking, mainly for my mental health. I committed to walking a mile each day, and the habit stuck. Oftentimes, I would pair this habit with an afternoon cup of coffee to incentivize it. Before long, I realized that I would walk longer with a podcast or an audiobook playing, so I wove that into the habit, too. As this habit became a part of my daily routine, I realized that I began to look forward to these little walks because they were the perfect “excuse” to steal away some time to read. Talk about killing three sweet little birds with one stone! I could support my mental health, improve my physical health, and read more – all by walking once a day.
My goal is still one mile a day, but I often walk and listen longer! After all, an object in motion will stay in motion, and I, my friends, am nothing but a little walking, reading object. It WORKS!
10. I put “Read” on my daily to-do lists.
This may sound silly, but I am someone who cannot function without a planner. I absolutely need a visual checklist of my daily tasks and goals, or they will not get done. The incentive of checking an item off my to-do list is highly motivating to me. So, as ridiculous as it sounds, I put “Read” on my to-do list every day. Even if I only read for 5-10 minutes, it counts! And most of the time, if I go to read for “just 5 minutes,” it turns into 15 or 30. It’s like I am hacking my own brain with Newton’s First Law again. Objects in motion, readers reading. That is the goal!
I hope these tips help you to read more in the new year! Please let me know if you have any questions, and stay tuned for another post with a roundup of every single book I read in 2021!
I know 172 books sounds absolutely ridiculous, so I feel compelled to offer these disclaimers about the quality of the books that led me to this quantity!
- A decent chunk of the books I read were graphic novels and novels in verse, which is another reason for my high book count. I firmly believe (and tell my students) ALL types and genres of books “count,” which is why I included them in my yearly total. Still, there were certainly some graphic novels I finished in less than an hour, so keep that in mind.
- Now that I teach part-time, I do have more time in my schedule to read. I didn’t read as much when I taught full-time, coached soccer, sponsored student council, and advised the school newspaper. I’m lucky to have extra reading time. But even if you don’t have much time, my tips will still apply!
- I also had some extra motivation to read a lot this year. I started a passion project – book recommendation brochures -that required me to read a LOT. I finished my middle school brochures in August, and I am still working on my high school brochures. You can read more about the book rec brochures HERE.
- Because of this passion project, most of the books I read this year were middle grade or young adult, so that’s part of the reason I was able to get through so many! I’m looking forward to reading more adult books in 2022. I’ll probably have a much more balanced and realistic diet of books then, so stay tuned for reading updates here and on my Instagram.