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In a recent Mastodon thread, I mentioned that I maintain a web page with a list of books I’ve read. I started the web page because I had heard that Art Garfunkel had done the same thing. These days, many people publish such lists through an account on Goodreads, but in true web developer fashion, I decided to build my own page. The current page on my site is a simple HTML list, using Benjamin Hollon’s readable.css stylesheet.
When I posted about the page last week, I got a reply asking how I managed to read so many books.
It was an interesting question, since I feel like I don’t read as much as I should. I try to take Stephen King’s admonition to heart: if you want to write, you have to read. Looking back through my list, I typically read around thirty books a year. So far this year, I have read eighteen books. My most recent books are the Robert Silverburg dystopian novel The World Inside, and The Brixen Witch, a retelling of the Pied Piper myth by Stacy DeKeyser. This doesn’t include the manuscripts of books published on this website, from superb authors like Buffalo, Riley Duffiend, and AT Gonzalez.
Much of my reading in the past couple years has been the works of Harlan Ellison. Ellison was one of the great writers of his generation, but he is sadly becoming forgotten. I am creating a directory of Ellison’s writing so that his work can be preserved online. I suppose this adds a little motivation to my reading.
Fundamentally, if you want to read, you need to make time to read. That means reading with as much free time as you can snatch away. I try to have a book with me in my car or my briefcase. When you’re waiting in line at the bank or the bagel shop, that’s reading time. It might only be a few pages here and there, but over the course of a year, it adds up.
I remember being stuck on a plane waiting to take off from Philadelphia, with only one working runway for takeoffs and landings. There was a line of planes ten deep waiting for takeoff. I could have doom-scrolled Twitter on the crummy plane wifi for eight hours, but instead I happened to have some books with me. I finished three books on that flight: a Jack Reacher adventure by Lee Child, Hannibal by Thomas Harris, and The Mignight Library by Matt Haig. Admittedly that is extreme, but the point is that I took advantage of an opportunity.
If you want to read more, I suggest audiobooks. Audiobooks are one of the easiest ways to improve your quality of life. Instead of commuting to work, and listening to the endless slog of podcasts, or the same twenty songs on the radio over and over, you could be reading. When you are brushing your teeth, you’re reading. I have recently enjoyed The Witcher books by Andrez Sapkowski. The stories are very entertaining, and the narrator does all kinds of fun voices for the characters.
Where to find audiobooks? I recommend Librivox, a website that publishes public-domain, free-culture audiobooks recorded by volunteers. There is a continuum of quality on Librivox, from the unlistenable to the professional-grade, so you may have to do a little bit of work to find an edition that is right for you. Some outstanding Librivox audiobooks include Little Women, The Count of Monte Cristo, Candide, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, McTeague, The Monk: A Romance, The Wind in the Wilows, and for the bold, Moby Dick. Elizabeth Klett is one of the site’s best narrators, I loved her work on the aforementioned Little Women, where she narrates and voices Jo March. She has also recorded several Jane Austen novels, and The Turn of the Screw.
There is also a Librivox app for iOS, at least, though this is not affiliated with Librivox. There are ads, but if you have downloaded the audiobook to your phone, these ads can be disabled by putting your phone into airplane mode.
I’ll conclude by saying that if you want to read more, just try this: start carrying a book with you when you go places. If you find some time when you’re waiting for someone or just idling, read a few pages. If you’re in the car, listen to an audiobook. Another trick is to read one hour before falling asleep. Especially if it’s a bound book, it will take more effort to read than to view a phone screen, and will help you fall asleep faster.
I would not personally consider myself a fast reader, but I do try to commit to reading when I can. I find that books can still transport me to places far and wide, just as much as they did when I traveled to the library with my mom as a kid. It is a special internal experience, and one whose adoption has become vital for the future of our society.
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