How To Read More Books: Read Them Like Magazines

Reading books does not come easy for me. My attention span is short.

If you want to read more books, try these two simple things:

  • Read multiple books at once, and
  • Quit reading certain books whenever you feel like it.

This process helped me to read a lot more last year.

I first heard about the idea to “read a book like a magazine” from Naval Ravikant, CEO of AngelList, on the Tim Ferriss podcast (link). Transcript below, emphasis mine.

Naval: Any time someone mentions a book to me, I buy it.

At any given time, I am reading somewhere between 10 and 20 books. I am flipping through them, so if the book is getting a little boring, I will skip ahead.

Sometimes I will start reading a book in the middle because some paragraph caught my eye, and I’ll just continue from there.

And I feel no obligation whatsoever to finish the book.

If at some point I decide the book is boring, or if it’s got pieces of it that are incorrect (so now I can’t trust the rest of the information in there) I just delete it, and I don’t remember it at all.

I treat books now as other people might treat throw-away, light pieces of information on the web, and all of a sudden books are back into my reading library. And that’s great because there’s a lot of ancient wisdom in there.


Podcast info + audio here, or direct podcast MP3 – transcript below starts at 41:10.

Longer Transcript: Naval Ravikant On The Importance Of Reading Books

We’re now in a day and age of Twitter and Facebook where we’re getting bite-sized pithy wisdom that’s really hard to absorb. And books are very difficult to read as a modern person because we’ve been trained, we’ve got two contradictory pieces of training: One is our attention span has gone through the floor because we are hit with so much information all the time that we want to summarize, skip. We want to get to the tl;dr. What’s the 140 character version? What’s the Instagram version?

On the other hand, we are also taught from a young age that books are something you finish, books are something that are sacred. You treat books… when you go to school and you are assigned to read a book, you have to read the book. Over time, we’ve learned… we forget how to read books. Or we get into this contradiction where everyone I know is stuck on some book. Everyone is stuck on some book. I am sure you are stuck on some book right now. It’s like page 332, you can’t go on any further, but you know you should finish the book. So what do you do? You give up reading books for awhile. Your Kindle, or your iPad, or whatever you use, or even your paper book is in a stuck state.

That, for me, was a tragedy, because I grew up on books and then I switched to blogs and then I switched to Twitter and Facebook. Then I realized I wasn’t learning anything. I was taking in little dopamine snacks all day long. I was getting my little 140-character burst of dopamine and then I’d retweet, and then I’d see who retweeted my tweet, and then I’d get into an argument on Twitter. It’s a fun, wonderful thing, but it is a game that I was playing. I wasn’t actually learning anything.

I realized that I had to go back to reading books because when you’re talking about solving old problems; the older the problem, the older the solution. So if you’re trying to learn how to drive a car or fly a plane, absolutely you should read something written in the modern age, because the problem was created in the modern age and the solution is created in the modern age. But if you’re talking about an old problem, like how to generally keep your body healthy, how to stay calm and peaceful of mind, what kinds of value systems are good, how should you raise a family…these kinds of things, the older solutions are probably better, and they withstood the test of time. Any book that has survived for 2000 years has been filtered through a lot of people. Now it may have some stuff in it that we now know to be true, but the general principals are more likely to be correct.

I realized that I had to go back to reading books because when you’re talking about solving old problems; the older the problem, the older the solution. So if you’re trying to learn how to drive a car or fly a plane, absolutely you should read something written in the modern age, because the problem was created in the modern age and the solution is created in the modern age. But if you’re talking about an old problem, like how to generally keep your body healthy, how to stay calm and peaceful of mind, what kinds of value systems are good, how should you raise a family…these kinds of things, the older solutions are probably better, and they withstood the test of time. Any book that has survived for 2000 years has been filtered through a lot of people. Now it may have some stuff in it that we now know to be true, but the general principals are more likely to be correct.

So, if I want to learn the theory of evolution, which I kind of use as my binding principle whenever I am trying to explain any human action…people read all kinds of blog posts and tweets on evolution and everyone has a loose understanding of how evolution works. But how many have actually read “The Origin of Species”? I mean you can get it for 5 bucks on Kindle and it’s a very easy read, it’s not a difficult read. And you read the actual source and you can see the source of the brilliance and you can see how Darwin came up with stuff back then that we’re still trying to figure out. Or statements that he made that we’re still trying to prove out.

But, there’s very little that’s incorrect in that book and it is a source book. So, I wanted to get back into reading these source books and I knew it was a very hard problem because my brain had now been trained to spend time on Facebook and Twitter and these other bite-sized pieces. So what I did is I came up with this hack where I started treating books as throw-away blog posts or as bite-sized tweets or facebook posts. And I felt no obligation to finish any book.

So now, anytime someone mentions a book to me, I buy it. At any given time, I am reading somewhere between 10 and 20 books. I am flipping through them, so if the book is getting a little boring, I will skip ahead. Sometimes I will start reading a book in the middle because some paragraph caught my eye, and I’ll just continue from there.

And I feel no obligation whatsoever to finish the book. If at some point I decide the book is boring, or if it’s got pieces of it that are incorrect (so now I can’t trust the rest of the information in there) I just delete it, and I don’t remember it at all. So, I treat books now as other people might treat throw-away, light pieces of information on the web, and all of a sudden books are back into my reading library. And that’s great because there’s a lot of ancient wisdom in there.

More Information

  • Naval Ravikant on the Tim Ferriss podcast: article + audio here, or direct MP3.
  • Naval Ravikant on Twitter
  • Nick’s note: I read most of my books on my Amazon Kindle. Getting the first one or two chapters for free  (a complimentary feature on the Kindle) allows you to preview a book before committing to buy it. Very helpful to “taste” a bunch of books.

Naval Ravikant CEO

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2017-11-17T13:56:28+00:00 January 2nd, 2016|Books, General|