Reading the World: The quickest way to read 195 books in one year
When you set yourself a challenge of reading a book from every country in the world in a single year, you manage to pick up a few reading tips. Having now read 195 books in 12 months, Ann Morgan, author of Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer, is here with her hints and tips as to how your reading time can be fully optimised.
I spent 2012 reading a book from every country in the world. As I reveal in Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer, the quest opened my eyes to what stories can do to change and connect us, threw up some big questions about issues such as freedom of speech, translation and cultural identity, and put me in touch with a booklovers from Bolivia to Palau and many places in between. It also changed my routine. Reading and blogging about one book every 1.87 days (as I had to do to get through a text from each of the 195 UN-recognised nations plus Taiwan in 12 months) meant I had to think carefully about how to fit as much reading as possible into my life. As I was working five days a week for much of the project, I ended up trying all sorts of extreme measures to cram precious extra minutes of book time into my schedule. Below are my top tips for would-be extreme readers (follow them at your own risk).
- Reading while commuting. To get the most words out of your daily journey to and from work, think strategically about your position in the bus, train or tube. Assess your fellow passengers as you get on and aim to steer clear of those eating, talking on the phone or listening to music with noisy headphones (you don’t want someone else’s bacon sandwich or drum and bass seeping into your imaginary world). If you can, make for a corner or back wall where you can lean, leaving your hands free for turning pages. Seats are good if you can come by them, but beware: a change of neighbour at the next stop may leave you exposed to someone playing Candy Crush with the keypad tones on, guaranteed to slow you down.
- Reading while cooking. This depends on the meal and may not be an option for fans of haute cuisine. Less ambitious cooks, however, can harvest valuable reading minutes between stirring, turning and draining. If you use an ereader, the inbuilt clock can be useful for timing.
- Reading while exercising. Back-supported exercise bikes are best for this. Pick a comfortable setting and cycle at a moderate pace with the book held clear of your knees. (NB: this can be a good test of a book. The higher you can push the setting and still be engrossed, the better it probably is.)
- Reading while walking. This requires some skill and is probably best not attempted by those who need glasses for reading, as good peripheral vision is key. The trick is to find the right balance of focus so that you have enough attention to give to the words on the page while remaining conscious of the inanimate objects and other people in your path. Have a winning smile at the ready in case things go wrong and remember to look up when you need to cross the road.
- Reading while washing. I’m sure we’ve all had moments when, as Dylan Thomas put it, all we want to do is ‘lie in a hot bath sucking boiled sweets and reading Agatha Christie’. It’s great, but I’m not convinced it is the best approach from a pages-per-hour perspective. Aside from the risk of dropping your book in the water, the heat, steam and general relaxation may make for a rather slow-moving session. Extreme readers will have to weigh up whether a quick shower and time sitting in a chair would ultimately be more efficient.
- Reading while driving. (Alright, reading while being driven.) This depends on having a willing chauffeur who is happy not only to do without conversation for much of the journey, but also doesn’t mind keeping the radio off. Assuming you can find such a generous person, sit in the front and glance up every few minutes to keep travel sickness at bay. If possible, avoid routes with speed bumps, as the jerking motion can make for a choppy read. If you do actually want to read while driving, please use an audiobook.
- Reading while sleeping. This is not a thing. So far there is no reliable method for absorbing stories while you sleep. Believe me, I've tried.