Reading is awesome, so obviously doing a bunch of it is cool, right?
And that’s why people try to speed-read, flaunt their massive book collections (yep, guilty as charged!), and listen to audiobooks to 2x or 3x speed.
But not all reading is the same. Like Epictetus once said, “I can’t just call someone ‘hard-working’ just because they read.” He wanted to know what they read and how they did it.
And even though reading is better than many other things, you can still do it badly or for not-so-great reasons. As Seneca put it, “Too many smart minds have been caught up in pointless excitement for useless knowledge.”
Being an awesome reader isn’t just about reading; it’s also about how you do it. The tips I’m gonna share aren’t everything, but if you try out a couple, I’m pretty sure you’ll not only rock at reading but also improve yourself as a person.
1. Don’t bother with books you’re not having fun reading
If you’re thinking of rushing through a book, just ask yourself: “Is this book even worth it?”
You switch off a TV show or movie if it’s dull. You ditch food that doesn’t taste good. You unfollow people when their stuff is pointless.
Life’s too short for boring books. My trick is 100 pages minus your age. So if you’re, say, 30, and a book hasn’t hooked you by page 70, drop it.
That way, as you get older, you deal with lousy books less and less.
2. Have a cool quote book
In the book Old School, this guy Tobias Wolff types out awesome quotes and stuff from cool books to feel the awesomeness of writing. I do something similar almost every weekend, and I call it my “quote book.” It’s like a stash of quotes, ideas, stories, and cool facts that I wanna remember. It’s helped me write better and be smarter.
I am not alone.
Back in 2010, when they were fixing up the Reagan Presidential Library, they found a box that said “RR’s desk.” Guess what? Inside were all the cool things Ronald Reagan had in his desk at work. There were these little black boxes with small 4x6 cards. On those cards, he wrote down quotes, ideas, stories, quick sayings about politics, and lots more. He sorted them into groups like “Stuff about our Country,” “Freedom,” “War,” “People,” “The Whole World,” “Funny Stuff,” and “Being a Good Person.”
So, Ronald Reagan had his own kind of quote book, just like Lewis Carroll, Walt Whitman, and Thomas Jefferson had theirs.
Like Seneca said, “Look for the good stuff that helps and the cool, wise things that you can actually use right away. Forget about weird old stuff or super fancy talk. Learn these things so well that words turn into action.”
3. Read the masters again
Remember when you tackled The Great Gatsby in high school? And someone told you the tale of Odysseus when you were just a kid?
So, here’s the thing: You got the gist, right? You’ve been there, done that, and moved on, right?
But hold up, it’s not that simple. We can’t just read a book once and call it a day. That’s why we gotta read and give it another go.
Seneca had a cool point: “Hang out with a handful of super-smart thinkers, chew on their stuff, and let their ideas really sink in.” ’Cause life keeps changing, and we keep changing, which means what we take from books can change too.
4. Get cool book suggestions from people you look up to
So, Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “If we bump into someone super smart, we should totally ask them what books they’re into.”
Back when I was a teen, I got into this cool habit. Every time I met someone awesome and important who I admired, I’d ask them: “Hey, what’s a book that rocked your world?” And you know what? I’d read that book.
If a book seriously shook up someone’s life — no matter what it’s about or how it’s written — it’s probably worth your time. If it made a difference to them, chances are, it’ll help you out too.
5. Learn from others, not just yourself
General James Mattis had a cool point: “If you haven’t read loads of books, you’re pretty much clueless.” People have been doing stuff, good and bad, for ages. Ignoring their wisdom is just plain arrogant and dumb.
Seriously, why waste your time and money making the same mistakes other entrepreneurs did? And don’t you dare take your marriage or family for granted and think you can just wing it.
Too much is riding on you to only learn from your own blunders — you gotta also pick up lessons from others. Dive into history, philosophy, and more. Check out the stories of what went wrong and what went right.
If you don’t, you’re totally slacking on your responsibilities.
6. Break free from a boring phase
Getting wise isn’t a quick, direct thing. It’s more like a crazy adventure with lots of twists and turns, like a rollercoaster ride with ups and downs. You might be stuck in a not-so-great time now, or you’re way down at the bottom. It can be pretty darn scary ’cause it feels like you’ll never get out of that spot.
You’re in a funk.
I go through reading slumps too, like when there’s a book launch and my focus is all over the place. But I’ve figured out a trick to snap out of it — I just read something that really hit me before.
Instead of waiting for some random book to click, I just go back to something that already hit me hard before… and guess what? It still has more to say. Like, I might pick up a new version of Marcus Aurelius and see him in a whole new light. Or I’ll dive back into a fave novel, like A Man in Full or The Moviegoer or Memoirs of Hadrian.