Every book should be read no more slowly than it deserves, and no more quickly than you can read it with satisfaction and comprehension.

– Mortimer J Adler, How to Read a Book

My trusty, hated Kindle

Reading only “1000 books before you die” used to strike me as unambitious.

Then I started tracking my reading, and I realized it would take me 40+ years to read 1000 books.

I needed to set goals to improve my natural average pace of 24 books per year. And in 2022 I eked out a respectable 55 books.

This post catalogs the systems and habits I used to boost my reading.


I like reading.

When I contrast how I feel after I spend an hour doomscrolling Reddit vs an hour spent reading, there’s no comparison—reading always wins. Too much internet can leave me feeling desolate.

Nonfiction continues to be the best way to learn more about myriad topics. And science now touts the benefits of reading fiction.

But there’s so much to read and so little time. Plus, I worried I was losing what I’d already read. So I set goals and built habits to achieve those goals.

What is working well

  • My Kindle – I wish an open device existed that was as wonderful as my Kindle. I hate that I love it so much. But it’s a boon to my reading, and the benefits are hard to quibble over:

    • Front-lit, ePaper display so I can read at night without a light and without interfering with my sleep
    • Stores 100s of books
    • Whispersync keeps it synced with audiobooks on Audible
    • Stores highlights in MyClippings.txt—makes it easy to export highlights
    • Stores words you look up in the dictionary in vocab.db—makes it easy to make vocabulary words into Anki flashcards
    • Light enough to drop on your face while reading in bed (this is a big concern for me)
  • Reading notes – I highlight quotes I like and save them in Readwise.

    Notes in my Readwise library

    This happens automatically for books I read on my Kindle.

    For paper books, I stole my entire process from Cal Newport:

    • Read with a Zebra #2 in hand
    • Highlight interesting passages—underline or bracket or make a mark in the margins
    • For each page where I highlight a passage, I also make a line across the corner of the page
    • Later, I can flip through the book and find all the pages with lines to find my highlights
    • Then I’ll use Readwise’s “Add via photo” feature to add the highlights to the app

    Readwise can automatically export to online notetaking apps like Evernote. But I like to export each book’s notes to markdown and save them for quick ripgrepping and offline reading under ~/Documents/notes/brain.

  • Tracking – It’s surprising how much benefit you get from simply writing down the books your read somewhere.

    I used to forget whole books all the time.

    I’ve tracked every book I’ve read since 2016 on this blog. Posting it online may give me a bit of public accountability, but I think a plain text file would net you the same benefits.

What still needs improvement

  • Reviewing – I failed to write a review for each book I read this year. I started strong but faltered around book 30.

    I want to improve this next year. Maybe I should finally concede and join a social reading forum—it might help to have some social accountability.

    The anti-corporate, ActivityPub-backed Goodreads alternative BookWyrm could be a cool place.

Goals for 2023

I’m going for fifty books again.

Here are a few of my vague notions for reading in 2023:

  • Math – I want to read about math. I’ve got A.N. Whiteheads’s “An Introduction to Mathematics” and Mark C. Chu-Carroll’s Good Math on my list.
  • Trees – I read “The Overstory” by Richard Powers in 2020. In an interview with the Guardian in 2019, Powers said he’d read 120 books about trees while he was writing it. I wonder which was the best?
  • The Hainish Cycle books – I’m a sucker for Ursula K. Le Guin. The Dispossessed is one of my favorites. I’ve never read any other book in this series. Why not try a few in 2023?
  • Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry – In 1994, David Foster Wallace taught English 102 at Illinois State. His syllabus survives online. All the required reading is mass-market paperbacks. Lonesome Dove is one of these cheap paperbacks that also happens to have won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, so it’s probably an OK read.
  • Moar US President biographies – reading a biography of every American president might be a fun project ¯\_(ツ)_/¯