How to read 60 books a year and raise a kid who reads
Reading is a habit, a love, and an obsession for me.
I was 15 years old when I read in Seneca’s De brevitate vitae that there is only one way to add time to your life: by reading. Only by reading can you live a thousand lives. You can spend your whole life thinking and reach the age of 90 with conclusions that are not even that surprising. Or you can read the conclusions of dying authors and climb on the shoulders of giants. You can run alone for an unremarkable distance distracted by the butterflies around you, or do your part in an endless relay race.
I’ve written a review of every one of the 120 books I’ve read in the last two years. You can follow my reading on my Goodreads profile.
As Simon Sinek explains in his famous book Start with Why in any situation the Why is more important than the How.
Why you should read:
- Everyone will believe you are intelligent: It is a very competitive world, and nature has endowed us with a limited amount of intelligence, which is dominated by overflowing emotions and instinctive needs. In short, it is very easy for others to conclude on the fly that you have the intelligence of a cucumber. But if you are an avid reader, you will be able to flaunt an enormous amount of solutions to any problem, simply by quoting others’ ideas, and sound as intelligent as Nobel laureates, undisputed leaders, and researchers. In every conversation, you won’t have to limit yourself to your own stupid ideas, but you can bring in contributions from Nietzsche, Sung Zu, and Nelson Mandela and sound brilliant despite your human limitations. For example, re-read my article and see how many of the ideas quoted are mine. Zero.
- To not be a slave to the limitations and prejudices of the historical context and the small corner of the world you were born into. It is very easy to become a puppet of society’s shared beliefs. Take the key (a book) and open the door to new worlds and new eras, and finally discover which ideas have been instilled in you but make no sense, which rules you really want to obey, and which compulsory behaviours keep you prisoner. Some recommended readings: Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies | Jared Diamond, Sapiens | Yuval Noah Harari, Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter | Dan Ariely, The second sex | Simone de Beauvoir, Social Engineering: The Art of Human Hacking | Christopher Hadnagy, Mindf*ck: Cambridge Analytica and the Plot to Break America | Christopher Wylie, Oppression and liberty| Simone Weil.
- To become a better human being: As we all know “we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with”. It would be very sad to be the average TV presenter, the tattooed Instagrammer, the YouTuber who tells you how to make viral videos, John who talks about football matches, and aunt Pina who talks about which washing powder to use. In my spare time, I prefer to send all living beings to hell and (dream of) becoming the average between Lev Tolstoy, Rita Levi Montalcini, Frans de Waal, Hermann Hesse and Victor Hugo.
How to become avid readers and be human beings who run relays:
- Delete all social media. I deleted my accounts 5 years ago. Since that day I have gained 2 extra hours to read per day, which has given me 3,650 extra reading hours over those 5 years. A very easy response to your “I don’t have time to read!” excuse.
- Hang out with people who read, choose friends and a partner who reads, or be alone (“You’ll never be alone if you’ve got a book”). Hanging out with people who read means living life on a higher level. Discussing different points of view after reading the same book. Opening up a new world to the other person by recommending a new thing to read. Talking about ideas instead of people. Sharing precious moments of solitude with people (living or dead) of great value. If you hang out with readers you will be instilled with their habits and values. You can meet readers in bookshops, at book presentations, at book fairs, on goodreads.com, in book clubs, and by talking to people who read books on the train/plane/bus, etc.
- Establish a new habit: In the book The Power of Habits Charles Duhigg explains how each of us is made up of the building blocks of habits. All you have to do is form just one habit at a time, starting very small, and you will soon find it more difficult to do without the new habit than to return to the starting pattern. You can, for example, start with the habit of reading at a certain time, 5 pages a day for a month, rather than just reading a book as and when there’s a good moment. You will very quickly find you NEED to read more, and you will become a reader.
- Help yourself through technology: We are lucky enough to live in a time when there are audiobooks everywhere (on Audible, Youtube, Spotify) and Kindles. You can listen to audiobooks during any quiet moment, such as in the car on the way to work, while exercising, while washing the dishes, on the train, etc. You can save endless libraries on a Kindle and, thanks to the many different languages it supports, read in the language of your choice. Few people know that it is possible to share a single profile on Audible with several people. For example, I am in a shared account with a lot of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and in rotation we buy non-fiction books. For a minimal expense, we currently have 800 invaluable books available to everyone.
How to raise children who read:
- Read them the classics, which will send them off to sleep through boredom. Good habits are formed from the cradle and are often born out of extreme necessity. Before the age of two, my son NEVER slept. One day, somewhat as a joke, I started to read him a difficult-to-understand classic, The Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, and, to my surprise, my son fell asleep instantly from boredom. From there, I took to reading him a few pages of difficult books every night, for twelve years, almost always classics, mostly by candlelight to facilitate falling asleep. I have saved myself many hours of insomnia and my son has become accustomed to difficult reading. Now, at 12 years old, he makes literary references while conversing that I would never have expected even in my wildest dreams. The other day he told me “You are a little sadic” and I replied “Where did you learn that word!?”. “Oh, it was recurrent in Alexander Dubček’s biography”. Oh ok.
- Take advantage of children’s irrepressible curiosity: to hell with children’s books written for morons. Children are super smart and giving them content that’s too easy risks making them bored. Are your children interested in space? Give them the series written by Lucy and Stephen Hawking. Are your kids fond of snakes? Buy some scientific zoology textbooks on snakes. Always go for the challenging content and show your children that they can find the gold they are looking for in the mines you take them to.
- Pay them to read: This option may not be very orthodox, but I assure you it works great. Why pay a babysitter for a few hours of precious silence if you can pay your children to read? Each book is priced according to length and difficulty: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone 20 euros (and then ask them to continue the rest of the saga for free); Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, 30 euros. And so on. Silence sweet silence without guilt because he or she is learning. Obviously, the little crooks have to be questioned often before they get their payment, or they might just pretend to read.
I conclude by admitting what I believe is every reader’s innermost wish: to realise one day that we can stop looking for meaning outside ourselves, that to live a thousand lives is utterly useless, and that deep down we really are a little divine, we already have all the wisdom we need, and that we are not really as stupid as cucumbers.
In our wildest dreams, we would act like the wise and cultured character Wise Catalonian in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s book One Hundred Years of Solitude. After a lifetime spent with his nose in books, one day changes his life, as he sets off to explore new worlds, leaving the boxes with his precious books ashore, shouting from the boat to the citizens of Macondo in shock: “All that shit I leave to you people!”