Want to finish more books? Super readers share their tips.


Spring is here, the birds are singing and we’ve got ever more daylight to read by – so it’s the ideal time to check in on our bookish resolutions. Good news: If you finished even one book in 2023, you’re already in the 46th percentile of American readers, as The Washington Post’s Andrew Van Dam reported earlier this year.

What about the people at the other end – way at the other end – of the scale?

We talked to a few super-readers, who routinely finish hundreds of books a year, about their habits and goals – and asked them about what tips they have for the rest of us. (These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.)

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Olivia Ambrogio, science communications trainer in Silver Spring, Md.

Reads about 200 books a year.

How she does it: I do a mixture of paper and e-reader. I don’t really do audiobooks because I get very impatient with them. I just think the whole time, “I could be reading this faster.” I will say that tracking books has made me a little less willing to give up on a book. The worst is when it’s on an e-reader and you say, “I’m at 42 percent! I can get through the rest of it.”

Pro tip: Take advantage of wait time, no matter how small. I’ll read whenever I have time and whenever I’m not around others – so in the morning, when I’m eating breakfast. I mostly telework these days, but if I’m commuting on the Metro, I’ll read then. Maybe I’m the one cooking dinner and I’m waiting for something to boil; if it’s my night to sit with my daughter, and she’s falling asleep, I’ll read. Little intervals of time.

Goal for 2024: 203 books. It’s more or less what I would read in a year. If I were to do 250 to 300, it would probably be a real challenge that I would have to strategize for.

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Paul Scott, retired in Los Altos, Calif.

Goal for 2024: 400 books. Last year I did 388. The year before I did 350. So I’ll just see if it’s possible to do 400. I think I’ll make it.

I say, half joking, that it makes up for a bad public school education. I will go down a rabbit hole on an issue that I “learned about.” It was partly the texts we were using – when I read about the Dust Bowl in school, it was like one paragraph. So I started with a fictional book, Kristin Hannah’s book, then I read Timothy Egan’s nonfiction book. That led me to read about soil conservation, and that led me to read about prairies.

How he does it: When I was working, I probably read 100 books a year because I traveled quite a bit, probably 250 days out of the year. This was before we were all plugged in and before you could really do any work on an airplane.

People say to me, “Are you playing a lot more golf since you retired?” But now that I can golf every day, what I’d rather do is read. The pandemic crystallized how I wanted to spend my spare time. There was nothing on TV. All of a sudden I had this time from 4:30 to 8:30 in the morning, and I thought, “Gosh, I should really spend more time reading.”

I’d say about 350 to 400 pages a day is what I can do. Yesterday I read a book that was about 600 pages, partially because I wanted to finish it. I didn’t want to waste any more time with it. I usually get three to four good hours in the morning, and then I get a couple of hours in the afternoon or early evening.

You have to say to yourself, “This time of the day is sacrosanct.” When I was coaching salespeople, one of the things that people never liked to do was cold call. I told them, “If you want to get good at it, you’ve got to put it on your calendar and make sure you follow the calendar.” So I apply that to reading.

Pro tip: Invest time on the front end to gain momentum. If you really want to read a book, you’ve got to get into the first hundred pages, 200 pages. If you can’t, you’ll find reading is really hard. In the old days, I can’t tell you how many books I’d start and read 15 pages one day, and the next day I’d read the same 15 pages, just trying to get into it. If I can get a big chunk of a book started, it’s much easier for me to finish it quickly.

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Allison Wack, veterinarian in Frederick, Md.

Reads about 300 books a year.

How she does it: I mostly read audiobooks. I’ll sneak in a paper book once in a while, but I just don’t sit very much – I’m always running around, especially with two young kids; I also do a lot of volunteering for the Girl Scouts. I pretty much have my headset on all the time when I am around my house, doing chores or making dinner. In an hour, I can get through 3 hours of a book (I listen to everything on 3x. Don’t be intimidated by going fast! You can get there.)

Pro-tip: See if your library has agreements with others in your region, allowing you to borrow from their collections, too. For some of the libraries, you have to go in person to get the card. I have a book club, and we did this really fun crawl where we all went together to all the libraries, to get cards. I think I have eight?

Goal for 2024: At least 300 books.

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Vivian Taylor, book blogger in Charleston, W.Va.

Reads 365 books a year. I’m in awe of people who have full-time jobs, who have children, or they’re married or in a serious relationship and they’ve got all of the responsibilities related to that. And they find time to read! Those people, to me, are more astonishing.

How she does it: I moved back to West Virginia to take care of my aging parents in 2008. Initially, my annual goal was 200 or 250. It wasn’t really massive numbers, simply because I was so heavily involved in taking my father to medical appointments. I was getting up usually around 6 in the morning, then I’d read for about an hour before getting my dad out of bed. After I dropped him off at dialysis, I had two, three hours when I could read before picking him up and taking him back to my parents’ house and getting him comfortable for the remainder of the day. Once I left, I had the rest of the day that I could devote to reading. I read from 6 to about 11 or 12 o’clock at night.

For me, it’s not only a great escape, it’s my self-care. I don’t go out and get manicures and pedicures and massages or anything like that. My self-care is expanding my home library and reading books.

I have found that e-books work best for me. I deal with chronic migraines, so I do have days when I can’t read. But reading digitally means that I can change the color of the background, I can make the font larger, and as I’m aging that is a big plus. I do collect physical books. There are some books where I have the paperback, the hardcover copy, the e-book copy and an audiobook. Casey Cep’s “Furious Hours” is one.

Goal for 2024: 365 books. Every year the only resolution I make is, “This is going to be the year where I don’t reread a lot of favorite books.” And I never make it past the second week of January! I read the entire “In Death” series by J.D. Robb every other year. Although I’m very familiar with the series and the characters and the action and everything, picking up those books is like meeting old friends all over again.

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Rachel Dawson, social media manager in Richmond

Reads between 150 and 200 books a year. After college, it took me some time to find my way back to reading for fun. In 2015, I set my first goal, which was to read 50 books. I surpassed that – I read 80 books or so – and every year, I’ve increased my goals. It helps me to have a number to strive for.

How she does it: I track my reading in a couple of different apps, and I do a lot of book bullet journaling. I have a spreadsheet that I put all my numbers in, and it tracks the percentage I am toward my goal. It also changes colors based on how far behind or ahead I am. Every month as I read, I stack up my books; that visual cue is motivating to me, too.

Creating content about books is a hobby that became a revenue stream on the side. I make revenue from brand partnerships, a book club and a Substack. It’s money that I throw toward savings or my credit card. In the circles I run in online, there’s a lot of comparison, and you get caught up in that and feel like you need to keep up or read every popular book as soon as it comes out, or read several hundred books to be impressive.

Goal for 2024: 12 books. I was finding myself reaching for really short books, really light and fluffy books, just to try to finish something quickly, to add another book to that stack. I revisited the American Girl books from my childhood, which are so tiny.

This year feels exciting because I’ve already hit my reading goal. I can let that go. I really want to prioritize books that matter, books that are quality and books by authors of color. I always had time – but I just didn’t feel like I did.

Pro tip: Get a reading app. If I put the app in the same folder on my phone where Instagram is, it’s a helpful trigger: What if I read for a couple of minutes instead of scrolling?



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