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I am very, very good at reading books. I am very, very bad at reading anything that isn’t a book. Forward me an article you think I’ll be interested in, and there’s a 98% chance I won’t read it. Link a beautiful/informative/important piece of longform journalism in your Insta story, and there’s a 96% chance I won’t read it, though I’ll often click on it and “save it for later” because, my friends, I do want to read it, badly. Magazines? I’ve heard that’s a thing people read, both online and off, but ask me the last time I picked one up: I can’t remember. Ask me about how many emails I repeatedly snooze — both writing I receive as newsletters and links I send to myself: Every Saturday, my inbox floods with at least ten of these, all of which I continue snoozing until I either read them (maybe one every four months) or give up.
Maybe you read five or ten books a year, and you think it’s incredible that I read several hundred. But how many online essays do you read in a week? One? Eight? How many podcasts do you listen to? Do you read more than one magazine article a month? As far as I’m concerned, these are all incredible achievements. I wish I could be more like you.
To my fellow unable-to-read-anything-but-books folks, here are some strategies I’ve tried and some I may resort to in the future. It’s a lifelong struggle, but I’m working on it.
Make a Spreadsheet for Longform Essays
Are you a checklist person? Does keeping track of something bring you joy? Do you have a reading spreadsheet that you update constantly? Do you often bemoan the fact that, on the rare occasion that you read an excellent essay, you can’t add it to your spreadsheet? Me, too! Maybe what we need is an “Essay/Article” tab on our spreadsheets. Never underestimate the power of a checklist to create change in your life.
Give Yourself Gold Star Stickers
If you understand the power of spreadsheets, chances are you also understand the power of stickers. Here’s an idea I’m contemplating: a sticker chart on my fridge. Every time I read a whole article, start to finish, I add a sticker to the chart. Every 20 stickers, I get to myself more stickers. You know how it works.
Make Friends with Your Printer
We all hate printers. Most of us don’t even have one. But hear me out. Save all the essays and articles you want to read as you find them. Every few weeks, print them all out, put them in a binder, give it a nice title and maybe even a table of contents, and tada! A book! You could even spend your hard-earned money to take it to a print shop and get it all bound up!
Create a New Email Address Just for This Purpose
There’s nothing quite as wonderful as making a new email address, right? Another inbox to fill with clutter! What pure joy! Send yourself links to everything you want to read using this new address, and maybe the looming knowledge that eventually you’ll run out of space will light a fire under you and get you reading.
Get Your Friends to Do the Reading for You
Text your friends and family links to all the articles you want to read, with leading questions like: “What do you think about this?” “Do you agree with this take?” “I’ve been mulling over this idea; any thoughts?” Hopefully, they’ll read the article and share the salient points (plus their own analysis), and then you won’t have to read it all. Is this cheating? Yes. Please don’t tell on me.
Admit Defeat and Wait for the Anthologies
The Best American Series alone will keep you busy for a while. There are the Best American Essays anthologies, released annually, of course, but Mariner Books also publishes annual anthologies of science and nature writing and food writing. Who needs to read an article in real time? Not me.
Good luck out there.