Recently I started sharing every book I finished on my Instagram stories. In addition to the wonderful conversations it starts — “how did you like that one? oooh, I loved the ways that one character did that thing!” — I’ve gotten one question on repeat:
How the heck do you read so many books?
There are really two questions in this one question: not just how I actually do it, but also how I make space for it.
So in this post I’m gonna share two things: the TOOLS I use to read a ton of books for free, and the BEHAVIORS I’ve changed to make room in my life for this much reading.
6 reading apps that make it easy to find, read & share books I love
There are 5 reading apps that I’m constantly using the find new books, enjoy them, and share what I love:
The Libby app
Some libraries use Libby, others use Overdrive or Hoopla, but the idea is the same: Your public library system purchases ebooks, and you can request your copy. When it’s ready you can borrow it instantly as a download, the same way that you would borrow a physical copy of the book, and the book automatically returns itself when your time is up (7-21 days).
At first my love for Libby was limited, because my local public library system has a fairly small selection of books so the wait time on popular options was extreme (like 6 months for bestsellers!), and since I could only request 8 books at a time, I had to be really thoughtful about exactly what to request.
Then i discovered that as a New York State resident, I could get free digital library cards to both the New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library. (If you’re not a NYS resident, you can get a Brooklyn library card for $50/year — way less than Kindle Unlimited or Scribd book subscriptions!)
These systems have much larger ebook catalogues, so I can now request up to 20 books at a time and have up to 35 books checked out at a time. (I’ve never borrowed more than 4 at a given time, but it’s nice to know that I COULD have 50 books in my queue!)
The Kindle app + device
When you borrow a book from Libby, you can choose whether to read it in the Libby app or have it sent to your Kindle account. (Audiobooks you have to listen to through Libby though.)
I always send my books to the Kindle app, so that I can read them on my phone, iPad or Kindle device.
This works out remarkably well for me because if my kids see me reading a physical copy of a book, they come over and try to turn the pages while I’m reading (savages!), but if they see my kindle they know that it’s just words without pictures and typically leave me alone. 👂🏻
I love that I can sync up all my devices, so if I have extra time in the school pick-up lane, I can read a page or two on my phone, then when I get home I can swap back to my Kindle & not miss a beat.
I also love that I can use the Amazon Kindle app system to borrow free books without giving Bezos another penny (because Amazon has big enough profit margins as it is) … which brings my to my next tool.
I also love audiobooks, but don’t love giving all my hard earned cash to giant corporations … so instead of an Audible subscription, I have a membership to Libro.fm.
(Note: This is an affiliate link and if you join through my link, I earn free audiobooks … but obvs I’d talk about Libro anyway even without the promise of free books!)
Their catalogue is fairly robust — there are a few titles I can’t get due to licensing, where the publishers have exclusive deals with Audible (dammit Harry Potter!) — but in general I’ve been very impressed with their selection and customer service.
Also: They run a lot of great promotions … like over Black Friday weekend they ran a collaboration with Bookshop (a collaborative of independent booksellers) that if you spend over $25 on Bookshop you could choose a free Libro audiobook. That’s how I got a free copy of Clap When You Land!
Another amazing app that helps me to read is Goodreads, which tracks all the books you’ve read, are currently reading & want to read. It syncs right up with the Kindle app to automatically track when you start & finish a book, and can give recommendations of what you might like based on what other readers have shared in their reviews.
Also, Goodreads has an annual Reading Challenge where you can declare a certain number of books you want to read in a year, and it will tell you how well you are progressing towards your goal. It’s motivating as hell, especially when you want to keep a firm lead or feel like you’re falling behind!
In addition to Goodreads recommendations for future books I might like, there are two other places where i love to talk & share about books …
Reddit is an internet forum where you can discuss anything (and I mean ANYTHING). It’s made up of thousands of “sub-reddits” with specific interest groups, many of which are full of bibliophiles who act as a virtual book club and recommendation center.
Here are a few of the sub-reddits that have helped me find new books to read:
- General book suggestions: r/books, r/booksuggestions, r/52book
- Because I love the Romance genre, I subscribe to r/RomanceBooks, but there are also subs for romance, romancewriters, romanceauthors …
- If you like Young Adult books, try: r/YAlit, youngadultbookclub, youngadultfiction, same with Fantasy books: r/fantasy, fantasywriters
- And then specific series have their own subreddits — for example I like Sarah J Maas books so there are subreddits for her (r/sarahjmaas) and each of her major series (r/throneofglassseries and r/acotar)
You can post in any of these forums and share what you’ve liked previously and what you’re looking for, and Redditors can share their recommendations … and then often, Reddit bots will share a book synopsis or a list of how many other times people have recommended those books.
I mentioned that my motivation for writing this post is that I’ve been sharing my finished book in Instagram stories, and that sharing has been great for accountability around which books I’m reading and in engaging others to get recommendations.
I also follow a few book-related hashtags so that I can get beautiful flatlays and book shelfie pics in my feed … and when I see books that I already love showing up in the layouts next to other books, I figure that the photographer probably has similar taste to me & I add some of the other books to my “to be read” queue on Goodreads.
Suggested hashtags include: #bookstagram, #instabook, #readmore, #bookrecommendations, #readreadread
How I’ve re-adjusted my life to make time & space for reading a ton
But even having the best apps in the world won’t give you the motivation to actually READ … so next I’m gonna share with you how I trick myself into spending more time reading (and less time doom-scrolling).
Changed my routine
Listen, I love a good Netflix binge as much as the next guy, and when the next season of Stranger Things drops, I’ll drop everything else to watch it.
But I found myself sitting down at night and turning on the TV just to have some noise, and to feel like I could “veg out.” I didn’t even like what I was watching, it just felt like the routine … and then I’d zone out so hard that I’d lose track of time and go to bed later than I wanted and not be able to fall asleep (maybe because of the bright flashing screen!).
So I shifted my routine, so that instead of putting the kids to bed, picking up my phone, sitting on the couch & playing gmaes while half-watching Great British Bake-Off, I stopped going downstairs (where the lure of the TV was too strong). Instead, I leave the kids’ rooms and climb into bed with my Kindle.
At first I told myself I only had to read for 15 minutes, then I could go downstairs … but I found that once I started reading, I didn’t want to stop. Some nights I’ll send an hour or two reading a book at night — time that used to be spend re-watching 3 episodes of The Office for the 18th time.
Remove other distractions
I re-arranged my phone screen, so that my time wasting apps (Facebook, Reddit, Instagram and games) are all in a folder on the final screen, whereas Kindle & Libro take a place of prominence on my QuickTap bar. (Today I learned that the bottom bar on the iPhone is called the QuickTap bar!)
By increasing the friction to get to the apps that I didn’t want to use, I made myself more likely to actually open the book apps.
Acknowledge my brain chemistry & tap into the dopamine
This summer I started exploring whether I have ADHD, and how that brain chemistry could impact my behavior, and what I can do to not let it derail my productivity.
Basically, everyone’s brain loves dopamine (the “feel good” pleasure hormone that flows when you hit the jackpot) … but ADHD brains might have more dopamine transmitters or less dopamine, so they tend to impulsively chase pleasure and ignore information that won’t give them that dopamine hit.
As I understand it, ADHD isn’t really an attention deficit problem, more of an attention focus problem. ADHD brains focus most on things that are intriguing & exciting, but have trouble with topics that are mundane or repetitive. (Explains why my corporate jobs never lasted more than 2 years, and my desk was always a mess!)
The makers of social media apps are aware of this dopamine-seeking behavior, and have designed their software to give that burst of excitement regularly (with likes, notifications, and endless scrolling).
Books are a little harder to trigger instant dopamine, so I had to find some way to work the system to tap into the pleasure of reading, specifically …
Read the books I WANT to read, not what I SHOULD
I remember being a voracious reader as a kid, but that reading-for-pleasure slowed down in middle school as schoolwork picked up. There were still literature books I enjoyed for class, but rarely did I read novels except over the summer.
My “fun reading” slowed down even more through grad school, and then when I became an entrepreneur & a mom, all my reading time was devoted to books about business, parenting and self-development. Important, but also boring … and for years I struggled to finish 20 books a year.
Then on a whim in March 2020 (right at the start of the pandemic), I opened up the His Dark Materials trilogy … and it felt like I fell into the world that the book was creating — just like the Subtle Knife lets Will move between worlds to find the location that Lyra can decipher with the alethiometer. I read the entire 1250-page trilogy in 3 days, and when it ended i felt like I’d lost my friends — my first book hangover in years. I wanted MORE of that.
The excitement of the book’s plot (and the escape from anxiety that it provided in the first fingernail-biting weeks of the pandemic) gave me a hit of dopamine that I hadn’t been able to find elsewhere. (My usual suspects — Facebook, Reddit, etc — were all full of bad news & speculation that just boosted my anxiety.)
So I sought out other books similar to His Dark Materials that would provide a similar experience: quick plotlines, smooth writing style, strong female protagonist, broad worldbuilding, vast character breadth, sweet romance.
And when I figured out the factors that would help me experience that reading high again, I leaned into it.
Gamify my reading process
There are a few things that I love about reading that I’ve tried to build into a habit stack:
- I love the escape of falling into someone else’s world, seeing inside their thoughts, experiencing life through their eyes.
- The feeling of accomplishment when I see the word “acknowledgements” and know that I’ve completed another book.
- The community & conversation that can be built around a beautiful story.
- The progression towards a goal.
- The excitement of the notification that a book I’ve been waiting for is finally on my shelf waiting for me.
- The urgency of a looming deadline.
- The start of something new.
For me, the joy of reading isn’t just about the story … it’s about the entire experience from selecting the book, getting my copy, reading it, talking about it, returning it and finding the next one. Part of the joy is the continuous flow from one book to another, and tapping into the dopamine hits along the way.
So my process looks like this:
- Find a book I think I’d enjoy on Goodreads, Instagram, or Reddit
- Look it up on Libby, and see what the different wait times are for all 3 of my library cards, feeling like I’m gaming the system by stacking what’s coming up next with what can wait a month
- Watching the countdown of weeks decrease, and enjoying the notification when a new book is mine for the taking
- Downloading the book, and reading it in every spare minute that I want to, allowing myself to fall into the narrator’s world
- Focusing on one book at a time (whereas I used to juggle half a dozen and get frustrated with all of them), so that the pride of finishing would come faster
- Finishing, then posting quickly to Goodreads & Instagram and returning it to Libby to download my next book
By stacking the joyful triggers around my reading habits, I’ve actually adjusted my brain chemistry so that i’m more excited for a new book than I am about a Facebook notification.
Let go of what isn’t working
And when I find a book that I don’t like as much as I expected, I don’t white-knuckle through it. I give myself full permission to DNF (booknerd speak for “Did Not Finish”) anything that isn’t lighting me up. Even if I feel like I should finish because I’m already so invested (sunk cost fallacy, anyone?) or because everyone else said they love it or because it’s a classic that’ll make me a better person.
Sometimes I’ll work through an important book — I try to devote 1/3 of my reading list to memoirs (which can sometimes be tough), social sciences books, and business books — but I reward myself at the end of the heavier books with a cupcake romance to cleanse my brain palette.
Those are all my tips & tools for turning reading from “ughhhh I should read more” obligation to “leave me alone I’ll talk to you at the end of the chapter” love. Let me know how it goes for you!