5 Ways to Read More Books

How Mark VanDellen Read 52 Books Last Year

by Mark VanDellen | March 2023

How did I read 52+ books in one year? I cheated!

Or at least that is what a bunch of people have told me. Before I tell you how I cheated, let me take you back to the awkward kid with buck teeth and one piece of hair that would always stick up who hated reading.

Personal Pan Pizzas + Holes

I am a slow reader and have always felt shame around it.  So much so, that as a kid in class I would pretend to finish reading assignments before the majority of other kids in class and then hoped I wouldn’t get called on for any comprehension questions. The problem wasn’t my lack of desire to read or learn; it just took so much time. I felt dumb so I hated it. Would you believe me if I told you reading didn’t earn me many Pizza Hut personal pan pizzas?!?!? #IYKYK

As an English major in college the only book I ever finished was a middle school level book called Holes.  No joke…I graduated because I could write not because I was reading any of the assignments. Side Note: a professor once used one of my book reports as an example to the class of how to write a good book report. Yep you guessed it, I wrote a book report about a book I DID NOT read and got an A.

Then early in my career, I was surrounded by readers. Every speaker at every conference I went to was essentially a sales pitch for their latest book…and I’m a sucker for a sales pitch.  I would leave with 5-10 new books I really wanted to read but knew I never would. 

So, what changed?

Redefining reality: It’s not cheating when you create the rules.

As I started my own personal coaching journey a few things happened.  First, I started working on my mental game.  The internal voice in my head started to rephrase things toward a growth mindset rather than fixed or failure based (more on this here).  I changed the message in my head from being a “slow reader” to being a “thorough reader.”  And BOOM, just like that I was a fast reader… just kidding; nothing works that way.  What changed was that I had opened my mind to some new realities and other possible solutions.

I also redefined reality and rephrased my goals. My goal is now to *complete* a certain number of books per year.  Simply switching out the word “read” for the word “complete” opened me up to the possibility that I could consume books in a format  that worked for me. I fell in love with audiobooks. Now I use “listened to,” “consumed,” “finished,” and “read” interchangeably because they all add up to completing more books.  

5 Reading Hacks:
You too can cheat overcome your reading limitations

1. Try multiple mediums

I listen to 100% of the books I “read.” If I love a book, I also buy it on hard copy so that I can scan it, make notes, and refer back to it. If you are someone who loves to hold a book or the ease of an e-reader, but you still struggle to get through them, consider a hybrid approach. i.e. If you like listening to Ted Talks, then try listening to leadership books and read hard copies of novels. If you like podcasts about crime dramas, then try listening to those types of books.

2. Speed it up

I think and process way faster when I listen to a book so I regularly listen at 1.25-2x speed depending on the narrator. “But, that’s cheating” they say. I already admitted that I am a cheater, and that I’m cool with it. My goal is to consume + process + apply, so if I can’t retain the book at an increased speed, I will slow things down. 

3. Mix it up

I listen to books primarily in the leadership and self-help categories because that is the space I spend most of my time professionally. But, I also weave in books on investing, faith, marriage, and I give myself permission to read fiction about once per month. Another thing that keeps me interested and curious is being intentional about the voices I select to hear from. I have a loose goal of 20-25% or more of the books I read to be written and read by female authors and another 20-25% to be written and read by a person of color. If you’re feeling cheeky, try listening to a book by someone with an accent (I love a good British accent) or a novel with multiple voices.

4. Pair habits

Listening to books has worked so well for me because I can do it while doing other things.  A prime example of this is airplane travel: if you start a book once you step foot in the airport, you can likely get 2 hours in before even boarding the plane. When I add reading to this journey, I maximize my time and minimize my annoyance. I also listen to books while I drive. It doesn’t matter if it’s a quick trip across town or a lengthy road trip…10-15 min at a time adds up quickly.  I also listen to books while I clean, cook, plant my garden, etc. When pairing habits I still evaluate my ability to consume + process + apply. If I feel like I can’t multitask while listening to a particular book that requires focus, I switch it out with something on my fiction list that I’ve been wanting to read.

5. Embrace your system

My system is incredibly efficient…for me.  Admittedly, it’s also not ideal from a fiscal perspective (my reading habit cost me approx. $800 in 2022).  I use Apple Books because it’s quick and easy.  For me, reading is directly connected to my livelihood and continued growth as a coach so “what works” is more important to me than “perfect.”  If you are interested in less expensive ways to listen to books, I’ve heard great things about Audible and getting them for free from your local library via an app like Libby.

I feel like I have a few more years of at least 52 books per year before I make up for the many years of lost reading time; but I remain energized by hacking and overcoming my personal barriers to reading.  I regularly remind myself that if I continue to consume 52+ books per year for the rest of my life, I could read over 2000 books.  At that rate, there is no way that the voice in my head could ever convince me that I am “less than.”  

If I could meet my 8-year-old self, I wouldn’t let him settle for a personal pan pizza…we’d be hitting the buffet!

AGC's Favorite Books

A good book can be hard to find, so we asked our team to send us their *current* favorite fiction, non fiction and leadership books.

Meet Mark VanDellen.

As the founder + Principal Owner of MVD Coaching, Mark has 16+ years of experience leading and developing teams, as well as, effectively coaching individuals in all facets of life. The AGC team is honored to continue partnering with him in this work. Thank you, Mark, for being our guest blogger this month! 

1 Comment

  1. Todd A Warren

    This is great! I can so relate to this. I am going to start this habit. Thanks for sharing.


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