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Hackernoon logoI Went From Never Reading to 54 Books in a Year, Here's How by@z3nch4n

I Went From Never Reading to 54 Books in a Year, Here's How

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@z3nch4nZen Chan

Interested in Infosec and Biohacking.

“I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.” — Socrates

I never read ONE single book until I graduated from Secondary School.

Every summer holiday, students submit book reports as English/ Chinese homework in the next semester. What I did was read the first and last chapter of the book, add the reviews at the back and come up with some “feelings” after “reading.” I thought I was smart, and reading novels and stories are boring. I have done enough reading in classes already.

In the last summer of my secondary school year, my English teacher, Miss Ngai, gave me a book and told me to read it. She said I would be surprised. The book was old, and the paper turned yellow in the corner. It was her first book when she was in high school. I did not realize how sincere it was to give me such a personal item.

Miss Ngai looked into my eyes and told me that she knew how I came up with those “book reports.” Although she did not blame me, I grabbed the book and left embarrassed. How could anyone notice that? I thought.

I kept that book until now.

My English Teacher

Miss Ngai was an Atypical teacher. She loves English and tried to show everyone the bright side of learning the language. She laughed and communicated with every student every chance she got.

She did not use textbooks during lessons. Instead, she used TV shows as teaching materials to illustrate how important English is in particular situations… In the public examination of Hong Kong, there are questions called “section E.” Most of them asked students to write a letter of reply in different formats, including the complaint letter.

I still remember how she encouraged everyone in the class to write. It was about an encounter with her in a hotel’s restaurant. She was unsatisfied but did not blast out. Instead, she went home and typed a formal letter of complaint.

That letter was brought back to school and explained word by word during the lesson. What she got back was an official reply from the hotel's General Manager with a complimentary gift. That was, for me, the most realistic (it’s real) example in lessons.

I still keep a vocabulary book.

During the lesson, she asked us to bring back some old magazines and told us to tear them down into pieces. What’s next is pasting them all on the surface of a new blank paper book and use it to write down vocabulary every day. I started to write down words from subtitles of movies, songs, and magazines.

Thanks to her, the English lessons became less boring. Learning English is not that difficult anymore. However, it didn’t change my mind about reading.

She left.

In my second year of undergraduate, bad news suddenly came. Miss Ngai had a sudden heart attack and fell on her kitchen floor. She passed away.

It took me a while to believe it was real and verify the terrible news from different sources. Only have I experienced a few about someone left in my life. I felt regret, shocked, and without any way to talk to her again, I read the book she “gave” me (It was supposed to be lend, but I never finished it, and now I do not have the chance to return it).

It was “The Alchemist,” a novel by Paulo Coelho. And this was the first time I read a book from beginning to the end, A to Z, word by word.

The first book I read. “The Alchemist,” a novel by Paulo Coelho. | copyright by the author

My first book in my life

It was knowing that English is not my first language. It was not easy for me at first. But my mind told me to keep on reading.

After a few days, what came to me was this story was great! (I can still remember the ending of the book as that’s shaping my life, and I finally understand why Miss Ngai gave me the book. Thank you, Miss Ngai!)

I read it every day when I have time, and I brought this book everywhere with me. Finally, when I read the end of the book and closed it from the right-hand side.

A rush of satisfaction hit me, but I felt lonely at the same time. Again, this was new to me. The closest experience was finishing the final Boss of an epic RPG game, and the credits showed on the screen. This intense feeling pushed me to find another book to read. This time, it was a Chinese novel.

After the second book, I stopped reading for a while. But every time I pick a new book, it was not that hard. The feeling of reading is like learning how to swim. Once you knew it, you will not forget, although it may take a while for you to be at full speed.

My advice for reading are:

  • Start now! Read whatever near you and start reading it (It better to be a book/ a magazine/ a novel, anything full of texts). But it can also be a newspaper, a comic book, or a Medium story.
  • Add an “anchor” for reading. It is hard to create a new habit; instead, you can add it to something you usually do, like brushing your teeth or taking a shower. I called it an “anchor.” For me, it was once I sit on the bus, and I will open my book. With the anchor keep “reminding” you on the action, instead of picking out my phone, I pick my book from my bag and start reading it.
  • No matter how little you read, try to keep reading every day. Suppose I am really busy or not sleeping well. I may instead have more shut-eye on the bus than reading. However, I would at least open my book first to complete my anchor and, if possible, try to read a few lines.

There are two benefits to this:
1) you win a little success by keeping the habit;
2) at least you refresh your memory on what you left yesterday so that you do not need to re-read.

When I finished a book, I wrote down the title in my Journal with a number at the end. Start from 1 to 54 books at the end of the first year of my reading journey. That is 1+ books per week! Can you believe it?

It was just a flip of a mindset from 0 to 54. I will never forget how little things could lead to such a significant impact. Bad happened; it was shocked and painful. But what we can do is to learn from it.

The second wave of reading

The “second wave” of reading for me came when I start my career as an Information Security Consultant. Reading technical books and magazines are my daily activities to keep pace in this career. With a clear purpose in my mind, reading technical materials is a lot easier and faster. It soon becomes a habit.

I read during my commute (Most people in Hong Kong use public transport to work). It is about 2 hours every day. If there is a place to sit, that was the perfect time to do some reading. However, most people around are looking at their small shining rectangle.

I enjoyed reading and started to read different kinds of books. My problem was readers need storage space. And the least we have in Hong Kong was space. (As of March 2019, the average living space in public rental housing in Hong Kong was around 13.3 square meters per person.)

As a result, I acquired my first e-reader. It was a NOOK. I picked a nook instead of a kindle is, it supports more file types.

Most technical manuals by companies are in pdf, and I can access more books from different sources.

I was happy with it until the plastic body of the nook become sticky. It melted. I bought my second e-reader two years later, and it was a KOBO Aura H2O. That is still my current e-reader.

It was one of the best purchases I made. It was light-weight, waterproof with back-light so that I can read at night on the road. I can import the book from different online bookstores and documents. If you read a lot, an e-reader helps you as you can bring 1000+ books all at once.

My “To-Read List” started to grow as reading became a habit for both leisure and work. What I found the most useful was the one from Tim Ferriss.

It took me one month to get used to the techniques, but it was worth it. (Learning a new thing is one of the best things in my everyday life. I am grateful to live my life as I know I learn new things every day.) My reading is much faster and better.

Audiobooks are a game-changer

I bought most of my audiobooks from audible nowadays.

In 2018, I started using audiobooks. Listening to it changed my way of absorbing new information. While reading required a moment to be still (e.g., sitting on the bus, standing on the train, after lunch…), I can listen to audiobooks almost everywhere I was alone!

I am a distance runner. Listening to audiobooks is a perfect match for running alone. It helps me to focus on nothing but my breath and the book I am listening to.

The best experience of reading comes with the synchronization of the audiobook with an e-book on different devices! It doubled my reading speed (But it also doubled my spending on books if I want to have audio and books!).

Thank you for your time in reading my story. I hope everyone can read more by reading this story of how I read from 0 to 54 books a year (On average, I read 40–50 books a year now). I am sure there is always something to be learned, and maybe one day, you will find your life-changing book too.

What kind of books I read now:

Philosophy (Western, Chinese, and Japanese)

  • Non-fiction
  • Nutrition
  • Fitness
  • Neuro-Science
  • Disease and Treatment
  • Information Security
  • Technology
  • Time Management
  • Business

Thank you again, Miss Ngai.

I am proud to say that I love English, and I read books now.

Thank you for reading my story — happy reading and writing.

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