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A reading resolution

A counterintuitive plan for reading more books in 2023

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As a student at Monroe Elementary School in San Jose, Calif., I couldn’t wait to reach the sixth grade. You see, fifth and sixth graders got to spend part of each day working as aides. As a fifth grader, I could work as a lunchroom aide, serving up school lunches on compartmented plastic trays. (I liked working the dill pickle ­station on hamburger day.) I could also serve as an office aide, delivering stacks of sweet-smelling, purple-inked mimeograph copies to classrooms.

But I had higher aspirations for my aide career: I wanted to work in the library. And only sixth graders got to do that.

It was 1973, and I was already in love with books. By then, I’d read piles of books from Scholastic, along with 32 Nancy Drew books and everything by Beverly Cleary. I’d also read some Newbery winners like Island of the Blue Dolphins, which my physicist father selected. (He also made me read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species when I was 9, thus deferring much consideration of a Creator God until I was 28.)

But back in elementary school, all my reading adventures seemed trifling compared with securing an official role at what I considered to be The Source: The school library.

Monroe Elementary had a sumptuous new modern library anchored with a circulation desk of polished blond oak. The desk wrapped in a semi-circle and in my memory, threw off its own gleaming aura. A hinged gate offered access to this holy of holies, and I wanted nothing more than to be allowed inside.

And then one day, I was! It was even better than I’d imagined. The circulation desk had a well cut into it with a tabbed index for all the book cards, each of which promised its borrower a journey. Armed with a banded date stamp, I felt like a ticket agent or a sentry, stamping passports at the entrance of hundreds of new worlds.

Back then, I just wanted to be around books, and I still do. Two of my favorite experiences of all time: (1) Conducting research for one of my own books at the National Archives and Library of Congress; and (2) Gazing upon a real Gutenberg Bible at the New York Public Library. (Yes, I’m a bit of a geek.)

To this day, when I visit a bookstore, I only buy one book at a time. That way, when I need another, I get to visit the bookstore again. But in 2023, I’m adding a new wrinkle: Not only will I buy only one book at a time, I will also read only one book at a time. I’ve done this successfully only once before, and that year, I read more books in a single year than in any other since I was a kid.

This strategy seems obvious to me, but I appear to be in the minority. Google this subject, and you’ll find a lot of multitasking advocates. Proponents of reading multiple books simultaneously suggest doing so keeps you interested, lets you adjust your reading material to your mood, and helps balance pleasure reading with required reading. But based on the ideas of productivity experts like Gary Keller (The One Thing) and Cal Newport (Deep Work), as well as my own childhood and grown-up results, I think there’s an excellent case to be made for the virtues of focusing on a single book.

I find that I read faster and more consistently, propelled through each book by the prospect of cracking open the next. I find that I absorb the material more fully and spend more time thinking about it, too. Finally, when I’m reading one book at a time, I take that book everywhere and read while I’m in waiting rooms, drive-thrus, or standing in line.

As I mentioned, I’ve only succeeded once in reading one book at a time for a full year. But in 2023, I’m going to try it again, and I figure this column constitutes ­public notice and thereby accountability.

Speaking of which, I would love to hear what you think of my one-book strategy and also about your 2023 reading plan. Please write to me at lvincent@wng.org. Let’s talk books!

Lynn Vincent

Lynn is executive editor of WORLD Magazine and producer/host of the true crime podcast Lawless. She is the New York Times best-selling author or co-author of a dozen nonfiction books, including Same Kind of Different As Me and Indianapolis. Lynn lives in the mountains east of San Diego, Calif.


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