You don’t have enough time in life to read all the books you want to. But if you change your habits just a bit, you’ll be able to read many more books in the time you do have left than you otherwise could have. Filmmaker Max Joseph learns these and other lessons about reading in this short documentary, Bookstore: How to Read More. In it he travels in search of not just the advice of some of the world’s most expert readers (or at least some of the most expert readers in America), but also in search of the experience of the most beautiful bookstores in the world (or at least in western Europe and South America).
Wait But Why blogger Tim Urban tells Joseph he would need to read for only half an hour per day to have read more than a thousand books by the end of his time on Earth, versus the single shelf he might read through with his current habits.
Eric Barker of Barking Up the Wrong Tree suggests that Joseph redirect his social media-viewing instincts toward whichever book he feels most excited about reading in the moment, and that he begin by setting his daily reading goal so low at first — say, just one page — that it’s practically easier to meet it than not. (To quote from Moby-Dick, “What cannot habit accomplish?”) Then Howard Berg, who holds the Guinness World Record declaring him the fastest reader alive, breaks down the techniques that can theoretically make each page go by in seconds.
But how fast do we really want to read? For counsel on the what and the why, Joseph visits the office of Ruth J. Simmons, president of Prairie View A&M University and former president of Brown University. She emphasizes the importance of reading not just frequently but widely, a condition that shouldn’t be terribly hard to fulfill given Joseph’s travel and shopping habits: in the video we see him visit a variety of highly Instagrammable (and drone-filmable) bookstores everywhere from Brussels and Maastricht to São Paulo and Buenos Aires. One of them, Lisbon’s Ler Devagar, tells him to “read slowly” with its very name, echoing Simmons’ description of reading as “forced meditation.” That framing is apt, but just like visiting a new bookstore, meditation makes the true bibliophile think of only one thing first: all the volumes out there still to be read.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.