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Theodore Roosevelt's secrets to reading a book a day

Theodore Roosevelt was a man of many identities. He was a politician, a president, a boxer, a cowboy, a zoologist, and a historian. But most important of all, he was a fanatical reader. Even in his years as president he would consume at least one whole book a day. And he didn't just consume it, but he could remember everything, sometimes quoting even whole passages. Although likely none of us have the photographic memory of Theodore Roosevelt, we can learn how he read, what his methods of reading were and how he found time to read even in such busy and stressful times. Luckily Theodore wrote an article once in which he tells us all of his secrets to reading a book a day. Here are 5 of his secrets, and below you can find the entire article, which Theodore Roosevelt, the manliest president the United States has ever had, wrote for the 'Ladies Home Journal.'

Read what you like

People often see reading as a drudgery. something they don’t like to do but have to do for some reason. This is because most people have the wrong perception of reading. When thinking about reading, most of you think about school, where you were essentially forced to read books you had no interest in whatsoever. Reading books you don’t like feels like a chore, but that’s the case with everything you don’t like. If you have to sit through a science fiction movie when you hate science fiction, it will feel like drudgery too. It’s not the book that’s the problem, but the subject of the book.

To make reading easier, and much more fun, you need to make sure that you read what you like. Read about subjects that interest you, read what you like to read about. Reading should be fun, you should be excited to pick up a book, go sit on your chair or lie on your couch, and read. It shouldn’t feel like you have to force yourself to do it, it should feel like you can’t wait to do it.

With this, you’re always going to have personal taste. What someone else likes will not always be something you like, and that is fine. You should find books on subjects that interest you or that you find important. What other people want to read doesn’t matter, everybody has different interests when it comes to books. So find books you like and reading will change from feeling like a chore to being a hobby.

“The reader’s personal and individual taste must be the guiding factor.”

Best books lists are nonsense

As we discussed before, what you like to read will differ from person to person, and you’re not given to like what the person next to you likes. This is also the reason that a recommended list of books often doesn’t work. Especially a list such as the 100 best books of all time or any general best books lists. They may objectively be the best books, but it is not given that they will be the best books for you.

Teddy also has an issue with books of the week lists, where they list the best books that were published that week. New books in general are mostly not the best. It is always better to go for books that have stood the test of time, books that are several years old but whereof the information is still as relevant today. These are the books that contain the truly valuable information that will add to your life. Instead of having a book of the week or the year, Theodore says, they should make lists of the best books of last year or the last decade. This way you can see which books are so good that they’ve stood the test of time, and this means that they are most likely worth reading.

Don’t pay too much attention to book recommendations, find what you enjoy and read that. Otherwise, you can look at lists, but make sure that the books they contain have stood the test of time and thus contain truly valuable information.

“There is no such thing as a list of ‘the 100 best books’ or the ‘best 5-foot library.’ … To attempt to create such a library that shall be of universal value is foreordained to futility.”

Read books that have happy endings (positive books)

Theodore’s reasoning for favoring books that have happy endings is that life can be miserable enough sometimes, that we need that escape to some better place where everything turns out fine. We have so much stress, so many problems to fix in the real world, that we don’t want to be plagued by more problems in our books, but we want to enjoy books and use them as a haven to escape our lives. This is a good reason to read books that end on a positive note, but I also have something to add to this argument.

I believe that reading books that are positive in general, at least mostly, is very important. This is because the books you read, like any information you consume, produce your worldview. This means that if most of the information you consume is negative, you will form a more negative view of the world in general, and this is not something you want if you want to live a happy life. What you therefore want to do is read positive stories. Read biographies and stories about heroes where they are portrayed as heroes and not as villains. Nowadays people like to bring our heroes down and magnify their deficiencies and faults, instead of looking at all the good they have done. Most of the time this is simply wrong, sometimes even rightful, but still, I would avoid reading this negativity at all costs. We need our heroes to look up to. We need ideals to strive for, for without them, we become depressed and purposeless and are only driven by our animal instincts. 

The same goes for stories that have happy endings. We want to believe that everything will be fine in our lives in the end, no matter how difficult and painful the trials and tribulations we face. Reading stories with happy endings will also positively shape your worldview, because you will always feel that sparkle of hope that the story will end well, instead of feeling the defeatism that bad ending stories will give you.

So read positive books, not only to feel good in the moment, but also to shape your worldview in a way that makes life the best it can be. You are what you read, so read about positivity, and you will become a positive person.

“There are enough horror and grimness and sordid squalor in real life with which an active man has to grapple; and when I turn to the world of literature … I do not care to study suffering unless for some sufficient purpose. It is only a very exceptional novel which I will read if He does not marry Her; and even in exceptional novels I much prefer this consummation. I am not defending my attitude. I am merely stating it.”

You always have time to read

A bad excuse people often use for not reading is that they don’t have time. This is mostly based on the idea that reading should be done for long hours or not at all. This is false. Even reading 15 minutes every day (and everybody has that, no matter how busy you are) will let you read for 90 hours every year. Reading a full book for slow readers often costs you 10-15 hours, which means that you can plow through several books a year while only spending a little less time scrolling on social media. Of course, if you have more time, it is always preferable to read more.

The most important thing you can do to make reading as easy as possible and to stay consistent with it, is to make it a habit. We are all creatures of habit and do most of our daily tasks without even thinking about them. Your morning routine more than likely happens without you even thinking about it. The same goes for every other habit you acquire. Once you’ve acquired it, you don’t even have to think about it. I for example have taken up reading in the morning right after I’ve woken up instead of watching Youtube. At first, this seemed difficult, but after a week of staying consistent with it, it became automatic and I didn’t even have to think about picking up a book. This habit has now lasted for over two months already and is still ongoing. This example shows the power of habit and how easy it will become once you’ve made reading a habit.

To make reading a habit, you simply need to schedule a time, or do it after or before a certain daily activity, and do it consistently at these times for at least a week. After a week of reading in the morning, you will notice that you don’t even have to think anymore about reading, you simply do it no matter what. This makes forgetting to read impossible. 

So if you schedule the time, no matter how little, to read, and make it something you do automatically, you will always have time to read.

“… there are rainy afternoons in the country in autumn, and stormy days in winter, when one’s work outdoors is finished and after wet clothes have been changed for dry, the rocking chair in front of the open wood fire simply demands an accompanying book.”

Read books in streaks.

It is often believed that when you start reading a book, when you finish it, you have to stop and look for something new. But that is not at all how reading works. Like Theodore explains in this article, you will read books in streaks. This means that reading one book will recommend to you multiple other books, and those books will recommend multiple other books as well. This can be because one book recommends several others that go deeper into the topics that interest you. It can be because some subject is mentioned within the book itself, or it can be because the book is part of a period, and thus makes you curious to know what exactly happened in the next or previous period. For example, reading a book about the Roman Empire will stir your interest in the ancient Greeks, and they in turn will interest you in ancient Egypt, or the other way around depending on where you start. Maybe a book will recommend another book, or maybe you read a biography where some other people are mentioned and you want to know more about those people. So does every book recommend another book or stir an interest in another subject linked to the book you’ve read.

The bad and good news about reading is that it never stops. You’ll never be finished with reading books, there is no endpoint. This can be a negative because it means you’re never going to be done. But it is a positive because you’ll always have something to do. And what is life if we have no new things to do or to experience or to learn? Reading books never stops. Don’t worry that you’re going to just read one book. Once you pick up your first book you're never going to be able to stop.

“Even in pure literature, having nothing to do with history, philosophy, sociology or economy, one book will often suggest another, so that one finds one has unconsciously followed a regular course of reading.”



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