How to Process that Pile of Books You Can’t Seem to Finish [+ 5 Other Reading Hacks]

How to Read a Pile of Books

If you’re an avid reader, you most likely have a stack of books you’ve started reading but never seem to complete. You may have the habit of eagerly devouring a book until another arrives. Consumed by enthusiasm, you start reading that new book and set the first aside. Continually finding more to read, this shortcoming repeats itself. Inevitably, you are left with a pile of books on your nightstand.

The following tips will help you read more than one book at a time, process a pile of books, and finish all the works you’ve ever wanted to read.

  1. Rotate your reading and stick to a pile before adding more books to your reading list. To process a pile of three to five books, use this disciplined system: when you’re in the mood to read, choose the book on top of your pile. Then, read it as long as you feel like reading it. When you’re done reading, don’t put back the book back on the top of your pile. Instead, put the book at the bottom of the pile. During your next reading session, pick up the second book, which is now at the top of the pile. Rotate your reading. In this way, you can progressively read every book and finish everything before taking on a new pile.
  2. Don’t add new books to your reading list until you’ve finished the texts at hand. As you process each group of books, don’t add anything to your reading list before you’ve finished everything in the existing pile. Focus on one pile of books at a time.
  3. You may not need to read every page or chapter to “read” a book. Pre-read a book by finding its summary on the Internet. Customer reviews on often have useful summaries or a list of significant ideas. To read a book quickly, first skim through its preface, table of contents, and index. Next, browse its substance by scanning section titles, subtitles and chapters, and by glossing over any pictures and illustrations. Read the first and last paragraphs of each chapter, and executive summaries. If you feel like reading any section of the book, read each paragraph’s first line to develop a conceptual understanding before reading the content more closely. Consider taking a speed-reading course to improve reading speed and comprehension.
  4. Give up if you find a volume uninteresting or unnecessary. You’re not obligated to finish a book just because you’ve committed to reading it.
  5. Choose books with a variety of topics, themes, or genres. The variety will keep your interest.
  6. Abraham Lincoln reading to his son Tadd at the White House Review what you’ve read. If you’re not sure which book to read next, instead of choosing from a wealth of new titles, consider rereading a book that you’ve previously read and found useful. A good book’s valuable concepts can’t be entirely absorbed with just one reading. As film critic Dana Stevens once wrote, “Going back to a book is a way of daring that past self to find new evidence for that old love.” Some books invite periodic perusing for further intellectual stimulation or for reinforcement of various insights. Moreover, it often takes multiple exposures to a useful concept for you to store it in your “little brain attic” (to borrow Sherlock Holmes’s term for mental models) and incorporate it in your behavior.

If you’re looking for something good to read, here’s a list of books I read in 2014 and recommended in an earlier article.

While we’re on the topic of reading, I recommend How to Read a Book, American educator Mortimer Adler’s classic guide to intelligent reading.


  1. says


    We are a not-for-profit educational organization founded by Mortimer Adler and we have recently made an exciting discovery—three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos—lively discussing the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

    Three hours with Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, lively discussing the art of reading on one DVD. A must for all readers, libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.

    I cannot exaggerate how instructive these programs are—we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

    Please go here to see a clip and learn more:

    ISBN: 978-1-61535-311-8

    Thank you,

    Max Weismann, Co-founder with Dr. Adler

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