Columns > Published on August 31st, 2017

13 Tips on Plowing Through "IT" (or any long book) In A Few Days

Stephen King's IT is a big-ass book. Something like 440,000 words. That's like 75% the length of Atlas Shrugged (561,000 words) or War and Peace (587,000 words). When you’ve read IT, you’ve read almost all of a couple books famous for being ridiculously long.

I’m dumb, which is why I decided to read Stephen King’s It for a book club.

And because it was a book club book, I had about a week to read it. Okay, I had a month, but I'm not perfect. 

Let's skip to the end of this tale: I made it. I was the only person at the meeting who finished, but goddamn it, I did it.

With the new movie coming out, you might be unsure of your ability to finish IT in time to see the movie and balk at how they left out this and that. Or, you might have some other big-ass book on your nightstand that you'll never finish. 

I can help you. Follow these steps to read a long book in a short period of time.

1. Don’t get out of bed

Whatever you do to start your day, don’t do it until you’ve read some pages. The easiest time to stay still is before you’ve moved at all. I don’t care what your morning rituals are, don’t start in on them until you’ve read some pages. Set your alarm ten minutes earlier if you have to. If you develop open sores on your back, you're doing it right.

2. Cuffs

Whatever you do to start your day, don’t do it until you’ve read some pages. The easiest time to stay still is before you’ve moved at all.

Wherever you go, whatever you do, bring the book and nothing else. If you’re going to an appointment, bring the book. If you’re going to the bank, bring the book inside. When you eat lunch, it’s the only option you allow yourself.

Turn your life into one of those stupid movies where two dudes are handcuffed together for some reason and have to learn to get along. Sure, they don't like each other at first. But eventually, even Laurence Fishburne and Stephen Baldwin can become friends, given enough time and sturdy enough handcuffs.

Am I suggesting you actually handcuff yourself to a book? Hmm...I wasn't before, but now that I think about it: Yes, yes I am. 

3. Move 

This is an old therapist’s trick. You have a client who seems unsure what to do in therapy or is very restless, so you talk to them while tossing a ball. It gives things a rhythm, takes their mind off things. It keeps part of your brain busy so it doesn't run around in a lot of different directions when you need it to focus.

I’m a big fan of the ol’ walk n read. You hold the book in front of you, you start walking, and you walk in a direction and read. The best places to try this are the suburbs, on a treadmill, or on a track. The worst places include the woods, the haunted woods, and anywhere it's likely you'll bump into someone who will inform you that, hey, they're walkin' here. 

It doesn't have to be walking. Just occupy your hands. Crumple and uncrumple a piece of paper. Fiddle with a deck of cards. Whatever. Just find something that keeps part of you busy.

4. Read in a faraway land

Okay, not in some fairyland or something. That would make things worse, what with all the questing going on. I just mean you drive 45 minutes away, plop down at a Starbucks and read.

Going out of your way makes the idea of a short reading session seem impossible, wasteful, and stupid. You’ve gotta read at least as long as it took to get there, right?

5. Don’t be afraid to mutilate your books

Once I had to read some long textbook chapters on an airplane. I know, my life is pretty glamorous. Jetsetting, library school textbooks...

I didn’t want to bring all my books, so I ripped out the pages I needed and brought them.

This worked out great. I got my reading done, didn’t bring a bunch of extra shit, and I got the distinct pleasure of trashing the pages I’d finished.

There are lots of ways you can deface your books to help you in crunch time. Make marks on the page edges that show where you should be tomorrow and the next day. Keep a daily diary in the margins that will show you how fast or slow you’re progressing. Make the book yours. Then you own it. Dominate it. And you can finish it.

6. Get in the bathtub

Listen. I know the downsides of baths, okay? You don’t have to tell me about how I’m just stewing in my own filth. I already know. It’s MY FILTH.

Anyone who takes baths for the purposes of cleaning themselves is taking baths wrong. That’s like going to a water park to get clean. In fact, it’s A LOT like that in you’re mostly soaking in urine.

Let me tell you the upsides. Of stewing in my filth.

Once you’re in, you’re in. You’re trapped. You’ve made this bed, and you might as well lie in it.

After all, you wouldn’t want to waste all that water by only reading for 15 minutes, would you?

7. Shut off your phone

Can you remember the last time you turned off your phone, like ACTUALLY turned it all the way off? Turning off the phone can be a pretty powerful deterrent to Googling, music-ing, and doing all the other nonsense that’s NOT reading-ing. When you go to read, shut that stuff all the way off.

8. Don’t Allow For Cram Time

Cramming is a great way to memorize some nonsense about Presidents just long enough to pass a test. But it’s a terrible way to finish a long book.

"Cram" and "crap" are off by only one letter for a reason.

Cramming is a great way to memorize some nonsense about Presidents (that’s probably not even true) just long enough to pass a test. But it’s a terrible way to finish a long book. Why? Because reading takes as long as it takes. There’s a finite amount you can shave off your reading time. It’s like trying to "cram" when you're late to a party by drinking bourbon spiked with coffee on the train (this sort of works, but as one of this method's practitioners, I wouldn't recommend it). Sure, you get some of the effect. But you're missing the point of the party.

I’m trying to help you avoid a pitfall here. When it comes to long books, planning to cram is planning to fail.

9. Change your social media passwords

This is a great way to get anything done. Have someone change your password, or change it to something you won’t be able to re-create. Write it down somewhere, and then put it away until you finish your book. The world is going to be just fine without you for the next week. Well, okay, the world is going to be terrible, but it’s not getting any worse because you’re not commenting on it.

If you need help coming up with a bizarre password that's impossible to remember, I recommend adapting the lyrics from any of Dream Theater's songs. 

Now, all you have to do is take the little parcels of time you used on Twitter and turn them into reading time.

Besides, then you’ll have a week’s worth of stuff built up for your triumphant return to the world of the internet. It’ll be a glorious 7 minutes.

10. Double-Team it with the audiobook

You read when you can, you listen when you can’t. Get both the print and audiobook going at the same time to maximize your productivity. Bonus points if you listen to the audiobook at twice the speed.

11. Show up early for everything

Everything you’ve got this week, leave 15 minutes earlier than you should, and bring your book. Then you’ll have 15 minutes of sweet parking lot time to kill. Plus, you'll feel good about yourself for being on time for once. This could be the start of a whole new thing for you! It won't be, us late-comers never change, but still, it's nice to live for a few days like a non-scumbag.

12. Remember, this is your last chance to read the book unspoiled

Once a book becomes a movie, it’s over. You’re never going to get that pure reading experience. The surprises are gone. 

It seems like a no pressure situation, but it’s not. Once you see the movie, the option to read the book without comparing it to the movie is gone. There are stakes here. Remember, there are stakes.

If what you're reading isn't about to be made into a movie, then I advise moving onto the next threat level: imminent death hounding your every second. Do you want to die before you finish that long book? Or do you, like Bill and Ted, want to beat Death?

13. Don’t read anything else

Don’t read articles. Don’t read emails. Don’t read texts. The only text that should be entering your brain is this book. That’s it.

In fact, if you read on a Kindle, delete all your other downloaded stuff. Seriously, do it right now. I'll wait.


Now you don't have the temptation.

Return all your other library books, put all your other books on a tall shelf, and give yourself this one thing to focus on.

Tell us below, what's the longest thing you've ever read and how did you finish it? How long did it take?

Get IT at Bookshop or Amazon

Get Infinite Jest at Bookshop or Amazon

About the author

Peter Derk lives, writes, and works in Colorado. Buy him a drink and he'll talk books all day.  Buy him two and he'll be happy to tell you about the horrors of being responsible for a public restroom.

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