I read 100 books a year in 2021 – here’s how I read more than the average person

Chris at a bookstore in Penang. PHOTO: Chris Koh
Chris at a bookstore in Penang. PHOTO: Chris Koh

Did you know billionaire Warren Buffet spends 80 per cent of his time reading? According to Professor Keith Oatley, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Toronto and an expert in reading, reading is akin to mental gymnastics. "You experience a lot of situations in a short span of time, far more so than if we went about our lives waiting for those experiences to happen to us."

Washington Post reported that Oatley conducted a 2006 study that linked reading fiction to better performance on empathy and social acumen tests. According to a US study by Statista in 2015, Americans' average number of books read is 12 a year. In comparison, top entrepreneur Bill Gates reads 50 books in a year.

So imagine our delight when we heard of someone who read 100 books in 2021. And no, it’s nothing to do with covid restrictions or being quarantined. Yahoo Life SEA is thrilled to speak with Ms Chris Koh, 50, Chief Happiness Officer at Criteo Singapore, who reads at least 100 books in a year. We grilled her on her daily lifestyle, book preferences, time allocation and got her to share tips that allow her to read more than the average person in the world.

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Chris' bookshelf. PHOTO: Chris Koh
Chris' bookshelf. PHOTO: Chris Koh

Yahoo Life SEA: How many books do you typically read in a week?

It depends on whether they are fiction or non-fiction; I usually read two to five books a week.

What’s the average time you spend on a book?

Two to three hours for fiction, and up to three days for non-fiction books.

Are you a hermit?

Only when I am reading.

Do you have a group of like-minded friends who read as much as you?

Does my new nine-year-old friend count?

Which is your favourite way to spend your time? Social media, catching up with friends, working out, journaling, or reading?

All of the above. I have too many hobbies! But you can always find me in Kinokuniya.

Which is your favourite format to consume books? Audiobook, hard copy or digital format?

Physical books for reading during the day. At night, I read via my kobo e-reader because reading before bed relaxes me, and I don’t have to get up to switch off the lights.

How do you plan your reading list? Are you a member of book clubs?

I just go to my bookshelf and pick a few books to read for the week. Some light, some heavy, some thin, some thick. Mostly English, some Chinese books. I have never joined any book club and don’t intend to.

Do you take notes when reading non-fiction books? Any tips?

I can stay on the couch for three whole hours without moving when I read. I will have a highlighter/post-it beside me before I start reading, but if there isn't any, I will take a photo with my smartphone on the pages I want and then jot them down later. I used to store them the old-fashioned way – I am still a pen and paper person, but I have decided to digitize all the quotes from this year onwards. This allows me to refer to them anytime and anywhere I want.

Do you think the reading culture is dying? Why?

Have you seen the queue in Kinokuniya before the Circuit Breaker? The new generation is making our bookstores so much more happening now.

One of Chris' favourite activities – losing herself in a book in Kinokuniya. PHOTO: Chris Koh
One of Chris' favourite activities – losing herself in a book in Kinokuniya. PHOTO: Chris Koh

Why do you read?

I read to expand my vocabulary. I read (of course) somewhere that those who read regularly are 2.5x less likely to develop Alzheimer's Disease. I also get ideas from books for fun activities to implement at work.

Why do you think you read more than the average reader?

Everyone has different priorities, and mine happens to be reading.

Where do you find the time to read?

Besides setting aside blocks of time just for reading, I count my blessings to be in the tech industry. For example, my company encourages us to take time off during office hours, which means I can squeeze in pockets of time for tea and reading when I am feeling exhausted from work.

What tips do you have for those who would like to read more?

Tip 1: Bring a book with you and read when queuing or waiting for transport.

Tip 2: I am not paid to say this, but every reader has to own a Kobo! It links to our NLB digital catalogue! Imagine the number of books at your fingertips! No more excuses.

Tip 3: Make time – I wake up every day at 5am and start reading till 6 or 7am before I begin my day.

Tip 4: Have a good balance between Netflix and reading time.

Tip 5: Set a goal – I set mine at 3-5 books a week, so if I were scrolling social media for too long, my mind would start reminding me about my goal.

Chris' reading corner. PHOTO: Chris Koh
Chris' reading corner. PHOTO: Chris Koh

Which are your favourite non-fiction and fiction reads in 2021?

My top non-fiction picks are…

The Ride of A Lifetime

True authority and true leadership come from knowing who you are and not pretending to be anything else.Robert Iger

It is the first non-fiction book that made me cry. Robert Iger truly leads from the heart – hence the success of Disney. This book serves as an excellent reminder to stay humble and be authentic to lead in a unique and compelling way.

In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl's Journey to Freedom

When you have so little, just the smallest thing can make you happy.Yeonmi Park

At age 12, while we were thinking of play, all Yeonmi Park had on her mind was survival. When you start being thankful for the little things in life, it will improve your outlook and provide you with a positive attitude.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

There’s nothing you can’t do if you get the habits right.Charles Duhigg

Habits bring about change, and these changes become part of your life.

The Book of Joy

There are going to be frustrations in life. The question is not: How do I escape? It is: How can I use this as something positive?Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu

I really enjoy this book! It is a conversation between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu about finding joy and happiness, and I think everyone should read this at least once!

Talking To Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know

Don’t look at strangers and jump to conclusions. Look at the Stranger’s World.Malcolm Gladwell

This book not only changes how you look at others; it is also about how you look at yourself.

When Breath Becomes Air

I can’t go on. I’ll go on.Paul Kalanithi

A very beautiful and moving memoir written by a doctor who knows he is not far off from death.

Stories of the Sahara

Strange that there are some things people won’t change, with tradition as an excuse.San Mao

I have a deep love for San Mao. The Sahara desert came to life under her penmanship. It makes me feel like I am part of her entourage.

Eat That Frog!: Get More of the Important Things Done - Today!

Everyone procrastinates. The difference between high performers and low performers is largely determined by what they choose to procrastinate on.Brian Tracy

I am a big procrastinator, but I know how to tackle myself after reading this, and I must say I am more productive now! (I'm still working on it, though.)

Made In China: A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Cost of America's Cheap Goods

Our spending habits put brands on perpetual search for ways to shorten the time between design, manufacturing and distribution.Amelia Pang

After reading this book, I will NEVER, EVER, buy stuff made in Xinjiang anymore.

Good Habits Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick

Self-control is simple when you understand that it involves putting yourself in the right situations to develop the right habits.Wendy Wood

This book offers a comprehensive view of how habits are formed and how to change them. You can definitely implement some of the tips in your life.

Two more books that moved me deeply are The Rape of Nanking and The Woman Who Could Not Forget: Iris Chang Before and Beyond the Rape of Nanking- A Memoir. They should be on everyone’s must-read list!

Books that are close to Chris' heart. PHOTO: Chris Koh.
Books that are close to Chris' heart. PHOTO: Chris Koh.

And my favourite fiction titles in 2021…

Rules for Perfect Murder, The Diary of a Murderer, My Sweet Orange Tree, Before The Coffee Gets Cold, Dear Edward, The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida, Rainbirds, Klara and the Sun and all Keigo Higashino’s books (if you haven’t read his titles you need to start checking out his books.)

What books are on your reading list in 2022?

A New Earth and The Power of Now, both by Eckhart Tolle; Silent Parade by Keigo Higashino (and all his titles in Chinese translation), the Japanese version of "Before The Coffee Gets Cold” (I’m reacquainting myself with the Jap language. Also, my collection of books related to Buddhism.

Everyone has 24 hours each day. How do you choose to spend yours?

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