Not everyone I know is bookish like me. I often hear, “I wish I had time to read.” I also hear, “I wish I worked in a library, like you, so I could sit around and read.” Grrr!
There is a fantasy about avid readers. We know how to choose the perfect literary novel that captures our imaginations. We select one of our many days in which we have nothing to do. We curl up with our hot chocolate, our cat and a hand-knitted blanket. We lose ourselves in the pages of a book. We emerge hours later as an edified human being. And we have nothing in common with Real People who have Real Lives.
Every day, I squeeze in some reading, in dribs and drabs, because there is no perfect, uninterrupted time. Sometimes I have 2 hours, but that’s the limit of my attention span. To make the best use of my broken-up time, I realized I have a reading strategy. It goes like this:
I surround myself with books
If I have one book waiting to be read, I’ll have lots of reasons not to read it. It might be too heavy to carry in my purse. It might be too serious after a hard day at work. I might read one chapter and not like the style. If it’s less addictive than reading Buzzfeed or my blog feed, I won’t read it. I need choice. I need a selection of books so that no matter what mood I’m in, how tired I am, or what’s on TV, at least one of those books will be irresistible to me. Instead of taking one book home from the library, I borrow 4 that look really good, and choose later.
I know I’ll never read them all
It’s impossible to read every book that catches my eye. Every month I discover at least 25 books I am “dying” to read, and another 50 I would “like” to read. No one is going to stop publishing and wait for me to catch up. Hundreds of books will pass me by. If they are memorable enough, I will find them again. I keep some lists, I place some holds at the library, and I allow myself to be led astray when I stumble across a little gem. On my death bed, I will probably think, “I wish I had read War and Peace…I wish I had read more Anne McCaffrey…I wish I had the latest issue of Dwell magazine to browse through right now…” and that’s OK!
I focus on what I can read, and do have time to read, rather than what I can’t
I don’t beat myself up about what I haven’t read. I haven’t read Dante or Dickens. I don’t have (or make) time to read the first five volumes in A Song of Ice and Fire. But I enjoyed the latest Bridget Jones, and I’m reading a Young Adult bestseller.
I read for enjoyment, not obligation
If you are reading a dull book because you need to finish it by the due date, or because your friend recommended it, or because your book club is reading it – just don’t! (But if you are reading Jane Austen’s Emma to pass English 101, carry on!)
I rush some and wait some
Last month I was in the middle of reading Oscar and Lucinda for my book club, when The Rosie Project came in for me at the library. I dropped everything, read The Rosie Project, and was glad I did. It was just the break I needed, and I was re-energized to finish Oscar and Lucinda.
I’m honest with myself about my tastes in reading
I have learned that whenever I choose books to travel with, I choose books that are too literary. Six hour flight? A perfect chance to plow through The Goldfinch! But what do I really read? I watch the in-flight movie, or read a Hello! magazine. I would be better off bringing the latest letter in Sue Grafton’s alphabet, or maybe that Allie Brosh book!
I know what motivates me to read
In library land, we call this “appeals.” Instead of saying I like thrillers or romances, I figure out what I like within those genres: snappy dialogue? plot twists? really getting inside the mind of a character? a book set in a country I’ve been longing to visit? The most motivating books refuse to be put down because they speak to my deepest desires or to the sleaziest part of my reptile brain. Self-improvement rarely wins out!
I manage my expectations
Sometimes I settle down to read, and I’m interrupted four times in the first fifteen minutes. Instead of writing off my scant reading time, I think positive: those six pages I read were just enough to get me hooked, and I can’t wait to get back to that book! If too many other tasks demand my attention, I’ll choose a less demanding book that I can start and stop at will.
I identify times and places I can read
On weekdays, I can read while working out (30 minutes), after breakfast (1 hour), on my work breaks (15 minutes), at lunch time (20 minutes), and while waiting for dinner to cook (40 minutes). Most days I read blogs after breakfast and in the later half of the evening. On my work breaks, I check the news and a few web sites. I read books during workouts, at lunch time, while cooking dinner, and on weekends. I don’t read much on weeknights or at bed time…zzz!
I choose formats for each time and place
I always have at least one e-book on my iPad, which I read while on my exercise machine, and bring with me when I’m out and about. I read it when I’m early for a meeting, or having a coffee break while running errands. Rom listens to audio books and podcasts at the bus stop, and uses his Kindle on the bus (we are a multi-multi-device family). I save my thick literary fiction for at home on the weekends, and browse through a feel-good book at bedtime (such as Beautiful LEGO).
I switch books
This week I am reading Moonwalking with Einstein on the iPad, Eleanor and Park in two uninterrupted time blocks, Marzi (a graphic novel) whenever I have a few minutes, and Humans of New York at bed time. Typical week.
I drop books
I stop reading a book if I don’t care about the ending, if the author’s style grates on my nerves, if it’s too much like the last thing I read, if I find the arguments or values abhorrent, if I’ve been completely mistaken about the premise of the book (if I don’t realize I picked up an “inspirational” book, for example), or if no one is waiting for my opinion of it!
I tell someone
I read a lot more when I have someone to discuss books with. Rom gets to hear about what I’m reading, whether he is interested or not! (But not half as much as he tells me about his reading, because he has far fewer colleagues who read obsessively and trade book reviews!) Luckily, in my library work, my co-workers never get tired of discussing books or making recommendations to each other.
I have book buddies
It’s one thing to tell your spouse or kids what you’re reading, and another thing entirely to discuss a book among others who have read it! Whether it’s one friend or an online community or a book club, it creates a real sense of shared experience to talk about a book and get different views on the same characters and events. Even if all you say is “I loved it!” and “I know – me, too!,” it brings a sense of solidarity.
I always have the next book waiting
Every time I finish a book, I’m still immersed in the other three I have on the go, and I have another stack waiting. Sure, I’ll return most of them to the library unread, but the cream rises to the top and they will be read! As long as I skim off the most compelling ones, I’m happy.
So, how much do I read? Forty to sixty books a year. More if they’re graphic novels, photo books and nonfiction. Fewer for fiction, especially serious fiction. I’m OK with that.
How do you find time to read? How do you manage all the books you want to read?