Incidental Reading

Current state of my desk top (somewhat tidied for photo): includes bills, coupons, receipts, programs, tickets, lists, cookbooks, book, etc.

Current state of my desk top (somewhat tidied for photo): includes bills, coupons, receipts, programs, tickets, lists, cookbooks, book, etc.

I read continually during my waking hours, but I average one book a week. Why is that? Because I am always reading other things that don’t count as “real” reading. Teachers would call this environmental print.

How many of you know a kid who resisted books but learned to read through playing video games? I do!

There are lots of reasons people don’t read books in any format – such as difficulties with print, being too busy, and preferring other activities. I’m not asking book-free folks to defend themselves – just commenting on my own situation.

I feel a compulsion to read every surface in my field of vision all the time. It’s there and I see it – so how can I not read it?

This week I am going to keep track of everything I read – anything more than a glance, such as a sign, a label or an ad. I’ll report back on Sunday, May 18.

Jumping ahead, here are the kinds of print that entertain, distract or pressure me every day:

  • Blog posts
  • News web sites
  • Email
  • Magazines
  • Flyers and coupons
  • Food labels
  • Cook books, online recipes and menus
  • Instructions
  • Budgets, bills and receipts
  • Forms
  • Schedules
  • Design drawings

Since I work in a public library, full print immersion is expected and rewarded, but we have to toe the line and not read extensively for pleasure during work hours (not that we have time to do so, anyway).

I’ll find out how much time I spend reading “incidentally” and to what extent it adds value in my day-to-day life. I suspect I use environmental reading to procrastinate on other tasks, or to distract myself from unpleasantness!

Are you a compulsive reader of all the print that surrounds you?

If you’d like to join in, link up here and to next Sunday’s post!






  1. My Son wouldn’t read books, he hated it. He learnt from computer games, boxes and anything else around him. I think they should hurry up and get all the school text books on tablet as the poor souls have so much weight to carry round with them each day.

    • It does seem to be going in that direction with lots more schools assigning a laptop or tablet to each student. I think some kids (and people, not just kids) are attuned to real life and not representations of real life on a page. But representations on a screen seem to have broken that barrier!

  2. I love the idea of keeping track of what I read- although I think in reality I would get bored of recording it and forget fairly soon!

    I want to read more books and less ‘other’ stuff- so I have just decided that I am going to turn the Wifi off on my phone, and thus stop it connecting to the internet. (I will turn it on twice a day to check for Whatsapp messages). I think I would randomly check Facebook, Feedly etc much less if I had to go and turn on the laptop each time I wanted to look, and thus I might waste a lot less time!

    On that note, I am getting off the internet and going to put bread in the oven 🙂

    • One thing I’ve managed is email control – I check my personal email twice a day and my work email about every 2 hours, and I never leave them open on my desk to get incoming mail alerts – way too distracting! I check WordPress and my blog feed at Bloglovin 2-3 times a day, but each session can turn into hours if I let it! Over the past 6 months or so, I’ve been reading in a room with no computers or devices, and making reading the book my only activity. I forgot how enjoyable uninterrupted reading can be!

      • I’m finding that once I get over the urge to ‘just check Facebook’ I am enjoying reading my book (or doing whatever else I am doing much more, as my attention is not diverted. I’m not sure that I am feeling like I am spending time on more ‘worthwhile’ things yet, but we shall see!

        I’m fascinated by how many people read junk mail etc- I chuck it straight in the recycling! I probably have read cereal packets before, but only when really, really bored…

      • Makes you wonder how many read spam email…somebody must, because it wouldn’t continue if it had no results!

  3. I am like you. I read everything I see, in waiting rooms, in doctor’s exam rooms, etc. One of the our parenting successes, to balance the not so good efforts, is passing on the joy of reading to our kids.

    • Me, too: I can’t imagine how many magazines and newsletters I’ve read in doctors’ and dentists’ offices. Enough to make me fear all kinds of diagnoses I’ll never have to face, ha! But oh yes, what a joy to pass on a love of reading!

  4. Fiona

    Definitely know a lot of kids who learn a surprising amount through the text in video games.

    I’ve been trying consciously to cut down on my incidental reading in favour of more ‘real’ books. I read a vast array of time-consuming things…but it cuts in significantly to my ‘real’ reading time. I just made a list of what I can remember reading today and was really shocked! I think it would be a great task to list what / how time-consuming the incidental reading is for a week.

    • Same here, Fiona. I’ve been thinking I should cut down on my incidental reading – mainly blogs and forums – for the books I want to read. But the thing stopping me, is the incidental reading, which can be hours a day all up, can be easier to fit into a busy day when your brain is drained and you are exhausted.

      And Dar, I totally get incidental reading as a procrastination strategy. How many hours can one waste on-line? In my case, hours.

      I’ll be happy to see your outcome of incidental reading. Are you counting the stuff you have to read for work?

      • To a point, I learn and stay informed by squeezing in blogs and news stories throughout the day between other tasks. Like you say, I don`t always feel focused enough to read a novel when I`m tired. Though I do find reading graphic novels and nonfiction good (especially factual books, versus storytelling style like memoirs). I can spend many hours online: I would say half of the time is well spent and half is wasted; not a bad ratio 🙂 I thought I would count my work stuff, but separately.

    • I don’t subscribe to a newspaper any more and I just skim the top stories online daily, so that has saved me a lot of time. I used to subscribe to or buy lots of magazines, then I started reading them at the library, and now I barely do that. So I have focused more!

  5. I definitely read EVERYTHING. Junk mail, cereal boxes, magazines… If you really want to spend hours and hours reading each day, check out reddit. Before you know it, hours have passed!

    • Me, too – I read everything in sight, so I don’t bring newspapers and magazines home any more. I have avoided Reddit; I can hardly keep up with my blog feeds!

  6. Ooh, I do that too! Even when I’m watching TV I like to read something at the same time – even i its just junk mail. I never feel my mind is properly occupied unless I’m reading. Will be interesting to see everything you read over the course of the week 🙂

    • Oh yeah! I usually bring a magazine or some flyers or junk mail or something to the dinner table or to watch a DVD. And my spouse Rom does the same thing with his iPad!

  7. Have you ever checked the new phone book to make sure your house number is correct and then find yourself checking everyone else you know? Dates me but yes I had been known to do that lol
    And what is it with all the incidental info they put on cereal packages??
    Junk mail is a time waster – oh whats that in tiny little print under the garment – must take it to the light to make out what it says. And if you have an aversion to the white stuff why on earth would you look at (and read all the descriptions) in the 22 pages advertising ‘snow gear’ in the Aldi catalogue that came in the door yesterday?? 🙂
    Just a few light hearted incidences of incidental reading that happens in my house. Would I admit to it to anyone else, mmm have to think about that one while I read the rest of the comments above!!

    • I can’t say I have checked my new entry in the phone book but I do still have one, and use it, instead of storing business numbers on my phone! I try not to read too much junk mail but I do skim through and find where my personal details are listed so I can shred those pages. But sometimes I find myself reading the terms and conditions on coupons and special offers! I definitely read too many food packages, instructions, warranties, bills, etc even if I know exactly what I am going to see!

  8. I’m known to read ‘the back of a bus ticket’ as my mother says (of my father). This habit is great when travelling, you pick up foreign language words from the repetition in ads, or warnings on signs etc.

    That being said, I definitely think I spend too much time reading blogs, cause when the BF asks ‘what did you learn’ I seldom have any pearls of wisdom! That’s not to say I don’t enjoy reading, but I know it peppers my work day a little too much. I’m so accustomed to a quick blog post reading in the down time while work’s mapping software loads etc.

    Everyday, they released at work where out company/industry’s been in the media – I see so many people read it, but unless I’m super dooper bored, I never really read it. Wonder why? I’ve also completely given up reading the news. I heard the news when I drove to work, but now, if it’s not highlights in the news I might hear, or on Facebook, I’m often immune. And for the most part, I think it’s better like that! So much news is non news (like two Aussies fat cats punching up?!?)

    • I don’t miss being on top of the news either. Skimming the major stories is enough for me. I pay more attention when selecting a candidate to vote for, getting informed on an issue, researching a product to buy, and so on.

      I don’t read blogs at work but I do check news stories there. Definitely never check Facebook or Pinterest at work because I have to set a good example!

      I do keep up with the library’s news releases and tweets, and my city’s corporate staff newsletters (somewhat) but I avoid reading job postings and surveys!

      When I first started reading blogs, I did learn a lot (personal finance, no waste, real food, etc) but it seems like the bodies of knowledge on those topics has a limit. That’s why I don’t claim to have an educational blog or to be an expert in anything 🙂

      • Thankfully Facebook and Pinterest are blocked at work, so that’s no lure (but we all have phones!!)

        I would love to have a stronger resolve at work!!

  9. Shannon D.

    Since I was a child I have always read while watching TV and I do read ads and food packaging. I use to read a lot of junk mail but I am getting better at limiting the reading to what might actually be pertinent to my life. My mother said the first word I read-sounded out was the word “ketchup” off of the bottle sitting on the table!

    • I am getting better at screening things out that I don’t need to read. Probably that’s a skill transferred from Internet reading, where you skim a lot and know you can never read it all. Cute story about the ketchup bottle!

  10. Being a very visual person, I don’t think I have any control over incidental reading. I wish I could turn off visual input at will, but short of closing my eyes, I find myself absorbing words and images constantly. I think part of the appeal of traveling is being able to tune out incidental reading and conversations around you (assuming you don’t speak the language).

    • I read whatever surfaces I see; but try to exercise some control over junk mail, flyers, packaging and so on where an action is needed – open the envelope, turn the page, etc.!

  11. I do find myself automatically reading things, even when I’m not interested in what it says – like advertisements behind the players at hockey games. Can’t wait to hear how your tracking goes!

  12. Lane

    I think I am one of these compulsive readers; I read weather forecasts for places I don’t even know anyone. Doing well with junk mail as I’ve managed to get off most lists. No Facebook for me. Definitely a news junkie; must have the Sunday NYT in print.

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