A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how I’ve cut back on the amount of time I spend scrolling through social media feeds and reading articles online in order to free up more time for writing in the mornings and evenings. I’m also attempting to replace mindless phone-checking throughout the day with other more meaningful tasks — things like mindful breathing, short bursts of physical activity, and reading books. My overarching goal is to use my time more deliberately instead of impulsively reacting to whatever is aiming to capture my attention. Time, after all, is a scarce and non-renewable resource. To riff off Annie Dillard, how we spend our minutes is how we spend our hours, how we spend our hours is how we spend our days, and how we spend our days is how we spend our lives.
When I was a kid, I loved to read, and I read often. I sometimes read an entire novel in a weekend or even a day. Sitting on the couch and reading for hours on end seemed like a perfectly worthy way to spend time.
As an adult, reading always seems to get pushed aside to make room for more pressing or productive tasks. I love the idea of reading, but I don’t do it enough. For the past several years, I’ve kept a book on my nightstand with the idea of reading it before I go to sleep. At times, I would manage to read a little every night for a few weeks, but my progress would be slow. My days are intentionally full, and by bedtime, I’m tired. After a few minutes of nighttime reading, my eyes are heavy, and I close the book and turn out the lights. Using this system, it takes me many months — often more than a year — to finish a book. By the time I reach the end, I can barely remember the beginning.
When I manage to do it, though, reading books adds value to my life, value that surpasses that of online articles and blog posts. I very much enjoy reading those things, too, for the knowledge and insight they impart quickly, but reading a book is different. I become more immersed in the word choices and syntax of a book. I reread sentences and paragraphs to be sure I understood them or simply to linger over their language. I appreciate the deep dive into a subject that a nonfiction book provides, and I love being transported into the fictional world of a novel, getting to know the characters as they reveal universal truths.
Always looking to make my life more efficient and optimize my time, I’ve become a fan of audiobooks. I began listening to them about eleven years ago when I had a job that required frequent travel. I have an Audible subscription now, and in the past, I’ve checked out books on CD from libraries or played streaming versions of books in the public domain. I like how much more quickly I can get through an audiobook.
Listening instead of physically reading a book has its tradeoffs, of course. I zone out more often while listening or get distracted and have to rewind and listen to passages again. I can’t relish the writer’s style choices in the same way (though I have been known to pause to contemplate a sentence or jump back to hear it another time). The narrator can make or break an audiobook, and sometimes I just can’t get beyond a dry or annoying narrator. But unlike some, I don’t think of listening to audiobooks as “cheating.” Audiobooks allow me to consume more books and be exposed to more ideas, thoughts, and knowledge, which I think is a good thing.
Nevertheless, I’d like to read more actual, physical books. My friend Lynn, an avid reader, recently wrote a blog post that inspired me to try harder. I’ve started carrying a book in my purse so that I have reading material with me wherever I go. I look for opportunities to read throughout the day instead of waiting until right before I go to sleep. I’m surprised at how many pages I can cover while sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office or waiting for a friend to meet me for lunch. I also find that turning to a book, rather than to social media or online articles on my phone, improves my mood. I really enjoy diving into a book, and I love having even a few minutes to do it.
In addition to Lynn’s blog post and the article she cites there, I came across this other article that offers some good tips for incorporating more reading into our lives. I’m making a conscious effort to put these suggestions into practice. I doubt I’ll get to the level of reading hundreds of books a year, but I do think that replacing phone-checking and feed-scrolling with deliberately chosen, physically printed, long-form writing is improving my focus, creativity, and overall happiness.
How many books would you estimate you read in a year? When do you do most of your reading?
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