Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Reading: Who Can Find the Time?

I tend to be a slow reader, and while reading Whitney nominees and finalists has forced me to speed up, I'm still on the slow side.

I enjoy reading slowly. I like to savor the story, words, images, not rush through them. Even so, I somehow manage to read several dozen books a year. I average 50-60 books, although this year I topped 70, a record.

Two claims I hear from people annoy the bajeebers out of me:
"I don't have time to write," comes in at #1, but a close #2 would be, "I don't have time to read."

First off, you already find time for what's important to you. If exercise is a priority, you make it happen. If it's photography or quilting or even your favorite TV show, you do it (even if it that means setting the TiVo).

No, you can't do everything in life. We all must make choices, even between good things.

For me, reading is part of the job description of a writer. If I don't read, my writing will grow stale.

But I'm also a busy mom of four very active kids.

Catch-22? Not quite.

Here are a few ways I sneak in reading time that you can use too:
1) Read in Snatches.
Reading isn't like exercising, where you really need a good 30 minutes to do any good.

If I get to read for several hours, awesome sauce. It's a luxury I seek out and grab when I can, but if I don't have hours and hours (wait for it . . .), I can still read.

As an English major, I often had enormous reading loads. I chipped away at the mountain by reading at times others might not think to, like walking between classes across campus. (If I read 8 pages here, 5 there, 10 there, and 2 here, that's 35 pages further than I was that morning.)

I finished entire books this way.

Today my snatches look different, but they still exist. I always, always have a book with me (often two). I have a car book for when I'm, say, waiting for kids to come out of piano lessons or when I'm the passenger. My purse book comes out in waiting rooms, in lines like at the post office or pharmacy, and so on. A few pages here and there add up to entire books read.

I also read while I eat. That's supposed to be a big no-no, because supposedly you'll eat more. I usually have a set meal with portions before I sit down to read, so I think I'm okay. Or just blame this one on my mom. I have umpteen memories of her eating (cherries from our tree, grapes from the garden, raisins, whatever) while reading.

(Note: I don't eat at the dinner table. That's a no-no. TV is off, toys and books are put aside. It's family time.)

2) Read Everywhere.
I also learned this from Mom, who might as well have been born with a book in her hand. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of her stirring sauce on the stove while it thickened, wooden spoon in one hand and a book in the other.

She even put books (and please, no grossing out here) in the bathroom, usually ones that are hard to read in long stretches, like complex non-fiction and histories. She'd read a page here and there, and--tada!--eventually, one more book is read, even if it took awhile.

Our previous treadmill had a book holder on it, and I can't tell you how many books I read while exercising. I got a ton of research done that way. Books don't bounce too much as long as you don't go much faster than 4 mph.

3) Read with the Family.
My 70+ books last year included novels I read aloud to the kids and others I read to my husband before bed, something we picked up during Harry Potter and still do some nights. Counting family books, I'm always reading several books at a time.

This last year the kids' schedules got really crazy, so we didn't get through many, but, say, even three books over a year with the kids and that number again many with my husband, is another half dozen books read total for the whole year. That's nothing to sneeze at.

4) Listen to Audio Books.
I have an iPod that has music on it . . . but I almost never listen to anything but books (and the occasional Writing Excuses podcast). I listen to it on longer drives (like to and from critique group or book signings), on the treadmill (my current one doesn't have a book holder), and sometimes while doing household chores. I don't get through tons of books this way, largely because I often pick books that are exceedingly long (Hello, Wheel of Time series . . .), and listening to a book always takes longer than actually reading it does.

But listening to books fills up otherwise empty time when I couldn't be reading anyway. Then I can add a few more titles to my yearly list. Audible is a great place to start.

5) Kindle, Baby!
My Kindle 3 is awesome. It's lightweight and small enough to fit nicely into my purse. I can carry a ton of books on it, so the second I'm done with one, I can begin another. The new one has a faster and clearer page turn, and the e-ink is better than ever. I think both are the reason I read faster with a Kindle.

Other benefits to the Kindle: No need to prop open a book, so you can read hands-free. So I can even read while blow drying my hair--something totally impossible before unless I set up an elaborate page-holding system, but then I'd have to turn off the drier, free a hand, undo the stuff holding the book down, turn a page, and set it back up. Not with the Kindle. Now I can read pretty much anywhere: while chopping vegetables, emptying the dishwasher, walking down the hall at night to check on the kids. (Easy especially with my handy Kindle cover with a built-in night light.)

6) Track Books Read and To Read.
There's something motivating about a check-list. Since my current list is a computer file, it easily serves as both a have read and a to read list. Books I plan to read or am currently reading are all there, but in parentheses. As soon as I've finished a book, it moves to the bottom of the have read section and loses the parentheses.

Just for fun, I also add with the kids or with Rob (that would be the husband). I also make a note if it's a reread. Throughout the year, I keep a running tally, such as "32 books read as of 5/27." Seeing that number go up is a definite motivator.

7) Make It a Party.
Several times a year, I throw a "reading party." My kids love them and don't realize they're a sneaky way for Mom to make them do something good for them. I read aloud from our current novel, maybe a bit from a library book or two for the youngest, and then we have silent reading time. Oh, and the treats in the center of the circle don't hurt.

(For a full explanation of our reading parties, see THIS POST.)

We live in a world where it's increasingly important to have good literacy skills. As far as I'm concerned, writers aren't the only ones who should be reading. Everyone should be reading, whether it's novels, non-fiction, or news.

Read and read regularly, even if you aren't reading dozens of books a year. READ SOMETHING.

My grandmother-in-law died at 92. She was sharp as a tack until her last day, and she read almost as long. She stopped reading literally a couple of days before her death, and only because of weakness. I remember her holding a magnifying glass as she read the newspaper or a novel. She read every day, and I'm convinced that her clear mind and memory are a direct result of the fact that she never, ever stopped feeding her brain.

Children who see their parents read are far more likely to be readers, and literacy is a huge indicator as to who will become successful as an adult. Do it for them at the very least.

As far as I'm concerned, not enjoying reading is like not enjoying chocolate: you're really missing out on a great joy of life!