Reading: Who Can Find the Time?

When I mentioned in my last post of 2010 how many books I'd read during the year, I didn't expect many people to be impressed. 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 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 ARTICLE I did.)

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!

Comments

Kristina P. said…
How do we feel about reading one US Weekly a week?
LisAway said…
Great tips, Annette! I haven't been reading this year as much as in years past but I really need to make the time for it. (It would help if I had access to good books. . . ) Thanks for ideas on how to do that!
Sue said…
I LOVE my Kindle.

And you forgot one entry on your how-to-make-time-for-reading list:

Become an empty-nester!

;)
Awesome tips!
I will put some of them to good use RIGHT now!
I also LOVE reading. I will see how many books I can read this year...
T said…
I get a lot of my reading time in while cooking - my family always laughs that I read and stir the sauce at the same time... but apparently I'm in good company :)

however, I draw the line at reading while blow drying my hair :)
I get through so many books using the snippets of time, like your #1. My little kids dont have a ton of activities just yet but even the few they have gives me lots of reading time. I also will use reading as a reward. 'I'll do two loads of laundry and clean a bathroom and I'll set aside 25 minutes of reading while the kids play puzzles or cars at my feet.' sorta deal.
Sadie said…
I loved this post. I was talking to a friend recently who said, "How on earth do you find the time to read all those books?" And I wanted to hit her upside the head. I totally agree with you. It's about priorities... if reading is important to you, than you will find a way to do it. I carry a book with me everywhere... you never know when you'll have a few minutes to read.
Erin said…
Thank you for writing this! I LOVE to read. I only have one difficult with what you wrote - I have a very hard time keeping more than, say, two books at a time separate in my mind. If I'm reading Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, I can't remember whether Peeta is in H.P. or T.H.G. (bad example, because really I can, but maybe you know what I mean?) Maybe if I kept the genres completely different in each book I was reading. Anyway, thanks again for sharing these ideas.
DeNae said…
I am totally digging my Kindle (also with a cover and handy-dandy night light!) Often, I have a book going that is for curling up and reading over long stretches (30 minutes or more) and another one I can read in bits and pieces, like a collection of short stories or essays. I talked with a woman yesterday who has written a YA fantasy trilogy - I know! Who ever would have imagined anyone doing such a thing! - and she said she hardly ever reads, and never reads anything from her own genre. Never? Seriously?
Lisa Loo said…
Amen, amen and AMEN!!!!

I think another way to get kids interested in reading is to make the authors more real to them. We read author biographies, autobiographies and the last time you commented on my blog I showed my kids and then showed them your books on my shelf--they thought that was pretty cool.

Anything to get and keep them interested--now my daughter is reading one of your books--yeah!
Rebecca Irvine said…
EReaders really do help, although I do miss re-reading portions later (not always as easy to find).
Good post! I think that I am reading even more with my Kindle than I did when I just had paper books. It's so easy to carry my Kindle with me, so I can find more moments to read.
Stephanie Black said…
Great post, Annette! And I'm loving the way the Kindle is increasing my reading--I like to have a paper book and a Kindle book going at the same time. Last night, I was having trouble falling asleep, so I grabbed with Kindle (with handy-dandy light) and finished Josi Kilpack's Key Lime Pie.

Hooray for reading!
Shanda said…
Oh, yes, reading must be a big priority to me, because it regularly takes precedence over dishes, laundry, housework-uh, better stop there. When I can't stand it anymore I do what Debbie does and use reading as a reward.

I love reading books in hard-copy, but between you and Stephanie gushing about your new Christmas Kindles, I'm leaning toward asking for one for my bday in April. I don't know that I could give up hard-copy books completely, but after coming across some books I wanted to read right away, available on Kindle... let's just say I'm starting to "get it."

Shanda :)
L.T. Elliot said…
I love you. And I'm printing this out and taping it up around my neighborhood, shopping center, church building, laundromat, public restrooms...you get the point.

Reading? I can't live without. I'd die. I don't know how people DON'T read. What do you do with yourself? How on earth are you entertained? I've already made it through five this year and have five more on the kitchen table just waiting for me. Oh, I love the books! Yay!

I'm banking on what you said about kids reading because their parents do. I work hard to read with my kids daily but even so, I hope with all my heart that they're voracious readers. Please, oh please!
AzĂșcar said…
I'm a big reader, and in addition to your suggestions (majority of which I have already implemented,) I recommend having a book per room!

I usually have a book I'm reading in the bedroom, one in the family room, one near the bath, one in my purse. Sometimes I become so enchanted with one book I tote it to all the rooms, but I get a lot of reading done by having room-specific books.
Kimberly said…
Ah the brilliance of you. Love this post!

I'm sick today - the perfect excuse to curl up and read.
Heffalump said…
I'm too OCD I think. I have to finish a chapter, or at least come to a clear space between sections before I can stop reading without it bothering me.
I agree with all of this. We make time for what's important. I, too, tend to read while I'm doing other things, like propping a book open under the edge of a plate and reading while I'm chopping vegetables for dinner, or on an exercise bike. If it's a really good book, very little will stop me from reading.
Rebecca said…
I ignore my dishes and read.

But seriously, my problem is not finding time to read--I can do that in snatches between helping my children with their schoolwork. My problem is finding books I want to read at the library.

I need to do interlibrary loan, but that means I need to make a list. I love your list idea, so I'm going to make one. I can't read your or any other primarily LDS-themed books because I live out here in Missouri. I need to do something about that, because as much as I want to buy them, right now that's not feasible. :( Great post, by the way. I want to read a ton of books this year, and not the ones on my "restitutions list". (Yep, you read that right.)

By the way, I found this blog post and thought of you. Hilarious!

http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/04/alot-is-better-than-you-at-everything.html
Rebecca said…
Um, that was not _only_ the ones on my list. I have a few specific ones I want to read this year before someone spoils the endings for me, but I want to read a ton of new ones!
Great ideas, Annette, especially the ones on how to work in reading with the kids.

P.S. I send you a digital high-five from a fellow English major. :)
wendy said…
Ummmmm,I do cross word puzzles in the bathroom. Keeping those brain cells alive I guess.
I don't know why I am not reading more here...I have nothing but TIME really. but I only get one or 2 books done a month.
and yet I LOVE TO READ
Happy Mom said…
This post was right up my alley! LOVE it! (And Word Nerd Wednesdays always make me happy!)

I haven't taken the Kindle plunge yet, but my husband wants to and was very interested in your post.

If I had to stop following all but a few blogs, I'd still be following yours.
Annette Lyon said…
Happy Mom, Maybe I'll do an e-reader post sometime! (I'm totally flattered that my blog would make your cut! Thanks!)
Stephanie said…
Thanks for these tips, Annette.

I've been eyeing the Kindle for over a year now. Hopefully, we'll be able to make that purchase soon.

Also - we hope to listen to audio books when we're on-the-road in the coming year. What are your 5 favorites in the kids category?

stephanie@metropolitanmama.net
Anonymous said…
this post is very usefull thx!
Chas Hathaway said…
Love love love the audio book field, especially when I have to work 8 hours a day at a job that allows audio listening. I've heard hundreds more books than I've read.

Go audio!
Lara said…
Oh my gosh! I can read while blow drying my hair now.

I never would have thought of that. :)

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