I have a confession to make: I’m a bad reader. Let’s be honest: I’m a lousy reader.
I’m the kind of reader that lets all kinds of interruptions stop me from finishing a book. There is my schedule, my kids’ schedule – my writing projects that always seem to take precedence over an evening curled up in bed with a great book. And there is my writer brain that doesn’t seem to turn off when I’m reading supposedly for pleasure. There is the unwillingness to suspend my disbelief like I did when I was young, a general impatience for the story to get where it should be, then exasperation when it does and I think I’ve seen it all before. Is this adulthood? Lack of sleep? Lack of time? Is this maturing writer syndrome? Whatever it is, I feel like I should be reading, and enjoying reading a lot more.
This summer I read six books. For me, six is a pretty good number. I read two on the plane, to and from ALA. The other four I read at my parents’ when I had no place to drive my kids, no major cooking or housework to complete – nothing to do really but kick up my legs for a few weeks.
But let’s compare this to the number of books my fourth-grader read. That would be 26.
6 and 26. Luckily, I’m not trying to be her. Otherwise, I would feel like a pile of doo-doo.
But I did study her reading habits over the summer, to find out how she read so much. She didn’t have a completely free summer. She had a morning camp that ran for 6 weeks, But her afternoons were open until the end of July, and then for the whole of August, nothing at all. She read the Percy Jackson series, the Sisters Grimm series, several standalones, and even a few ARCS that I brought back from ALA, or that she received through a fantastic children’s reading program at a bookstore in Boston. Some came from the bookstore, but most came home from the library. She was not a picky reader, but she read what interested her, and during the summer, she completed every book she started.
Then I looked at my own reading patterns, during the summer, and during the school year (because even if I’m not a student, my day-to-day life is determined by the academic and extra-curricular schedule of my kids).
This is what I came to realize about reading:
1. It’s important to have uninterrupted time. For my daughter, this time was vast – enough that she could keep reading until she finished a book, which was generally in about 2 days. It was harder for me to find this same kind of uninterrupted time. If I did, it was generally when my kids were asleep or out playing with friends, cousins, etc. The best time honestly, was at night, when everyone was asleep. For this I actually preferred my iPad, because I could read in the dark (which okay, might be horrible for my eyes), but which gave me the closest sensation that I was completely alone with my reading.
2. Even when you’re busy, you can still make time for reading. You need to carve out a time to read, and keep that time only for that. It might be at night before you go to sleep. It might be on your morning commute. Or maybe it is at your kid’s soccer game. Where ever it is, it should be consistent and guarded against other obligations.
3. Reading is a mental exercise. Just like your body can go out of shape, your reading muscles can atrophy over time, too. The best way to build up those reading muscles is to keep reading. It gets easier to read when you develop the habit of reading.
4. Sometimes liking a book means having to get to the end. While I don’t advocate finishing everything I read, I do also find that certain books require a greater amount of time to build trust. In a way, when you decide to read a book, you are trusting the author to take you somewhere you want to be. One of the books I read this summer became extremely satisfying by the time I got to the end – but it was an end I couldn’t have seen coming (or enjoyed) when I reached the halfway mark.
5. Reading a little more means writing a little less. I don’t know how to get around this fact, at least as it stands in my life. Because as a writer and mom and family member, there are only so many hours in a day to get things accomplished. Sometimes a fabulous book means giving up an evening dedicated to writing. Sometimes it means putting that fabulous book on hold while you finish your draft. It’s a delicate balance. For me, it does help to be between writing projects. So for the time being, reading is a great way to transition from one project to another, to refill the well, and allow myself to enter someone else’s imagined world for a change.
Now that school has started for my kids and me, I’m sure our reading habits will change. But at least I’ve got 6 books tucked inside my brain, and I feel so much better because of it.
So how about you? Where do you read? When do you read? How do you fit reading into your life?