Earlier this year, I committed to reading more. I felt like I read too slowly, not enough and without a lot of focus. I blamed this on getting out of the habit of reading, being busy with life and lacking focus due to overuse of technology.
So, in January, I committed to at least 4 books per month and began with gusto.
Now here it is May. Summer is almost here.
I'm back to reading at a much slower pace. This time, I'm not at all upset about it. Over the past six months, as I've read books in days and others over the course of an entire month, I've learned a few things about how I read, what's important to me and why I love a long, slow, lingering read.
First, I should say, all of the reasons I wasn't reading much before were legitimate. I'd gotten out of the habit of reading books and replaced it with reading articles online or, more to the point, reading nothing online and just surfing/skimming/perusing the web. I can't even tell you exactly how I used (or misused) that time. I shopped for things I didn't need. I searched for recipes I never made. I read FB updates I didn't care about (and some that were inflammatory and negative). I watched YouTube videos on how to apply concealer or manage aging hair. I watched kid videos, cat videos and goat videos.
In short, I wasted a lot of time.
Not only did I waste time, but my appetite for fast, short, succinct information (I use that word lightly), meant I could no longer stomach a solid hour of reading actual paragraphs.
Those of you over the age 35 may remember paragraphs - the ones with an introduction, three or five supporting sentences and a concluding sentence that transitions the reader to the next paragraph.
I was somehow consuming a ton of information, but it was like my entire diet was based on junk food - all potato chips and cheese puffs and whipped dessert.
At the end of last year, I read Deep Work, and I decided my attention span needed some attention. I decided reading would be my practice activity. I got down to business.
In January, I read six books. Six.
I also added Audible books to my daily routine, cleaning while I listened along to motivational books, inspirational books and the occasional novel or memoir.
I got heaps of books from the library, most of them the modern fiction that left me with pangs of FOMO every time I saw another blogger's post about the latest read.
I sat by the fire (literally) and read into the afternoon, the dishes forgotten, my kids doing godknowswhat as I turned page after page.
Readers.....it was simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting. Some of the books were real page-turners. Ginny Moon. The Folded World. The Course of Love.
But, I began to notice a few things. First, I felt a lot of anxiety and pressure to keep up with this new reading regimen. I saw stacks of books all but taunting me. I would end each day in the bath, furiously turning pages, doing the math in my head to estimate when I'd finish one book and begin another. Could I possibly fit eight books into the month? I knew some bloggers read well over 100 books per year. Per year. Could I do that?
I also noticed I wasn't retaining much. I'd read a book, move on and all but forget what had happened in the last book. Basic plot lines were about all I got. I didn't remember character's names. I didn't recall scenes weeks later, while doing dishes or driving to the market. I didn't think, in fact, about the books much at all.
What I did think about were the books I'd read the previous year, that year I wasn't reading as much, the year I would take six weeks to finish something as short as Death Comes for the Archbishop.
It took me a solid six weeks to read that book, yet I think of images and scenes from it almost daily. I think of the Archbishop in his study, meditating on his position, looking at the fruit trees outside his window, eating a simple meal of rice and beans. I see those images all the time, and somehow that book stays with me, like it's in my bones, like I knew the characters and visited the places and sat under the same indifferent sun (that's a quote from The Road....ugh. So good.).
I can't tell you the name of any of the characters in Ginny Moon, save Ginny herself.
After a few months of this, I realized I don't get much out of harried, hurried reading. There's no point, for me. I don't absorb the work. It doesn't sit with me. What I love about reading, the sense of going into another time and place and seeing the world through the eyes of another person, is utterly lost when I whiz through it all.
So, I recently decided to calm it all down. On the heels of Death Comes for the Archbishop, I ordered Lucy Gayheart and picked it up. It took me six weeks to read it, and it's only 195 pages.
Readers, I loved every single page of that novel. I flagged 18 pages to go back and re-read, which I did this morning. Dear lord does Cather write well. It's like a gift.
On page 9, Cather writes:
On the drive home, Gordon let his sleigh-bells (very musical bells, he had got them to please Lucy) do most of the talking. He knew when to be quiet.
Hahahahah. Isn't that on-point. He knew when to be quiet.
When I read slowly, steadily, without expectation or rushing or an agenda, I get so much more from the books, the language, the entire experience.
There is so much rushing in life. There is hustling kids to and from activities. There is the rush of homework and chores and bedtimes and wake ups. There are weekends packed with soccer games, ballet rehearsals, parties and attempted naps. There are workouts to be done, appointments to keep and coffee dates where we rush in, gulp down and scatter so quickly one wonders why we bother at all.
So, for me, reading is my time to slow down, to linger, to sit back and read a paragraph again and still again just because it was so well-written or poignant or sad.
I have no clue how many books I'll read this year.
And thank goodness I no longer care.
My tips for reading now go like this:
1. Read a variety of books but don't be afraid to read what you love - even if it means modern fiction gets the shaft.
2. Set aside time to read. Yes, there will be ad hoc moments when you can slip in a page or two, but having special reading time has made all the difference in my ability to really appreciate the books and absorb what I'm reading.
3. Build up your focus one chapter at a time. I used to get so distracted while reading. Now, when I find my mind wandering, I just think: wandering, wandering, wandering. Then I go back to the page, like meditation. It works wonders.
4. Read books you don't love. Seriously. Once I begin, I try very hard to finish. Even books I don't love offer me something. Sometimes, they offer me more than the books I thoroughly enjoyed.
5. Read with someone else. My brother is my reading partner. We often read the same books. We do this only about five times a year, but dear lord are those wonderful books. We read each other our favorite passages. We debate. We disagree. We both swoon over particularly sentences. Those books are the best.
That's a lot to write about a slow read, no? Hahaha. Bless my heart.
I hope everyone is having a splendid week. The sun is out. I'm nearly on my knees in gratitude.