I almost didn’t make it to 52 this year.
We adopted our son Hudson in March, and that threw a wrench (or a rattle) into my reading time. I had a busy summer with a visit to the States, a class, and a missions trip to Cambodia. On top of this, I began teaching a new writing course, and my grading load is more than I’ve ever had in my teaching career. Coaching cross-country and sponsoring Model Congress brought me to the breaking point.
With all this going on, I still wanted to carve out time to read not just to meet a self-imposed goal, but because reading is valuable. Books are important, and reading them adds to our quality of living. Many people say, “I’d love to read more, but I can’t because________.” This blank is filled with reasons that are legion. If this is you, let me address a few obstacles to my reading; perhaps this will encourage you to see that they may not be obstacles at all.
1. Stop saying, “I’m a slow reader.” If you think this about yourself, join the club. Just because I’m an English teacher doesn’t mean that I’ve graduated summa cum laude at Evelyn Wood’s Speed Reading class. What I lack in speed I compensate for in tenacity. Commit yourself to finish a book, and spend time doing that. Whether it takes a day or a month, stick with it until the last page. With reading, our speed improves with more books. So, the more you read, the more you’ll be able to read.
2. Limit competing activities. This does not mean eschew meeting with friends or spending time with your wife in order to read (“Sorry, honey, but I can go with you. I already have a date with John Grisham” will not go over well in my house, and I doubt it will in yours either). This means trade watching every episode of House in one evening for some reading time. I found that to read more, I watch far fewer movies than I’ve ever watched. With only three leisure hours a day, I must spend them wisely. We still watch movies and an occasional episode of a show, but I don’t want to lose all my reading time to gorge myself of television.
Perhaps television isn’t your intruder, but video games are. Two words suffice here: Stop it. Nothing is a bigger waste of time than hours spent shooting, jumping, fighting, driving, or Guitar-Heroing. If you tell me that you wish you could read more but waiting in line for the midnight sale of the new Call of Duty game, I have no sympathy for you. Actually, I do because that is a textbook definition of pathetic.
3. Check your Internet usage. For me, the greatest time-sucking black hole in my life is Internet browsing. I’ve written on this before in my past reviews of technology, but it is a constant battle to spend my time more productively than blinding sauntering from link to link, reading meaningless droll articles on politics, celebrity, or culture. I find that even topics at the top of my interest (theology, technology, and literature) can fritter away meaningful time that I could be reading something of permanence. If you are looking to read more books, set parameters for leisure surfing. Set a timer if you must. We all like breaks from serious work to read the headlines or movie reviews, but let them be breaks, and not where we live exclusively.
4. Set a pattern. What time of day do you best read? Early morning? Late night? Lunch break? Pick a time to spend even 20 minutes with your book. I like the quietness of our house in the morning before work. I have 30 minutes with my coffee to read without distractions. This costs me more time sleeping, but I think the payout is worth it. For you, it may be sacrificing spending your lunch break surfing ESPN or talking with colleagues about the latest workplace gossip. Your sacrifice of either is worth it.
5. Change your Bathroom Reading. This will be a quick one: stop playing Angry Birds or reading Facebook on the toilet. Put a short book in your bathroom instead. You’ll add a few more titles to your yearly totals.
6. Find accountability in your reading. One of the best motivators for me to keep reading is my friendly competition with Mark. He and I push each other to make it to 52, constantly ask about the current books, and read and comment and, at times, insult the other’s picks. Find someone in your life to sharpen you in your reading. Join a book club. Commit to read a set amount of books this upcoming year, and search for a friend to join you. Our church has a monthly theological book group that encourages me to read at least one book per month. Look for one at your church, or start one.
7. Write about your reading. When we started www.my52books.com, we wanted to add the review component to help us to think deeper about the books that we were reading. Knowing that a short review awaits me, I interact with the book differently. Spending the 15-30 minutes writing the review solidifies my thinking about the book, and helps me to remember aspects better. You need not start a blog, but they are free and easy. You can add a Facebook post or merely write it in Word for your own keeping.
8. Bring a book everywhere. Waiting in line at the post office allows me two pages, arriving for an appointment 15 minutes early grants ten pages, and sitting while my car is washed opens time for another five pages. I won’t finish a book in errands, but it gets me closer. As I mentioned before, this beats skipping around an app that balances virtual marbles on my iPhone.
9. Consider a Kindle. Most people who have a Kindle enthusiastically declare that they read more because of it. If the convenience of the device helps you to read more, more power to ya. Get one and read away. I resolved that while I enjoy the ability to get a book quickly, the Kindle is not my preferred method to read. I’m too tempted to play with its features or to search the store for another digital book to download. Also, I like to write in my book margins, and the note-taking on e-readers just isn’t where I want it to be. It may be just what you need.
10. Have variety in your reading list. Don’t feel that you need to read only American classics or Pulitzer Prize winners this year. Mix it up with serious and silly; long and short; important and frivolous. For each The Scarlet Letter, there was a John Grisham. For each Steve Jobs weighing in at 598 pages, there was Note to Self with a slight 134 pages. Having variety adds to the excitement to finish one book and begin the next. I’m not out to impress anyone with my picks (OK, maybe Mark). Look at both the New York Times bestseller list and search for a list of books for college-bound students. Choose from both, and also from those on the Recent Arrivals section of the library. Don’t read anything that you don’t want to.
11. Commit to a realistic reading goal right now. This could be a number: 52, 25, or 12. Find something realistic, and tell someone. Or, commit to a few books you’ve always wanted to read but never have, or authors you wished you read in high school. In 2012, I will read through the entire Bible, Crime and Punishment, and Moby Dick as part of my 52. Making this public will help keep me accountable. Commit to something right now, and make it known.
May 2012 be the year that you read more books than you ever have before. Minor changes could yield major accomplishments this year. Good luck, and happy reading in the new year.