“I Could Read Were It Not For All Those Distractions!”

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“The Distracted Reader” Rick&Brenda Beerhorst, 2013. (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

Does that sound like you? It sure sounds like me some times. You settle into your favorite chair with a warm beverage and just get into the flow of a book–and the phone rings, or a child comes out of the bedroom with an upset stomach, which he proceeds to launch all over the room. For those of us who love to read, it often feels like a tug of war to find time to read, or to read well when we do, because of distractions from things, people, and sometimes our selves.

Here are the distractions I and some of my friends on my Facebook page have run into, and some thoughts of how we might deal with them:

  1. Thoughts. Perhaps this is one of my main distractions. Sometimes they come from what I’m reading, and might be worth pursuing. After all, don’t we read to enrich our minds? A notepad to capture those golden thoughts (or maybe brass) might be a good idea. Other times, thoughts just pop into one’s head. In that case, most of the time, just telling them to pop back out is good enough. Sometimes, we are thinking about a troubling life situation. That may be the time to lay aside the book, and pay attention.
  2. Life obligations. Many of us have to work. There are lawns to mow, houses to clean, meals to prepare and enjoy, and bills to pay. Usually the stage of life when we no longer have these obligations comes with advanced age and physical decline. Perhaps we should be grateful for life and health, and find ways to reward ourselves with time to read when our work is done.
  3. Sleepiness. That’s the one problem with reading as a reward for finishing our work. We sit down, and we crash. Standing might be a good alternative. I have a high dresser with a good lamp at which I read sometimes. Many of us sit too much anyways. At the same time, our bodies are telling us something, and most often, it is that we are not getting enough sleep, which for most of us is at least seven hours.
  4. Smartphones. This is a big one, and one I struggle with. I shut off notifications which can nearly constantly distract one. Even better is to put it in another room if you can’t resist checking in on Facebook every ten minutes. Don’t have it sitting by the book–if the book is the least bit dull, or closely written, guess what wins the attention war? If you want to share something you’ve read, bookmark it and come back to it at the end of your reading time. It has been suggested that smartphones are changing the way we read, and our attention span. Finding time to read “unplugged” may be critical for our attention to extended narratives or arguments.
  5. People. Keeping a sense of proportion in our lives and remembering what matters more is important. I don’t think I regret a single hour I spent with our son as he was growing up. As a result, there are some seasons when we will have less time to read. And we don’t want to miss those moments for various forms of intimacy with our significant others! Sometimes, people find a momentary reading retreat in the bathroom–as long as no one else needs the facilities, and people don’t start worrying that something has happened to you! Sometimes, we take some time to turn off the TV and read, and then talk about what we’ve read. Take advantage of different rhythms. I wake much earlier (and crash earlier) than my wife. That early morning time is reading time.

There is life beyond reading, and reading is just one aspect of a richly textured, well-lived life. But taking deliberate steps to set aside undistracted time to savor a book and think about it can enrich the whole of our lives. It is when books occupy an inordinate rather than ordinate place in our lives (something that will be different for all of us) that we have problems. There may come a day I cannot read. Have I cultivated both friends who might read to me, and an inner richness that sustains me when they are not present? There is an episode (here is a short clip of the ending) of The Twilight Zone where bookish Henry Bemis finds himself the only survivor of an apocalypse in the midst of a library full of treasured books and he cries out “time enough at last” only to be cruelly disappointed. We don’t want to be this guy.

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