Have you ever been trying to read when others want to talk and you end up reading the same paragraph over and over again? Do you find yourself internally “clinching up” and having to stifle your impulse to scream “shut up!”
Unless we decide to become hermits (who still depend on others for the necessities of life), a reality of life is that there will be times when we want to read and others want to talk. Even more, sometimes they want to talk with us!
Here are a few thoughts of how I (very imperfectly) deal with this dilemma:
- Sometimes you just need to give it up and choose relationships over books. Especially with spouses or partners or children who want to talk with us. Does it really pay to lose those you love to lose yourself in a book? I hope you don’t have to think too long about that!
- This also applies to social gatherings. Most people don’t assume this is a time for reading unless it has been arranged as a reading party–yes there is such a thing, and I’ve written about it.
- Try reading when others are sleeping, although this means sleeping on a different schedule.
- Agree on times that are “reading times” as a family. For the sake of the talkers, don’t exceed them! People will more readily allow you time to read if they know when you will be available–and you are.
- Sometimes, finding a quiet place, like a library reading room can work if that is the shared expectation. It only takes one loud talker on a cell phone to spoil it!
- If you want to read where there are conversations going on that don’t involve you but can be distracting, choose books that engage your attention, and don’t involve careful reading of densely articulated ideas.
- Depending on how you and other people in your household feel about it, and their bodily needs, the bathroom can sometimes offer a temporary refuge–emphasis on temporary!
- Weather permitting, is there a place outside your home that might be secluded, perhaps a “readers garden”? (I draw this term from a nearby bookstore of the same name).
- Speaking of bookstores, these also sometimes have alcoves or seating that allow for reading, and should be places that respect that.
- Sometimes, the best answer that combines reading and sociability is to read aloud together. Maybe you can even give each member of the family or group a chance to share a passage of what they are reading.
Reading is a conversation with an invisible author and requires our full attention. So do conversations with people. Most of the time, trying to multitask means we end up doing both badly, present to neither conversation. At least part of our screen time on cell phones is also reading–texts, comments, news, and shopping sites. Perhaps the offense of not being present happens here more than anywhere. Sometimes we are more present with what is on the screen than the person we are sitting with.
It all comes down, I guess, to which conversation we really want to be in.