Digital Distractions?

IMG_2269

My trusty e-reader with a “Vicky Bliss” mystery loaded. (c) 2015, Robert C Trube

Back in 1994 Sven Birkerts wrote The Gutenberg Elegies, which argued the modern life is changing the way we read. Think about it–in 1994, the internet was all text based and most of us who were around them were just discovering it. Cell phones were these primitive brick-like contraptions with an antenna you pulled out that you only used to make phone calls. We bought or rented videos, listened to books on either cassettes or CDs, and watched TV either over the air or on cable.

There have been scores of articles since, including a more recent one touting a new book by Birkerts, still contending that our technology disrupts our reading, and our writing. At least from the side of reading and engaging with books, I suspect the issue is a bit more complicated. A recent discussion at my Bob on Books Facebook page suggests that the advent of various digital technologies have had both benefits and downsides.

A regular commenter said various digital technologies have tripled her reading! A number of people have found e-readers have facilitated their reading. One person, whose husband is connected with the military, found her e-reader helped them meet weight restrictions on their moves. They are also convenient for reading while traveling (another time where trimming weight makes sense). Many use free library downloads to save costs. E-readers make digital text searches easier for research purposes. Some find reading easier on an e-reader, including a person with eye problems, for whom an e-reader is “a real blessing.” Another person, however, thought their e-reader was messing with their eyes, and some still prefer real books to e-readers. However, one person reading an 800 page book wished it were on her e-reader because of the weight of the book!

Audiobooks are also a favorite for a number, particularly because these make it possible to take in a book while engaged in other activities. One artist friend finds listening to an audiobook helps him focus on his work. In another discussion, a number linked audiobooks and exercise. Nothing wrong with getting physically and mentally fit! Some of us (myself included) exercise while reading on our e-readers.

One of the other ways technology aids readers is in searching for books. Project Gutenberg offers 58,000 e-books for free download. Library websites facilitate searches for books, reserves, and downloads of e-books and audiobooks. The energy savings of not having to physically go to the library in many cases is not to be overlooked. It is now possible to link a local library or bookstore to Goodreads under the “Get a copy” function.

TVs and smartphones can be a problem. One person observed their reading time go way down when they discovered streaming services on TV. One person decided to quit television. Others find social media like Facebook a distraction. They are reading, but…. This can be a problem when you use a reading app on your phone, but get distracted by others apps, particularly if you have notifications turned on for any apps. But there is a problem that once the phone is on, it is easy in a moment of boredom or distraction to check Facebook…or Twitter…or even Goodreads. Fifteen minutes later you remember you were reading. Some admitted that addiction to their phones is a problem that is cutting into their time.

Perhaps for these reasons, or just the love of the feel of a physical book, there are a number who still like to turn the pages, and my observation is that they turn quite a number of pages from the books they report on reading! Unless one is listening to an audiobook, I suspect most of us probably need to put mental or even physical distance between our e-book or physical book and our phone. Dedicated e-readers on which you can only read can be helpful here. Perhaps it can be healthy to have times of the day where we don’t have our phones with us, and reading times may be one of them.

None of this explores a deeper question, and that is whether we engage in the same way a physical book, an e-book and an audiobook. My hunch is that we do not, but we still may attain the same end, whether it is simply diversion, or illumination. I wonder if the issue is not what I’m reading but how well I am paying attention, and how actively I am thinking about what I’m reading. However, I would maintain that reading, in any of these forms is better than not reading, and if any encourage those who might not otherwise read to plunge into a book, that’s a good thing.

Your thoughts?

How Do You Read So Many Books?

My Review Stats Goodreads

My reading stats as of 11/13/2018

A friend asked that question recently over at the Bob on Books Facebook Page. Yes, I do read quite a few books, 155 so far this year. I’m far from alone. Just two examples. Teddy Roosevelt was reputed to read a book a day. Warren Buffett reads 500 pages a day (I typically read about 125). Both far exceed me. Here are a few thoughts on how that works for me:

  1. There are other things I don’t do. I don’t watch very much TV. If you cut out an hour of TV a day, you can read 60 books in a year.
  2. I try to cut out other distractions when I read, which slow me down as well as divert my attention from the text. Keeping the cell phone out of sight and hearing is key. I need to stay away from screens when I read.
  3. I try to read when I am most alert, which for me is early in the day. Sometimes, I stand when I read when I have to read closely, and might be inclined to doze off!
  4. I always have something available to read–on breaks, in airports. This is when I do some lighter reading.
  5. There is something to reading skills–reading speed, comprehension–that improve with practice. I pay attention to chapter titles, headings, first sentences in paragraphs, which tip me off to meaning.
  6. I find punctuating reading with some physical activity–say five minutes of walking–results in greater alertness.
  7. I always have books on hand to read next, the proverbial TBR (to be read) pile.
  8. I vary my reading–fiction, history, biography, sports, theology, science and more.
  9. I’ve been part of a book group, and over the years, we’ve read nearly one hundred books together.
  10. Track your progress, which is a kind of reinforcer in itself. Goodreads has a reading challenge. Be realistic and keep it fun.

The point in reading though is not how many books we read, but what happens in us as a result of what we read. Books can enlarge our world, enlarge our ideas of a life well-lived, sharpen our thinking, and feed our imagination. There are times to read quickly, times to read carefully, and times to savor the richness of wordplay in a poem or particularly well-written passage. Hopefully these ideas will help you make more space in your life for books, whatever number you read.

 

Regimented Reading

Aiiieeeee!_readers

By Nancy Wong (Personal collection of Nancy Wong) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons

I came across a post today on Bookriot that I found a bit puzzling. It was titled An Experimental Year with Regimented ReadingThe writer admitted to struggling with a reading slump, which I have to admit to not understanding. A reading slump for me would be like an eating slump. Something would have to be seriously wrong with me! So perhaps I wasn’t the most sympathetic to the writer’s proposed remedy which was a reading regimen, written out month by month, color coded by “too long on the TBR” (green), series books (yellow), new releases (hot pink), and re-reads (blue) with asterisks (*) by the priority reads. The writer has planned this out until January. I would love to hear a report about how this worked.

A list like that might be the one thing to put me in a slump! I have enough else that is planned and scheduled, that scheduling my reading would drive me up a wall. That said, as I reflected on it, I have to admit that there is a certain method to my reading madness that guides my decisions of what I read next. Here is some of what governs my choices. I usually read on my Kindle during morning exercise on the treadmill. I alternate books I’ve purchased “just because” and e-galley’s I’ve requested for review. In print books, I usually have something “Christian-related” I’m reading and, because I review books from a number of publishers, many of these are new releases I’ve requested for review. I try to mix in older “backlist” or classic works, often something our Dead Theologians group is reading. Often my choices come down to what strikes my fancy when I’ve finished one book. Then I have a mix of history, science, current events and fiction that I choose from, usually alternating among these. A gift from my son usually jumps to the top of the pile.

Sometimes, I choose books that are related to something I might be speaking on or is something we are talking about in our organization. Then there are times where I’ve been reading or researching something, and it sparks an interest in something I want to read more deeply about. This happened recently researching posts about my hometown, and the sobering discovery of significant Klan activity in the 1920’s in a northern, industrial town. I wanted to find out more about that as a part of local history that tended to be glossed over.

In making the transition from simply reading to reviewing, I’m aware that some of the choices I make have to do with books I’ve agreed to review or are newly published. I probably get around to these more quickly than I once did, realizing that it’s probably a good idea to write about a book while people are interested in it. Sadly, it also reflects the reality that this is often a very short period. That’s a dynamic I wrestle with–seeing new releases on my TBR pile and hearing the clock ticking. Most of the time though, I’m pretty good at choosing things I enjoy reading. Perhaps it would be good to be more sparing in the choices so that the pile is smaller!

So, I guess I have a bit of my own regimen after all, just not written down. The closest to a plan are a few piles from which I choose my next books. The biggest dilemma is often having to choose among a number of good choices. I guess I’ve never wrestled with slumps because there are so many things I’m curious about, and so many genres and authors I enjoy.

So, how do you choose your books? Do you have any kind of plan? Do you ever get into a reading slump? What helps you get out of it? It would be fun to hear. We really are all different, and it seems to me that reading is one of those areas where there is no single “right” way to go about it. Perhaps that’s why we like it.

 

Why Do Men Read Less…on Average?

I recently came across the contention that men read fewer books a year than women. The statistics vary but the most current I could find indicated that on average, women read 14 books a year and men 9.

Clearly, I’m an anomaly, having read over 100 books a year each year of the current decade–but then I’ve always known I’m a bit of an anomaly! I read more than my wife, so our household is an exception to the norm.

Since I am an anomaly and not a good judge of these things, I thought I would go to that fount of all wisdom, Facebook, and ask my friends about this. Their responses seem in line with what has been written about this.

One friend wrote:

“While I can’t speak for all guys, I can remember growing up and it being seen by many as “nerdy” to read, and thus something to not do. This view was mostly held/expressed in elementary school, but I think that if someone absorbs this viewpoint at a young age, then it will likely be hard to change later in life.”

Another wrote:

“Could it be because it’s hard to read a book while you’re throwing or catching or hitting a ball?”

I resonate with this. Probably one of the reasons I read is that I wasn’t athletic in elementary school, usually the last to be chosen for teams. Since I already was teased for my lack of athleticism, I thought, why not read? But I can see how it would be harder for others who actually had athletic skills!

Another person responded,

“Women tend to have more verbal/language skills than males typically, it may be an off shoot of that trend”

This may relate to some other comments:

I just asked my husband, and his immediate response was “shorter attention span.” I think technology is to blame. He spends more time staring at screens, and he jumps around on them so much that it’s become a habit.”

“True for my wife and I. She reads many more books, I read a lot more news/blogs. Short attention span?”

“I’m post literate. Seriously though, I just enjoy listening to books more than reading them these days.”

Some have proposed that there may be biological differences between men’s and women’s brains but these comments also raise the question of technology. Do men and women interact differently with technology? Does listening to books count as “reading” and do these make it into these statistics? Or do men and women read different kinds of things? Statistically, the answer is “yes” with women reading far more fiction than men while men prefer non-fiction. This is particularly true in the category of romance fiction where women outnumber men 84 to 16 percent. Two of my respondents said,

Not positive but I suspect men read more newspapers. Women I know read fiction while men do not.”

I go to used bookstores, and I’m always amazed by the number of romance books they have. They really outnumber most other genres.”

This makes me wonder if some of the difference is the kinds of books read. We will tend to read fewer books that take time to read (densely written academic books for example, or history books with longer page counts that tend to have a male audience) than page turners, steamy or otherwise. One person (a woman) noted:

I read a lot less than the average person but largely academic books. The same is with my husband. Maybe that’s why we read a lot less. Some of the “average” women I do know also read mostly smut books…. which I refuse to partake.”

Another commented:

I’d be interested in a more complex breakdown of these numbers. I know some folk who put up huge Goodreads books numbers, but all they read are 200-pg pop fiction. With mass numbers and the common person, what kinds of books are the average women reading, etc?

“That information would tell us if we’re talking about “the average reader” (male and female) or “serious readers” or “academic readers”; my suspicion is that the gender differences will vary significantly between those three (or more) groups.”

I was thankful to find a few men who are as anomalous as I am. One wrote:

“I buy and read two or three times as many books as my wife, and she reads a lot.”

“We already know everything! 😂. Seriously, I read a LOT of books, so I don’t know why others don’t.” (Emoticons in actual comment.)

My very anecdotal and unscientific survey does suggest to me that there is much more to look at than the raw statistic of average books read for men and women. The questions of what kind of reading each do, including media other than books, what kind of books they read, and even what kind of readers we are all factor into this discussion. One article I looked at noted these types of readers:

  • Page Turners: avid readers (48% of women, 26 % of men)
  • Slow Worms: slow, serious readers who finish their books (18 % of women, 32 % of men).
  • Serial Shelvers: those who have shelves of books they haven’t (and probably won’t) read (17 % of women, 20 % of men)
  • Double Bookers: have at least two books going at a time (12 % of both women and men).

I found that a bit puzzling because I fall into three of the four above categories. What all this suggests though is that there is far more to be understood about our reading habits that these blunt-edged statistics don’t capture.

What are your thoughts about the differences between men and women when it comes to reading?

Readers’ Bootcamp

exercise-boot-camp-clipart-1

“Bootcamp” WorldArtsMe

Perhaps the title involves a bit of hyperbole. But if we are indeed in a battle to find space in our lives for attentive reading amid the distractions of modern technological life, it might involve something akin to bootcamp, where in a short space of weeks, civilians are turned into soldiers, and where civilian habits that might get you killed in short order are exchanged for habits that enable you to live life under fire.

Perhaps the drastic metaphor of bootcamp has a place. At one time, our shopkeepers and farmers read Shakespeare, The Bible, Plato, Aristotle, John Locke and others. John Adams traveled from town to town with a “poet in his pocket.” The great ideas that shaped our republic came from people who weren’t academics, but who kept company in the books they read with great ideas. At one time in this country, workers’ Athenaeums  were popular for people who wanted to improve themselves and their understanding of the world. Apart from some things like TED talks, much of the content we have online that occupy much of our time are tweets that amuse or arouse us, memes, pictures and news of often-dubious and editorially biased origin. To break our addiction to these distractions to recover the experience of deep, extended and attentive reading might require something of a “bootcamp” experience in our lives.

Here are some starters I might suggest:

  • Figure out a time when you are mentally sharpest and carve out a space of that time to read. Maybe to start, decide on the 15-20 minutes you will dedicate to reading, or a goal to read 10 pages during this sharpest time.
  • Now, the hard part. Put yourself as far away from any screens including your smartphone as possible. You will find your ability to focus immeasurably enhanced by doing this.
  • At this point, I would strongly discourage reading on any tablet that is not a dedicated e-reader, and would favor using a physical book. Any piece of technology with other apps will provide distractions that will undermine the goal of attentive, undistracted reading.
  • Don’t start with a dense philosophical tome by Kant or Heidegger. Pick a genre and writer you like and start reading.
  • If you already have the book at hand, so much the better provided it doesn’t violate the previous suggestion!
  • If you don’t have something to read, I would suggest going either to your local library or a brick and mortar bookstore. If you want to cultivate a reading habit, you want to make friends with the people in these places who are highly motivated to help you find good books, because you will keep coming to them for recommendations! Besides, would you rather get a book recommendation from an algorithm than a friend?
  • Speaking of friends, find a book buddy, maybe someone else is on the same journey to recovering literacy that you are, that you can meet up with to talk about the books in your lives. This can also help as you graduate to books that require more mental effort to understand. I’ve often found that great books demand multiple minds to really grasp their full meaning and I see so much more when I read with friends.
  • Keep a book journal where you record the books you have read, and key thoughts you want to remember from those books, and how, if at all, the book has changed your thinking. Online tools like Goodreads make this convenient as long as you don’t get distracted from actually reading. (That’s really how this blog was born–as a way to remember what I read as well as to talk about books with others).

I’ll stop there other than suggesting that you might try working up to the goal of an hour of focused reading a day. Actually, I think if you follow some of these ideas, you will find yourself wanting to read more and stopping will be the problem.

Tomorrow, I will talk a bit more about what to read.

The Battle to Read?

Reading-books

By Omarfaruquepro (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons

This week, Philip Yancey posted a blog “Reading Wars” that was picked up in the Washington Post under the title “The Death of Reading is Threatening the Soul.” Yancey begins the post noting the change in his own reading practices, from about three books a week (about what I typically read) to much less, and that he is reading far fewer works that require hard work.

He attributes this to the internet, and the tendency to read a paragraph or two and move along to something else, and to skip around from one thing to the next, and be easily distracted. He also notes the constant interruptions of emails and other messaging that wants a reply now.

He quotes a Charles Chu who estimates that it would take approximately 417 hours over a year to read 200 average sized books. Chu is walking proof that it’s possible, having read 400 books in the past two years. He notes that the average American spends 608 hours on social media and 1642 hours watching television. It is not a question of time.

Rather it is a question of seduction. And this is where the battle to read comes in. Between distracting notifications on smartphones, and the temptation to go from there to different social media can consume a lot of time. It’s mind candy, kind of fun really. There’s a video–was that really ten minutes? It lures us away from our books, and makes it harder to concentrate when we sit down to read them.

Yancey joins a chorus of people from Senator Ben Sasse who is trying to cultivate practices of reading in his family to Rod Dreher in his Benedict Option who are urging us to lay aside, or even fast from our technology to make time for deep reading of the printed page. Many business are arguing for setting aside at least an hour a day for reading.

Why does it matter? Isn’t this time one could more productively employ elsewhere? Personally, I reached a decision in my forties, that having passed the peak of my physical powers, I needed to take more time to read, and think, and pray if I was going to be spiritually and intellectually vital and fresh in my work. I could not just keep recycling what I learned in college and the first years out in the work force. I was changing, the world was changing, and the advance of years brought new questions, and questioned previous assumptions.

More than that, I came to realize that there really is something grand about this collective project called humanity–noble and sometimes hubristic dreams, great ideas like the freedom of conscience, and not so great ones like race theory, and great works of art and literature, that capture in a particular piece aspects of the universal human experience. I came to discover in the Christian faith not only the two to three millenia-old sacred scriptures that are our rule of faith and practice, but that conversation of great minds from Augustine and Athanasius to Barth and Niebuhr and Kuyper that sought to understand and apply these truths to their times. Many contemporary writers and speakers, as compelling as they seemed, were pretty thin fare by comparison.

Most of all, what I think I am trying to do as I read is to live an attentive life. I want to listen for God’s voice in the things that I read, and to be open to the possibility that a word of scripture, or an idea on a page might transform my perspective, question my ways of doing things, or lead to insights into how to live or work more in sync with God’s workings in the world. More than that, if God is the real hero of this story and mine but a small supporting role (and even that is something), so much of reading is a walk in the wonder of understanding the works and ways and majesty of God, whether in a book on the latest discoveries in physics, a history of a people, or a biography of a leader of the past.

There is so much more to life than what can be expressed in 140 characters or displayed on my smartphone screen. If we are dissatisfied with the banality of our public discourse, then perhaps a good beginning is to attack our own lack of attention to deep reading of ideas that matter. We might even discover that there is great joy to be found in a rich interior life. We might want such people to be leaders in our communities, and maybe our nation. We might even become them.

In the next days, I want to discuss more of what we can do to give substantive reading a greater place in our lives, and some practices and sources that can get us started.

 

The Dangerous Practice of Reading in Bed

8401027886_8a90480b4a_o

“The Bed-Time Book, written by Helen Hay and illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith. Photo by Plum Leaves, CC BY 2.0 via Flickr (unedited)

Do you like to read in bed? I do. Most of the time, I only read a few pages before nodding off. Usually my wife comes to bed after I do and turns out the light, and I usually wake up just enough to mark my place and put the book aside. Pretty harmless, huh? It wouldn’t have been thought so at one time.

I recently came across a blog on the evils of reading in bed, by Kristen Wardowski, who posts some great stuff about books, reading and writing. She, in turn points to an article in The Atlantic by Nika Mavrody. The gist of both posts is that there were two dangers, one very real and one feared.

The very real danger had to do with how people were able to read in bed. They did so by candlelight. Readers falling asleep could be the cause of fires as candles burned down, or set fire to flammables like curtains in the vicinity. This was the equivalent of smoking in bed, and was considered a form of negligence.

The other danger reflects a shift in the nature of reading from communal to solitary. Sleeping arrangements also shifted in the same way from a time when a family shared a bed or slept in a common room to greater privacy in sleeping arrangements. Reading at one time was something done aloud, in the family circle, and of course needed to be suitable for the various members of the family. Often, it was the Bible that was read (although sex and violence are hardly absent from its pages).

Private, silent reading was feared to lead to private fantasies that distracted one from household duties, particularly those of women. It sounds obsessive that there was societal concern over what someone thought about in solitude. Yet is this so far from concern over what can be viewed on screens which may be obliterated with a swipe or a mouse click, but not erased from our minds?

These days we don’t condemn reading in bed with a broad brush, and that’s an advance. But does what we read in our last waking moments matter? I think of a somewhat humorous incident from early in our married life. I was reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and had dozed off and my wife came in, and I turned to her with a scowl and not fully awake and asked her, “why did you kill all those Indians?” She was not sure she wanted to join me that night.

What we read in bed can entertain us and relax us. But it can also anger us, disturb us, arouse us, or keep us awake far after we should be sleeping. A while back I was reading Kirsten Hannah’s The Nightingale, one of the best books I read last year. But the horrors of the Nazi occupation of France were profoundly disturbing, and not the best things to consider right before I wanted to sleep. This was good reading–for another time of day–at least for me. I would not dictate for anyone else, but I’m coming to realize that some types of reading in bed aren’t helpful.

One type of reading that has been helpful are to read some of the prayers that have been prayed by many others as they close their days. I love these words from the Wednesday compline of the Northumbria Community:

Calm me, O Lord, as You stilled the storm.
Still me, O Lord, keep me from harm.
Let all the tumult within me cease.
Enfold me, Lord, in Your peace.

The prayer concludes with these words:

 The peace of God
be over me to shelter me,

under me to uphold me,

 about me to protect me,

 behind me to direct me,

 ever with me to save me.

I love to think of being enfolded in the peace of God before slipping into the oblivion and helplessness of sleep. To read, and pray, and turn these words over in my mind is good reading. Sometimes it is all the reading I have energy left to do. If that is dangerous, then bring it on. That’s reading I can live with…and sleep with.

Reading Rituals

trreading

One of the most famous Presidential readers

The pleasure of reading for so many of us is not simply the book itself but also in the rituals that surround our reading. I often read early in the day, before my wife awakens. Before I read, I pray, exercise, and shower. I brew a pot of coffee, unload the dishwasher and set out our breakfast dishes. By then the coffee is done. In the morning, I will sit in the rocker my wife usually sits in. I understand why she likes this chair so much. It is comfortable, and the fidget-er in me is satisfied because I can move.

After the first sip of coffee, which sits comfortably at my right side, I open the book I’m reading, pull the marker out and pick up where I’ve left off. Often, this is the time of the day when I do my most challenging reading. My mind is clear, the house is quiet, and I usually have an hour before I plunge into the day. Gradually, the light outside the front window brightens as the sun rises. I read for about an hour, maybe 30-35 pages and finish that first cup of coffee.

Some evenings or Sunday afternoons, I like to go down to the family room, also known as “the man cave.” Often I will bring a cup of decaf coffee or tea, a mystery or biography or history, and put on some good music, which could be anything from a Haydn quartet to the Modern Jazz Quartet. If I want to mix a nap in, I’ll stretch out on the sofa. If I really want to read attentively there is a nice cloth chair with a firm cushion and the best light. And if I really want to savor the music, I’ll choose the leather chair situated just right for the full stereo effect. I’ll kick my shoes off and hopefully get lost in a good story.

I’m one to read myself to sleep. Often I take a few minutes to read compline, a prayer to end the day, and read something light on my Kindle, which I can do without my glasses. This works well because I often will fall asleep after a few pages–the Kindle shuts itself off, my wife shuts off the light and I wake just enough to put the Kindle on the nightstand and kiss my wife goodnight.

Sure, I may read in some other times and places, but these are my favorites. None of this is terribly dramatic or exciting, but the rest of life has enough drama and excitement. Perhaps what these reading rituals have in common is the savoring of simple but good things, a mug of something in the hand, a comfortable chair or perhaps my bed, a moment of quiet, or perhaps of musical richness, and a good book to inform, to provide material for reflection or insight, or just a good means of stepping into another world to get a better perspective on life in this one.

What are your favorite reading rituals and what do they add to the reading experience?

Books and Beverages

20160218_170703Book Riot has run a couple of posts (Part 1 and Part 2) on pairing brews and books. It was quite a creative idea pairing different beers with different titles (for example, Dogfish Head Higher Math with The Martian). That is, if you are a beer aficionado, which I am not. I really cannot explain the difference between an IPA and a pilsner. When someone comments that a particular beer is “hoppy” I nod knowingly while in truth am clueless what this means. I know imperial stouts have higher alcohol contents and are served in smaller glasses. These days, there are almost as many beers as there are books, and so the possibilities are endless–for those in the know.

It seems that one could do this with a variety of drinks–wines, mixed drinks, types of coffee and tea. I actually have the same problem in Starbucks as I do in the local beer emporium. The variety of coffee drinks can be bewildering. Occasional I’ll venture out and order some special drink, usually what they are featuring. But my default is the default, a Pikes Place black coffee. I know, b-o-r-i-n-g!

But this got me to thinking about the fact that one of the pleasures of reading is to do it with a beverage at hand–a sip of this, a page of that. It may seem pretty prosaic, but the simple pleasure of any good book with a good beverage is enough to reassure me of the basic goodness of life.

I do a good deal of my reading in the early morning hours with a fresh mug of coffee at my side. Savoring ideas and savoring the taste of the coffee go together. Later in the day I might switch over to a cup of decaf or some chai tea. Or in the summer, a glass of lemonade or iced tea would be the perfect accompaniment for me, sitting by our front stoop on a summer evening.

I guess for me, beer and wine are social drinks (what do they say about drinking alone?). Truthfully, if I had an alcoholic drink while sitting alone with a book, I’d be snoozing! But that’s just me.

So, do you like to read with a beverage at hand? What is your beverage of choice? And do you have any creative book-beverage pairings to propose?

 

 

How Much Do You Read?

How much do you read? This was a question posted on Facebook as a comment on my review of Theodore Roosevelt’s The Bully Pulpit. The truth is, I read a good deal, but even so, it took me a month to read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book. And the truth is, I enjoyed every minute of it! That might be as good an answer as any for how much to read — as much as you enjoy without interfering with other obligations in life.

rooseveltTeddy Roosevelt found time to read for several hours most days, interspersed through his days. He was known to read a book or more a day. The Art of Manliness has an article on Roosevelt’s reading list — some of which he read multiple times.

What do I do? Most days I try to read for 60 to 90 minutes in the morning in a couple different books. On evenings when I don’t have commitments I do the same, usually with a mug of something hot and listening to some good music. I read most of Sunday afternoons, unless the weather is so inviting that you just have to get out. I usually have a book or two (or my Kindle) in my bag and will “snatch read” when I have some spare moments. I have several books going at once. (You can see what I’m reading on the Goodreads widget on my home page.)

This may be thought odd, and if so, guilty as charged. But is it any less odd that watching three to four hours of TV a night, or a number of two hour or longer movies every week? Or what about the time we spend on the internet or on our smart phones (doing something other than reading)? My point is not to criticize those choices. We choose what we value. One of the things I value is good literature. If you decide to read more, it may mean deciding to do something else less.

I try to read when I can best concentrate. I don’t try to read something overly heavy if I’m listening to music. That is a tug of war. I think I read relatively quickly, although speed is not the issue. If someone is taking a lot of time to elaborate a point he or she has made, I will read that more quickly.

How much to read is as individual a choice as your favorite flavor of ice cream. Years ago, so, someone told me that if you read 15 minutes a day, you can read 15 books in a year. (I probably average 120 minutes a day, and I read about 120 books a year, so this might be a good rule of thumb.) It’s not good to read beyond your ability to absorb what you are reading. It ceases to be enjoyable at that point. For me, that usually comes after an hour of uninterrupted reading. That’s a good time to do something else, or at least refill the coffee mug. So in the end, I come back to the idea I began with, read as much as you enjoy without interfering with the other obligations in your life.

How much would you say you read?