Thursday, August 13, 2009

Finding (Or Losing) Time to Read

"Sometime late last year -- I don't remember when, exactly -- I noticed I was having trouble sitting down to read. That's a problem if you do what I do, but it's an even bigger problem if you're the kind of person I am."

Thus begins a marvelous essay that was printed in the Los Angeles Times last Sunday by David Ulin, book editor for the times. The essay is called "The Lost Art of Reading," and I recommend everyone who cares enough about the subject to read it.

It's a topic that I've been wanting to write about for several weeks. I find myself reading less and less nowadays. Now, I know why I'm reading less and less. That's a no-brainer. It's everything that fills up most of our days: work, driving, errands, keeping up a house and, in my case, a very large yard, walking dogs, keeping up with emails, facebook, and after that, trying to have some kind of social life. Time was when I could read for at least a couple of hours every day: one hour in the morning when I get up; another hour at night. Now I do spend the mornings reading, but many times it's the newspaper, which may or may not be a satisfying experience. As far as the evenings go, forget it. I'm lucky if I get 15 minutes in before I fall asleep.

But what disturbs me is that when I look at the distractions I listed above, I'm having a hard time deciding whether or not I want to give up any of these for reading. Now that's scary. I have to have a house because of having two large dogs and actually I prefer a house to a condo. So doing away with yard maintenance isn't an option. Also I don't want to give up my garden. Work, my dogs, my social life, emails, are all necessities. I have sworn off Facebook on occasion, but I find myself sneaking back into the kitchen to take a quick look ("Has anyone commented on my post?"). And that in and of itself can be distracting. And addicting.

I think the turning point for me was when I bought my first house back in 2002. I immediately was swept up in house painting, gardening, refurbishing, whatever. Add to that the fact that the only houses I could afford were located in an area 45 miles away from work. Overnight my commute went from 30 minutes a day to 3 hours. I had entered that twilight zone of home ownership: where people go when they want to own a home, where they spend 20-30 years of their lives getting up at 4 a.m. to get on the freeway and not getting home until 9 p.m., and spending your entire weekends sleeping off the commute and working....around the house.

Well, I got out of that, and now I'm renting. I work from home, so I only have a commute one day a week. I have someone come and cut my lawns now every two weeks. And I still don't have time to read.

I was reading another blog recently, Gary Dobb's fine blog The Tainted Archive, in which this subject was discussed. A lot of people commented that they read on the trains to work. But that isn't an option for people in the Los Angeles area, because of our very limited mass transit operations.

I'd like to hear other people's feedback on this. And don't forget to read Ulin's essay in the Times.


Walker Martin said...

Life has become more and more complex, our waking hours filled often with electronic gadgets and various distractions. How often have I heard the excuse "I don't have time for reading".

I always respond that we have to make time for reading. It has to be part of our daily activity just like eating, sleeping, working, etc. Reading at the end of the day in bed will probably result in sleeping. I read often at meals. Breakfast is for newspapers but lunch and dinner are for books, pulps, paperbacks.

As teenagers maybe we could lay around and read all day but as adults with our added responsibilities and interests, we have to make sure we carve out time, a half hour here, an hour there. Reading is a great solitary pleasure; we have to make time for it. Really what could be more important than taking some time for ourselves, our intellect, our curiosity, our enjoyment?

Dave Lewis said...

I share your problem. I'm finding less and less time to sit down and open a book. At least half my "reading" is now done with my ears.

Any time I'm doing something with my hands (driving, cooking, washing dishes) I'm listening to an audiobook. I get 'em from the library, and if mine doesn't have what I want they borrow it through InterLibrary Loan. This doesn't help with pulps, of course, or many western pbs, so I try to reserve my sit down time for stuff NOT available on CD.

Charles Gramlich said...

I really increased my reading time this summer and made a somewhat conscious decision to do so. I sped up my blogging a pace and cut way back on TV and video games. I was upset myself at getting less reading done.


I read whenever possible - in the car when parked up, in bed, in the bath. However the habit needs to be worked at as it's all too easy to get distracted but when your in the zone there's no better place.

Lana Gramlich said...

I saw your comment about my recent Google Hijack Virus problem & wanted to warn you that the 1st thing the virus does is disable Norton Anti-Virus (& possibly other anti-viral programs.) Despite my own reinstalls & updates of Norton, it never detected this virus. The only other option for removal (besides the program I recommended, for the normal computer user,) is a complete system restore. Downloading the program takes seconds, but could save you from having to start from scratch someday.

Now, as for this blog post, I had to go to what some would consider extreme measures to allow myself enough time for painting & other things. Although I've always worked full-time, when I was hired at the library, I decided to go part-time. It allows me to cover my part of the bills, but very little else. When problems arise (like my recent surgery,) I run a little bit short of my bills, so I definitely couldn't do this without Charles in my life. I don't know how long I'll be able to do this, either, as my bills increase a little every year, but I'll take advantage while I can.

Ed Hulse said...

Even though I don't have a full-time job away from home, I find it increasingly difficult to carve out reading time. That's been a problem for years, mainly because as a reviewer of movies and DVDs I spend as much as three or four hours a day in theaters or in front of my TV set. But the internet has become a bigger threat, although I'm often reading when I'm on line.

As a young kid I developed the habit of reading in bed for an hour or two before retiring. I still find it relaxing, especially if I'm reading something that "goes down easy" -- like novels by such old favorites as Edgar Wallace, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Sax Rohmer. Basically, anything that doesn't require a lot of concentration is good bedtime reading. You don't want to attempt ULYSSES when dog-tired and sprawled out on the bed. That's when the pulpy stuff really works; its dreamlike quality is best appreciated when you're a little drowsy!

Trying to read a really good book late at night is usually a prescription for sleeplessness. Just this past New Year's Day, I impulsively decided to revisit TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, which I'd last read more than 30 years ago. The damn thing kept me up most of the night. I read about half of it before turning out the lights, but then I couldn't get to sleep because I kept rerunning the best scenes in my head and trying to recall Harper Lee's impeccable phrasing!

Laurie Powers said...

everyone has posted such great comments here. I am now trying to make a concerted effort to read more. I'm finding that whatever I read in the newspaper that morning I can't even remember by noon, so this is my latest experiment: to read more of what I treasure - pulp fiction stories, the latest novel - in the mornings. Save the paper for later, or at least be more discriminatory of what I read in the paper.
And now I have a confession to make: I can lose 2-3 hours a night watching baseball games. Now, a lot of that time I'll be reading at the same time. But not always. What's a girl to do?