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That reading thing

Lately, I have been pondering ways to do more pleasure reading. As a kid, I always had a book on hand. I devoured them by the gross. In the years since grad school, however, I have found myself reading a lot less, and I know that is effecting my writing.

Okay, stop: just the fact that I am thinking about this in terms of how it "effects my writing" tells me I am not really framing this as "reading for pleasure," and that's one problem right there. Reading has become a means to an end, an obligation or chore, and that's not a great start.

Anyway, there is plenty of advice out there about how to "find more time" for reading (much less, however, on how to make it a pleasure again). The most relevant suggestions:

(1) Watch less TV.

I don't actually watch a lot of TV. And at the same time, I do. Most of the time, I have my DVDs playing in the background with the sound off, keeping me company while I do other things. Brain things.

I gave serious consideration this weekend to cancelling my cable. In San Francisco, I lived without cable for years for financial reasons. And nowadays, I don't watch even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the shows and channels I am paying for just to have a DVR. I watch a few network shows, a couple cable channel shows, and that's it. And since I have a Google TV blu ray player, streaming those shows is an immediate option that in the main would be less expensive than a monthly cable bill.

Only problem is, streaming video (e.g., YouTube, Amazon) doesn't have closed captioning, which I rely on for dialogue comprehension, and they won't be legally required to provide it until 2014.

And frankly, I don't think TV is my problem.

(2) Turn off the computer.

Now we're getting somewhere. I am ALWAYS on the computer. That's where the bulk of my free time goes. I don't have the internet on my phone, and I feel quite self-righteous about that. But to be honest, I don't have the internet on my phone because I don't need it. I have a computer with an internet connection in front of me sixteen hours a day. At home, at work.

I have blamed grad school for my loss of interest in reading, but really, grad school has been over for years now. I don't think it's a coincidence that around the time I graduated, the computer became more and more a part of my life. Writing in Microsoft Word instead of using a paper pad. Getting involved with the online world of Buffy fandom. Working on a website. Now, my life revolves around the computer: first thing in the morning, I check my emails, read my LJ friends list and blog feeds. Then I open the current chapter I am writing.

Soon, I am tempted away from writing to check LJ again. Work on an image in Photoshop, write a blog entry, tool around the internet. I can waste hours on these sorts of things. Soothing procrastination disguised as productive activity.

I need to learn to turn the damned computer OFF once in a while. Not just the Internet, the COMPUTER. Reading on the internet sounds tailor-made for my situation, but it's not. The rest of the computer will still be there, a keystroke away.

(3) Make time to read in your schedule.

All fine and good, except I have a pile of books sitting waiting to be read that I never seem to get to. Well, wait... that's not true. I started reading them and then never picked them back up. They didn't keep my interest. And I've been burned that way enough now that I have stopped buying books just because their descriptions intrigue me.

Frankly, I read more when I had a library card. There was no commitment, not even 99 cents. If you couldn't finish, you took the book back. No harm, no foul (although there was a smidgen of guilt). The book never laid around the house or on the kindle staring at you accusingly if you lost interest in it. If a book came due before you could finish it, you renewed it. If you liked it enough, then you bought it.

Last week, I trucked over to the Tempe Library and renewed my library card. I got the card five years ago when I moved into town and had no money for books. Then I got a job. I let the card lapse. It expired FOUR years ago.

(4) Read what you like, not what you feel you "should" read.

That's what reading for pleasure has always been about. And I think the library card plan is a good way to start.


( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 4th, 2012 06:55 pm (UTC)
the library is excellent because with that if I'm reading something thta isn't doing it for me I feel no obligation to finish as I would if I paid cash. I've made a 50 page rule. If I'm not engrossed by then back it goes (though some go back faster if they truly suck)
Sep. 4th, 2012 06:59 pm (UTC)
That is wisdom, my friend.
Sep. 4th, 2012 07:25 pm (UTC)
i also make exceptions for authors i like but they occasionally disappoint me

and love the icon
Sep. 4th, 2012 07:37 pm (UTC)
I am having that exact problem right now finishing Galileo's Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson. Loved his Mars series, not liking this new book. Not sure if I should be spoilery and get into why, but there's two juxtapositioned story lines going on that each by themselves would be cool but aren't working for me together.
Sep. 5th, 2012 01:50 am (UTC)
Same here with Patricia Briggs. I like her other stories but this one is very SLOW going.
Sep. 4th, 2012 09:34 pm (UTC)
I had the same problem with spending too much time on the computer and not enough time reading for pleasure. I won't say I've completely solved it but having a Kindle has helped immensely. What it did was take the guilt away from trying new authors just for the hell of it (the Amazon Daily Deal is nice and cheap) and gave me back my enthusiasm for reading, which in turn renewed my interest in the books I had on my To Be Read pile. Now I'm reading more of those than I am on the Kindle but if I get stuck in a rut I know I can mix things up a bit. I should think a library card would work in the same way and it's cheaper :)
Sep. 4th, 2012 09:43 pm (UTC)
I find the list of unread books on my Kindle just as guilt-inducing as the pile on my shelf, even if they were cheaper. It's like I don't want any commitment upfront; I want to be able to walk away free and clear until I am too drawn into the story to say "Meh" to owning it.
Sep. 4th, 2012 09:54 pm (UTC)
For some reason the list on my Kindle doesn't bother me so much, possibly because I don't have to spend all my time wondering where on earth I'm going to put them all!
Sep. 4th, 2012 10:06 pm (UTC)
; )
Sep. 4th, 2012 10:16 pm (UTC)
I"m so addicted to reading that I can't be much help. Back in the single mom, department chair, grad student days (all at one time) I got up early and stayed up late to read. I read during breakfast and lunch, and supper if I'm eating by myself. I wake up and go to sleep reading. I sometimes think I don't live in a a real world. When I travel, the one thing I need to be sure of is access to stuff to read--and that can include cleaning product labels in other languages if nothing else is available. Even the computer is really a way to FIND STUFF TO READ.

I know this doesn't help. Just noticing my own weirdness....
Sep. 4th, 2012 10:51 pm (UTC)
Send some of that obsession my way, plz?
Sep. 5th, 2012 01:32 am (UTC)
It is difficult to carve out time to read "books". Fanfic I read all the time, because their short. Longer fiction... I do most of my reading when exercising. Mostly when on the elliptical. I come to myself around thirty minutes later, I've walked three miles and I don't want to stop because I'm almost at the end of the chapter.

All the other parts of the day are full of should do-es. But at that time of day, well, I'm already doing the thing I should be doing.
Sep. 5th, 2012 01:52 am (UTC)
I used to read while walking (learned well how not to walk into parked cars), and read while using the rowing machine (it involves wrist work, let me put it that way).

I had to stop doing it because it was screwing up my eyes trying to focus during movement that made the book shift around. *sigh*
Sep. 5th, 2012 03:32 am (UTC)
I sympathise. I am experiencing the same phenomenon. I think that 'being on the computer', while requiring a certain type of concentration, doesn't affect the brain like reading fiction does (did?). Gulp! I know that when I succeed in turning off the computer and make a real effort, I fall back into reading. But then the computer always rears its ugly head. Ubiquitous! Good luck re-embracing reading for pleasure.
Sep. 5th, 2012 10:58 pm (UTC)
I am going to take it slow and make my goals small and easy at first. LOL, that sounds so funny in relation to something that used to be as easy as breathing!
Sep. 5th, 2012 04:29 am (UTC)
I've lamented on a number of occasions over the past few years about not reading like I used to, but I'm slowly becoming at peace with it for several reasons. Frankly, I wish you luck on regaining some of whatever you've lost.

For me, it's primarily a matter of time and the fact that my interests have shifted over the past few decades. I actually do read quite a bit, but it's mostly "factual" data, not pleasure reading. I still spend about a full hour each day reading the newspaper. I occasionally do the same online if something strikes my fancy and I want more info. I read a lot of technical stuff related to my work.

But, I find I have more interest these days in visual material-- photos and films, better TV. Unlike what works for you, I can't do anything visual and then multitask-- I have to give the film or whatever my full attention. (I play background music when I'm working).

So, my free time these days is wrapped around that, and very little pleasure reading. I only mention this in case you can't get back to where you were. It's maybe not that bad, as long as you have other interests, which you obviously do.

BTW, I don't think you need to be reading more to improve your writing. By now, you can either do it or you can't. You'll get better by writing more, more than by reading other writer's stuff. They're them, you're you. Imagination and creativity is what makes a good book, not exacting technique.

Best wishes!
Sep. 5th, 2012 11:03 pm (UTC)
Actually, I do think I need to read in order to write. First off, there is the garbage in, garbage out principle - creativity requires constant stimulation. And stimulation in the medium relevant to what you are outputting helps the brain do its job better. All my TV watching for example, made it easier to write scripts, because I started thinking in images, and thinking about stories like a director. That was a mistmatch for writing novels, in which you are inside the character's head much more than in television writing.

And to produce something you are becoming less and less familiar with? I can't imagine athletes or artists or politicians completely ignoring what other athletes or artists or politicians are up to if they want to be effective in their work.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )