My Friends are Books: Finding More Time to Read

We're on vacation this week (without kids!!!) and I'm pretty sure we've been to a bookstore every day.  The first time we giggled with glee at the fact that we could even aspire to enter a place with so much to pull off the shelf and destroy.  Having small children certainly makes you appreciate the perks of a quiet, adult life.  We've also spent a ton of time just reading.  For hours.  It's been divine.  

My husband and I call books our "friends." When we decided to declutter and minimize our possessions before our move last year, my husband sifted through more than one thousand of these old pals to choose which ones to say goodbye to.  It was a painful parting.

Just as any relationship evolves, so, too, our on-going affair with reading.  I was that kid in elementary school, narrowly missing smacking into other students as I walked the hallways with my head buried in a book.  I read billboards, cereal boxes at breakfast and shampoo bottles in the shower. Anything with words would do.   

I inherited this lifelong love from my mom, an ardent book lover. She drove my dad batty on family vacations. While weaving through forests of giant trees, beside chattering brooks and over gigantic mountains exploding with wild flowers, he'd nearly veer off the road with his rubber-necking, while my mom's head would be bowed in the passenger seat, lost in a book.

Though I was content to read Babysitters' Club books, my mom usually thrust the classics under my nose before buying another cookie-cutter series book for me to read in an hour.  Island of the Blue Dolphins, Caddie Woodlawn, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, A Wrinkle in Time, Jane Eyre, Charlotte's Web, Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, and Little Women were my companions when I wasn't pretending I was a gymnast on the fence in our backyard, collecting caterpillars or making up dance routines with my childhood best friend, Natalie.  The courageous girls in these books were my sisters and literary friends.

The rigors of high school and college then usurped the ability to choose my book friends and I was forced to get to know those books I wouldn't have chosen for myself: Fahrenheit 451, The Handmaid's Tale, Crime and Punishment, The Great Gatsby, Animal Farm, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Odyssey, Othello and The Scarlet Letter.  These friends weren't as easy to get to know and being with them sometimes made my brain hurt.  But just as befriending "difficult" people changes, challenges and stretches us, these books transformed me.

When you graduate from college, the thought that you can read anything you want is liberating after four years of forced reading lists.  The freedom!  So in those years after college and before masters studies, I leisurely caught up on the books I had missed while I was entrenched in academia. This was in the days before Netflix, Facebook or Twitter where wasting time meant first going to the video store, then coming home to put a DVD in the video player and curling up on the couch to veg out.  It was almost easier to just grab a book.

Apart from my three years of masters study, my adult reading life has been slow, but continual.  But because I read so much less than in years past, the books I spend time with must be worthy partners.  They must educate, inform, inspire or be utterly engrossing. Life is too short to read books you hate.

And as writing has become more a part of my life, I've been surprised to find the pace of my reading pick up as well.  I've always known that writers read, but it's been amazing to find that though I have less time to read, I've found ways to fill in the chinks in my day that were once allowed to remain empty (or more likely filled with social media).  Here are some ways I've been able to do that.


Read More Than One Book

One way I've done this is to read several books at one time.  After listening to the popular podcast What Should I Read Next? where the host, Ann Bogel, interviews readers about their reading life, I noticed that most of them laugh when she asks them what they are currently reading.  "I'm reading six books right now!" they usually say.  Their reasoning is that they always have a book ready to fit their mood.

So I am giving it a try.  Here's what that looks like for me.  I'm reading a devotional-type book in the mornings after I read my Bible.  Right now, that's Ruthless Trust, by Brennan Manning.  I have a nonfiction book like The Writing Life by Annie Dillard, ready to read with breakfast if I don't need to talk to anyone (which rarely happens).  I have a more engrossing book, like The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd, that requires a bit more head space to read for a few minutes with tea after I put the kids down for their naps.  Finally, I have a book on my night stand, The More of Less, by Joshua Becker, that I can groggily read a few pages of (3 minutes, according to my husband) since night is not my ideal time for engaged thought.

And it's working! 

Read in Different Formats
In addition to surrounding myself with a variety of book friends, reading in many different formats has also helped to accelerate my ability to read more.  If you always have a book or two on Kindle on your phone, then you always have a book with you to read.  This has been great for standing in long lines, waiting in the car in the parking lot as my husband jets into the store to run an errand or if I sit down on the couch and realize my other book is too far away.  And if you download the audio book of the same book on audible, then the book will sync up and enable you to listen while you're driving around, then go back to Kindle format when you get home.

Keep a List 

Finally, keeping an up-to-date list on Goodreads allows me to quickly choose the next book to put on hold at the library.  My children already know that mommy and daddy usually have books on the hold shelf to retrieve before their story time at the library and they happily carry our books to the check out counter for us.

Reading is a satisfying love affair.  More than just a way to escape daily life, it changes my perspective of people, God, and the world. What are some ways you are keeping up this affair in your life?  I'd love to hear! 


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