My 10 year-old niece rang me this morning, all excited, to tell me she had won a top reading award at her school. Basically, they get points for the books they read, the harder books accruing more points and so forth. She’s accumulated more points than anyone else in her school, and so was the only student who received a gold certificate.
She’s turned into a complete bookworm over the past year, reading her favourites (especially Harry Potter) multiple times, always talking about what book she’s currently reading. Naturally, I love to talk to her about books, even more so because they tend to be fantasy. In fact, I yearn to read the middle-grade Deltora Quest novels (by Emily Rodda), which I’ve heard so much about and always intended to read. I know she’ll lend them to me . . . if only I had time to read them.
The life of a bookworm
I confess I’m completely envious of all the time she spends reading. I remember those days as a kid, when I could spend long weekend afternoons sprawled out on the bed with a book (when my parents weren’t nagging me to do some chore), and evenings were for reading because I wasn’t allowed to watch television on a school night. I used to read for hours every evening, often late into the night . . .
These days, I frequently fall into bed without even opening my book. Once upon a time that would have been unheard of — and not that long ago either. For most of my life as an adult I’ve read every evening; been unable, in fact, to contemplate sleep without at least half an hour (preferably longer) lost within some novel or other.
But not any more. These days I can go weeks without reading. It’s horrible . . . So what’s changed?
I can pinpoint two things
One started the rot and the other sealed it.
The first thing was blogging. I’ve been blogging for years now, and it doesn’t always stop me from reading, but I can’t deny that I’m often writing posts late at night (ahem), when once I would have disappeared into bed with a book. It’s 11pm as I write this — if I went to bed right now, I could read for at least an hour before I switch out the light. Yet, here I am, blogging (and I still need to wash the dishes).
The second thing is my smartphone. This, I think, is more of a problem. Because I’ve noticed every night, when I finally do stumble into bed (once I’ve finished writing for my own blog or maybe reading other people’s posts), my phone comes with me and I swipe it on to check my social media (as though I didn’t just have them open on the computer), my email (ditto — really, what’s going to have changed in the last 10 minutes?), and — the real killer — Words with Friends.
Yep, Words with Friends, and then a spot of smartphone solitaire, has become my late night habit. Instead of opening my book (or switching on my kindle), I’m effectively playing computer games. I’m almost too ashamed to admit it.
Too many distractions
One hears all over the place that books are having to compete with so many other information and entertainment sources than ever before, that people have short attention spans, more distractions. And now I’ve proved it to myself.
What’s really sad is that I’ve resorted to adding “reading”, once my number one passtime, to my weekly and daily to-do lists. I’m having to schedule it in, just like I do the housework.
And it’s not that I don’t want to read — I’m positively salivating at the thought of all the unread books on both my shelves and my kindle. In fact, sometimes I contemplate abandoning this writing malarky all together to spend all the writing time simply reading instead. (Because that’s after all what my niece is doing — and what I used to do before I started writing.)
But — and here’s the thing all other writers will understand — I can’t give up the writing thing. Even blogging has become a compulsion.
So I clearly need to get better about not letting the smartphone games consume those last 30 minutes in every day. Or the 20 minute train ride I take on occasion. Do I really need to check Facebook five times a day? (And it wouldn’t hurt to watch less TV either.)
There you go. Now I have a plan.
Smartphone out. Books in.
I am reading a book at the moment, as it happens. It’s the book I chose for my reading group, so I have to finish it within a certain time-frame. To achieve this I’m planning it into my daily schedule and roughly calculating how many pages I need to read a day. (Sad but true. I hate the fact I have to do that.)
Somewhat ironically, it’s Among Others by Jo Walton, which is about a teenage girl who is a devoted reader of science fiction and fantasy. This character reads up to 14 novels a week — she’s constantly in the library and second hand book shop. She devours books like I devour chocolate.
It’s yet another gut-kicking reminder of how it used to be. How it needs to be better.
I know I’ll never have as much time to read as I used to — before writing, blogging, working, social media . . . There are more distractions, not all of them bad. But I do need to get the mix better balanced. Reading is not something I want to give up. Nor should any writer.
How do you go about fitting in reading amongst your busy schedule and all the other media platforms? I’m very open to tips and suggestions!