“So two by two, I read library books as fast as I could go, rushing them home in the basket of my bicycle. From the minute I reached our house, I started to read. Every book I seized on, from Bunny Brown and His Sister Sue at Camp Rest-a-While to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, stood for the devouring wish to read being instantly granted. I knew this was bliss, knew it at the time. Taste isn’t nearly so important; it comes in its own time. I wanted to read immediately. The only fear was that of books coming to an end.”
–Eudora Welty, One Writer’s Beginnings
Okay, tell me again: you don’t have time to read. Really. Go. Just tell me.
I don’t believe you.
I get this excuse a lot. And not just from my students. I hear it from colleagues and friends. Actually, now that I think about it, I hear it mostly from adults. I mean, I know we all have this stereotype of teenagers not reading, but really, that’s not my experience. Sure, there are still many kids who don’t read much, but the enormous growth in children’s and young adult literature in the last 10-15 years belies the assumption that young people aren’t reading.
Anyway, back to people who say they “don’t have time to read.”
I understand about being busy: I teach English to 160 high school students full time and freshman composition online part time, which means I grade anywhere from 5,000-7,000 pages of writing per year. I am the department chair at my school. I am involved with more than one professional organization. I am active in my church.
And I have two young children.
Okay, I might cut you some slack. If you’re a mom with more children or a graduate student, maybe I’ll give you a break.
I read at least a book per week, usually more. Two years ago, I read 95 chapter books in a year. I read whenever I have a spare moment, which has meant variations of the following:
- I read right when I get home from school. My afternoon routine works like this: come home, greet the family, make a cup of hot tea, read for 20-30 minutes while my kids a) do homework, b) practice piano, or c) play with Legos. Because we are a family of introverts, everyone enjoys retreating to his or her respective cave for a bit.
- I read before going to sleep. Staring at any screen (computer, tablet, phone) can disrupt our sleep cycles, so a book is a great way to calm down my brain and relax at the end of the day. Reading makes you sleepy, you say? Great—take advantage of that—get better sleep.
- I listen to audiobooks. There is no better way to motivate myself to complete mundane tasks than to listen to a great book while I do them. Driving, washing dishes, folding laundry, sewing, cleaning—all great opportunities to listen to books. Sometimes I watch television while doing these activities, but that’s just really not as mobile as an audiobook. I can clean a whole room while the book plays through the sound system.
- I read while I stand in line. Now, anyone can do this with a smart phone—for real. There is no excuse. But even without a smart phone, you can make this happen. Ladies: invest in a large purse. One of my hobbies is thrift store shopping. When I go to Goodwill on half price day, I sometimes have to wait to check out for 30 minutes; so I always make sure to buy a book or two simply to make it through the line. The last time I went, I read about 30 pages of Chang-Rae Lee’s A Gesture Life, a brand-new hardcover which I purchased for a buck.
- I read in the bath. I’ll never be able to go completely digital.
- When my children were small, I read while they were in the bath. They were small enough to still need me to supervise, but big enough that they wanted to play and splash each other and didn’t really require my full attention. I set up my reading nook on a stool by the door.
- I read while I dry my hair. I keep my hair long for various reasons. First of all, it grows really fast, and I’m super lazy about making appointments. But secretly, I think that I really keep my hair long because it takes so long to blow dry, providing me with more optimal reading time.
- I read while I brush my teeth. My husband swears that the dentist told him that we should brush our teeth for two minutes. Awesome. I can read at least 3 pages.
I read while I cook, make coffee, sew, input grades, and during all those moments when I might just be staring into space. I read while my students are reading during Independent Reading time. I read in the morning; knowing that a book is waiting for me gets me out of bed at ridiculous hours. I read instead of watching ubiquitous progress bars and while waiting for computers to start up or shut down. I read while we travel, no matter how short the distance. A frequent source of relatively rare conflict in my marriage happens when my husband and I both want to read and hope that the other person will drive.
Some time ago, I read this passage from Eudora Welty’s autobiography, and the thought stunned me that someday my children will probably describe me the way Welty describes her mother:
“My mother was very sharing of this feeling of insatiability. Now, I think of her as reading so much of the time while doing something else. In my mind’s eye The Origin of Species is lying on the shelf in the pantry under a light dusting of flour—my mother was a bread maker; she’d pick it up, sit by the kitchen window and find her place, with one eye on the oven. I remember her picking up The Man in Lower Ten while my hair got dry enough to unroll from a load of kid curlers trying to make me like my idol, Mary Pickford. A generation later, when my brother Walter was away in the Navy and his two little girls often spent the day in our house, I remember Mother reading the new issue of Time magazine while taking the part of the Wolf in a game of “Little Red Riding Hood” with the children. She’d just look up at the right time, long enough to answer—in character—“The better to eat you with, my dear,” and go back to her place in the war news.”
–Eudora Welty, One Writer’s Beginnings
When I see my children carrying books with them in the car or in the grocery cart, and when they beg to go to the library, I decide that this isn’t so bad.