Wednesday, April 25, 2007

No time to read?

This began as a comment on Darla D's blog, but as per usual, I kept rambling on and didn't want to inflict such a laborious comment on her blog. So, here's my response:
i really liked this post. the arguement of "no time" is weak, but i'm going to play devil's advocate here. and this will be - as everyone else's - from my own experience and from what i observe of others.

first off: public transportation is the best gift to reading ever. i read more when i commute like that. but most people in this country drive in to work, and you can't do both at once.

secondly, reading is an active activity. it requires attention that TV or Music does not demand. for myself, i simply cannot read a book when there is background noise or human distractions like conversation or homelife going on in the background. i can read newspaper or magazine articles with those distractions going, but if it's something i HAVE to know (like for school) or i WANT to enjoy (like a novel), it's impossible. i know many people can, and i try, but it's basically impossible for me to shut out the juicy convo at the table behind me or the TV show in front of me. you really can't passively read. and for a lot of people who've knocked out 8 to 10 hours at the office, dealt with traffic in and out and nagging kids when they get home, the last thing they want to do is actively focus on anything. it's shameful and they should be flogged publicly, i know, but mental exhaustion leads them to the TV and it's just a habit. that's something i like about audiobooks. it's been a while since i've listened to one, but you get the same text, and you can listen in your car, while you do laundry or if your job is mindless enough, you can listen at work.

i also wonder if people also go in cycles. i commented to a coworker once that sometimes i'll go through phases that last months or a year where all i want to do is nothing but read, then all i'll want to do is write, other times, both ... and then there are times when i just want to play and daydream. i'm always reading magazines and newspapers, but when it comes to books, i've also noticed that when i'm wrapped up in school, i'm less eager to pick one up. when you do nothing but read for evaluation, then it becomes a chore. it's like a good friend of mine who's a TV producer. he watches TV, but not nearly as much as one "should" to stay on top of what's going on in the industry. ... i wish i could say that bringing my textbooks with me on my commute force me to read them. usually what happens with me is i have my text, plus a newspaper plus a fun book. guess which i avoid! and when i have only my text with me, depending on how much i want to avoid it, i begin to daydream or plan future vacations. there's still mental activity going on even if it's not being agitated by text.

you make a good point that one should stop after X number of pages if a book sucks. but aside from the curiosity one feels about wanting to know how it ends, despite the suckiness, i wonder if there's just also a commitment factor. do you REALLY want to be the person who didn't finish a book? there's a high school english teacher inside all of us who chastizes us when we don't spell correctly or misuse grammar or choose the wrong books to read or don't read enough or well enough or fast enough, or, or, or .... even if it doesn't change our habits, she's there. i know she is, because friends and family of mine who don't spell well are haunted by her. i like reading, i consider myself a reader, but as at least half of my friends are the kinds who devour books like blood-thirsty raptors, where i'm content to graze. particularly because i'm not a fast reader so i want the book to be worth my time. and the english teacher haunts me there and makes me feel like a dumb-ass knuckle-dragger.

but your overall point of it comes down to priorities is absolutely right. it's like that with everything in life. i once had a friend who told me her parents didn't take her to church because they thought it was too boring. then why send her to school? school for both of us was terribly boring. because - laws aside - school was the priority in the house, not church. "i don't have time" is not an arguement, just like "it's boring" isn't. so the challenge then becomes getting people not only to prioritize reading for leisure, but convincing them that reading IS leisurely. i really think the biggest obstacle is mental exhaustion. there's a reason people keep books by their beds. it's the last quiet refuge at the end of a busy day in an increasingly hectic world.


Darla D said...

Wow - I'm glad to have inspired your post! I suppose I'll have to sheepishly admit that it has never once occurred to me that one could be too tired to read. That's like being too tired to breathe, as far as I'm concerned, but I can see that would be a good reason for zoning out on the Metro. So now, along with feeling the desperate need to put a book into the hands of those people staring into space, I will also feel the need to string up a hammock for them in a nice quiet place.

I would like to have it out with the evil English teacher in your head who makes you feel obligated to finish books you're not getting on with. Life is too short! And also, sometimes I've had the experience of putting a book down and going back to it later -- sometimes years later -- only to find that I now love the book and have no idea what it was about it that I couldn't get into the first time I tried it. It's nice to give yourself room for that, too.

I love what you said about the last quiet refuge at the end of the day - makes me want to curl up in bed with a book right now. (But then what doesn't make me want to do that? Well, aside from a big plate of brownies. Wait -- I know -- I'll bring the brownies with me.)

Now who's inflicted a laborious comment on whose blog?

Sonnjea B said...

Good points. I'm also apt to push on through a crappy book to prove I can finish and/or to see how it ends, but I recently did that and then the very next book I read was also mediocre - so I actually gave it up after about 40 pages. I won't force myself to read two duds in a row!

But I also think "I don't have time" is a euphemism for "I don't really like to read as much as I like to ___________". People for some reason feel they can't just come out and say they don't enjoy reading. And not everyone has to. I mean, I don't enjoy crowded amusement parks, I have no interest in bungee jumping and I'm not the least bit inclined to go mountain climbing. Maybe some of the people who love those activities are just as uninterested in reading as I am in their pursuits.

It's just a thought.

Molly Malone said...

i agree the "no time" excuse is a euphemism for "fill in the blank." after reading your comment, though i thought of another reason people use that excuse: it's socially unacceptable to admit you don't like to read, or that reading is not your primary hobby. especially in more educated populations.

when my then 14-year-old brother casually mentioned to a 65 year old man (a stranger) that he didn't really read books, i remember the man's countenance immediately going from friendly to disdainful(almost hostile) right before he chastised him. my brother makes a point to read more now, no thanks to that guy, but because he likes to. likewise, i remember once when the wife of a couple we used to run with once casually said she doesn't read as much as she'd like, her husband winced and said, "i wish you wouldn't tell people that."

not reading, or not reading enough, is not acceptable in an educated population. being "too busy" to do something (exercise, clean house, etc) is. it may be another reason people give that excuse.

Sonnjea B said...

An excellent point.