How I Read Now
Current contents of my work bag:
- Too many bobby pins to count
- A travel can of dry shampoo
- A broken phone charger
- Three pairs of sunglasses
- Two packs of gum
- My lunch bag
- A broken hairbrush
- Random other crap, including a packet about my health insurance and the issue of Entertainment Weekly about the Gilmore Girls revival
- Two books, both of which I have halfway finished
I got a phone call the other day from my sister Cricket, asking me about my reading habits after college. Her timing was impeccable, as I was on the way to lunch and was trying to decide if I felt more like reading the history of Sesame Street or a humorous account of a trip to England. (In case you were wondering, Bill Bryson beat Big Bird.)
“How do you do it?” Cricket asked. “How do you work a full time job and another part time job and live your life and still make time to read copiously? I read the entire Lisbeth Salander series in a month while working, but I also didn’t have a life that month.”
Answer: I just do.
My reading mantra is totally ripped off from Nike. I just do it. It’s about as simple as it gets.
If, as the maxim goes, “a day without laughter is a day wasted”, in my mind so is a day without reading. Even five minutes a day is better than no reading at all. I’m currently ploughing through episodes of “New Girl”, trying to catch up with the antics of the Loft Gang (I heart Winston so much, you guys), but last night while I ate dinner, I read an article in Vanity Fair on Olivia de Haviland, skimmed the newspaper, and called it a win.
I am simply never, ever without a book. My phone doesn’t cut it as reading material. I recently bought the smallest purse I’ve ever owned, and was delighted because I had just bought a copy of A Moveable Feast that was a perfect fit to tuck beside my wallet. It’s not uncommon for me to wake up in the morning and find a couple books tangled under my pillow with my glasses and socks as I try to silence the nuisance that is my alarm. (Pro tip: store socks in your bed so you never have to get out of bed to solve the problem of cold feet.)
Going on a trip? Traveling light for me means leaving my hair dryer at home and packing fewer than five books. I read every single day at lunch, at least a few pages. It may take me a few weeks to read my lunch book, but it’s worth it to spend those moments in another world.
During the summers when I was growing up, I spent long hours on the front porch swing, reading all of Nancy Drew and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, visiting Deep Valley with Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, exploring Tortall with Alanna and Kel, and devouring anything by Ann Rinaldi I could find. I read multiple books in a day, but I also read The Westing Game nine times the summer I was eleven. Those were the salad days of reading, and when I developed most of my reading habits. I’m not able to read the collected works of Laura Ingalls Wilder in 48 hours these days, but its certainly a fond memory.
I track my reading the way others track their heart rate and the number of steps they take in a day. I use Goodreads plus a notebook I keep next to my bed. I meticulously log every book I read each year in the notebook, and then again on Goodreads. I probably miss a few here and there, but according to my records, In 2015, I read 61 books. I log every book I read, including my annual re-read of Little Women, and my occasional dives into the worlds of Harry Potter and Anne Shirley and Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. The only book I haven’t logged on purpose in the past two years was when I skimmed Leah Remini’s memoir of her life in Scientology, because there are some things Future Me doesn’t need to remember.
To be fair, I’m 26 years old, single and childless, according to my tax return. My responsibilities are few compared to others, and much of my time is my own. I have the luxury of time to read. But even at my busiest points, in graduate school, the summer I worked seven days a week, I’ve still read. Because going without reading is unfathomable to me. Even five minutes before I fall asleep face down with my glasses pressed into my face is better than no reading at all.
My to be read pile is more like “the floor of my closet”, but I’m never discouraged. It’s a challenge. It’s my Everest. Every few months, I peruse my shelves, deciding what I’ll never read again, and then I happily read those books forward to friends in need of a read. I know they’ll fill up again.
My reading habits do have a slight boost–when called upon, I am a speed reader, a technique I picked up in grade school and honed in SAT prep class. If the book calls for it, I am capable of reading very quickly, letting the words buzz around in my head as I plunge through the pages. Some books ask more of me, requesting that I read at a more measured pace, holding the words in my heart and savoring them before I am allowed to read the next sentence. Each book is different, and they all let me know how they want to be read. I usually have three or four books going at once–one in my work bag, one to be read before bed, the book I consider my primary book of the moment, and probably something I’ve read before. I admire those people who read one book at a time, but I am rarely one of them. Only when a book grips me so much I can’t bear to be parted from it in case I get a chance to dip into its pages for a minute do I read one book and one book only. Most of the time, I allow my mood and my circumstances (am I at home? Waiting in line at the circus? Twenty minutes early for church?) to determine what I’ll read.
Sometimes I take myself on reading dates–to the park, a coffee shop, my front porch. No phone, just a book (or four). I block out the time to be by myself and be reading. I hardly ever listen to music when I read, but sometimes on these dates, I do. It’s usually Joni Mitchell. Or Gershwin. Sometimes Hanson. It’s on these occasions that I most often annotate, or keep a list of things to look up later. I take time to re-read passages, or pause to look around me and enjoy the world around me as much as I enjoy the world inside the book.
In reading, all forward motion counts. Every page you read adds to your life. All books count. Sometimes, my reading ebbs and flows, but it’s always there. I usually just haven’t found the right book for the moment. Seasons make no difference to me, but I do love it when I can read outside.
How do I read? I just do it. I take a book from the shelf, from my closet floor, from an outstretched hand, from the depths of a tote bag. Sometimes I read the acknowledgements first. I never read the last page until it’s time. I like it best when the book is a paperback, because it’s easier to hold. Sometimes I take the time to breath in the words before I let my eyes see them, and sometimes I just start. I never have any regrets when I do. I’m always happy I read.
Who I Read Now
Ann Patchett. Ruth Reichl. Lucy Knisley. Anna Quindlen. Sloane Crosley, Paula McLain. Colm Toibin. Beverly Cleary. Lily Koppel. Tina Fey. Emma Straub. Jhumpa Lahiri. Betty Smith. L.M. Montgomery. Bill Peet. Jane Austen. Bill Bryson. Amy Poehler. Maud Hart Lovelace. E.L. Konigsburg. James Martin. Maeve Binchy. JK Rowling. Maria Semple. Roald Dahl. Emma Donaghue. F. Scott Fitzgerald. Nick Hornby. Nora Ephron. Emily Post. Anne Lamott. Mindy Kaling. Harper Lee.
Who should I read next?
What I Read Now
Fiction. Graphic memoirs. Books of essays. Memoirs. Non-fiction. Cookbooks. Books of Etiquette. Short stories. Poetry. Not very many mysteries. Celebrity memoirs. Picture books. Books I read growing up, in high school, in college, in graduate school, last November. Fact books. Joke books. Quotation books. Commencement Speeches.
When I Read Now
Is now a good time?
Where I Read Now
In my car. In bed. On the floor of bookstores. Outside coffee shops. Inside coffee shops. On couches. On my front porch with my rabbit. At the kitchen table. Once, I only had 20 minutes for lunch, so I sat underneath my desk at work where no one could see me and read. In lines. Waiting for a table at restaurants. I’ve read at stoplights before, and while waiting for trains to cross (I’m not proud of the former, but it happened.) In the grass. On benches. Sitting on walls. In movie theaters, waiting for the previews. In tents made of sheets. In hammocks. I’ve never read on the swings at the park, but I think I’ll try it.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some books that need me.