Sunday, July 12, 2009

When to Read

For me, the answer to the question "When do you read?" has always been something along the lines of "Whenever I can." I worried for awhile that my daughters were going to think that it is not humanly possible to go to the bathroom without a book because I always take a book in there with me. Sometimes that means I spend a lot more time there than nature requires, but I also get a lot read that way.

When I was about 10 or 12, I declared to all who would listen that I would read at least ten minutes before bed every day of my life. (I was prone to major declarations in those days. There were giant sandstone rocks on the hills behind our house that I had to climb before I could get married; I had to find a certain kind of agate stone or be cursed; and many more restrictions I put on my life.) I have been fairly true to the pledge to read before bed, though I know children and other life events have forced me to skip a day here and there.

I also like to sneak off into quiet corners during the day to grab a chapter or even just a page or two. Of course, it is most enjoyable when one can devote an hour or more to absorbing the joys of the book at hand. Airplanes are perfect for these long reads because there can be no guilt about not addressing other pressing concerns. There just is no way to clean the house, do the dishes, or mow the lawn when you are flying. I also read in the car, but that is something I learned to do later after years of reading-induced car sickness. (Note: I only read in the car when someone else is driving. I don't even read at stop lights when I am driving, though there is generally a book on the seat beside me just in case.) I take a book with me everywhere. The doctor's waiting room has provided many an hour of good reading.

I have trouble reading in places that are two quiet--like a college library--because sometimes the quiet can be a distraction in itself. I prefer my reading to be done where there is some kind of white noise, easily ignored because you already know what it is and expect it to be there. Traffic, birds, the wind, the refrigerator cycling through are all examples that I soon can ignore when I get lost in my book.

What brings this discussion to mind was a recent revelation by a friend who declared that she has just discovered that she enjoys books more when she can read without distraction. By that she meant that she has just learned to turn off the radio or television when she settles down with a book in hand. For many of you that concept may seem obvious, but I bet there are many folks out there who believe that they can multi-task while reading. I will up the ante on that bet and say that there are people who believe that can't read--or do much else--without that drone in the background.

Here are a few points that may convince those of you who don't seek a quiet place to read, to at least give it a try.
  • My friend says that the last two books she has read have both shot to the top of her favorite books list. They are also the first two books she has read without other distractions. She says it was all she could do while reading poolside not to ask the couple next to her not to be quieter.
  • Most people would agree that serious "study" should be done without distraction. Serious enjoyment desires the same consideration.
  • In a some goofy psychology class I took years ago we were told to read a paragraph while someone lectured to us on an entirely different topic. Then we were tested on both pieces of information. Everyone had gotten bits of both, but no one felt they knew either topic well. I could not tell you why we did this exercise, but it makes one realize how little outside noise we can successfully filter out of our minds.
  • "Don't bother me. I'm reading." has worked for years to get a little more alone time. It is much more believable if your room is quiet.

When, where and how you read is a very personal experience. The most important part is that you enjoy it. If reading without distraction, increases the enjoyment. I say, go for it.

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