Every so often, I’ll take a break from discussing the book I’m currently reading and give long-suffering followers a welcome respite. In these intervals, we’ll talk about the reading life more broadly, perusing weighty issues about reading, to wit: how do we find more time to read?
This is a question that every reader gets, and I hear it all the time.
First, let’s dispense with the fantasy that we all have that one day, in the future, we’ll have hours and hours to do something like read that we don’t have now. That day is never coming, even in retirement—if we make it that long. The truth is, everyone has time to read, whether they make time or not. It’s just a matter of prioritizing. We have the same number of hours in our day as Shakespeare did, or Einstein, or Jefferson. What you do with them is up to you.
Yes, we’re all busy, with jobs and kids and many demands upon our time. But the same folks who tell me they don’t have time to read have somehow managed to watch every 1-hour episode of “Game of Thrones.” They subscribe to Netflix and binge-watch regularly. If you have time to maintain a social media account and spend countless minutes every day scrolling endlessly through your newsfeed, then you have time to read.
So when, exactly, do we find time to read? For me, I get up early in the morning—5 a.m. to be exact—and read for an hour before the rest of the world awakens. For most people this sounds about as appealing as going over Niagara Falls on a salad plate. Yes, it’s before dawn, but it’s the only time of the day that I can read and not be tempted to do anything else except sleep, and I’m willing to forego an hour of sleep to read. I’m not going to vacuum the house at 5 in the morning, run errands, or do laundry. The only thing I’d be doing otherwise is sleeping, and I’m willing to give that up to read. Maybe nighttime works better for you, or the middle of the day. But carve it out, and guard it jealously.
How much time do you need? Not much, as you’ll see below.
I’m not a speed reader, nor do I want to be. I’m not reading to “get through” a book, I’m reading it for the love of language, the message or wisdom it might have, for entertainment or instruction but ultimately for the sheer pleasure of reading. Some books you can breeze through, others demand that you take your time and work your way through at a more sedate or studious pace. Reading Robert Louis Stevenson is not like reading William Faulkner, or the history of Western philosophy. You might need to slow down and re-read to absorb just half of what the book offers, and it’s okay to do that. Finishing quickly is not as important as absorbing.
I devote about 1 to 1.5 hours each morning to reading, and I usually read about 30 pages an hour, which is probably on the slow end. That’s a page every two minutes. You might be able to read a page a minute. But if you read just 30 pages a day, just one hour a day, you can read nearly 11,000 pages a year. That’s 30 books that are 350 pages long, on average. At just an hour a day.
In 2017 I read 26 books totaling 10,612 pages (an average of 408 pages for each book); in 2016, 31 books, 11,698 pages (377 avg.), and so far this year I’ve read 16 books totaling 5,432 pages (340 avg.).
This means that if you read just 30 pages a day, you could easily read War and Peace and all of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in the next year. The complete works of Jane Austin, or Agatha Christie. Les Miserables and The Count of Monte Cristo, doorstoppers both.
If you can’t read 30 pages a day, read 25. Or 20. If you can’t find one uninterrupted hour, read for 15 minutes, four times a day. But set aside time to read and stick with it. Don’t let anything interfere with your time. And if it means giving up an hour on your computer, or your phone, or watching TV, that is not a loss you will ultimately regret.
The joy of reading, one hour a day. Start tomorrow and check back with me in a year.