Time to Read

March 7, 2009 @ 9:32 pm | Filed under:

I enjoyed this post (three years old now) by Andrew Wheeler of the Hornswaggler blog: How to Read a Book a Day. I don’t read anywhere near as many books as Andrew does—but then again I don’t have a subway ride to and from work. I consider it a major accomplishment if I manage to read a book a week. (Not counting picture books and read-alouds.) Sure, I’ve been on a bit of a reading jag lately, but I’ve had dry spells in the past few years during which it seemed like I could barely get through a book a month. Sometimes it seems I simply lose the habit of reading.

Or (this was certainly the case last fall in the months leading up to the election) there are periods when all my reading time goes to information-gathering, reading blogs, magazines, journals, articles. Other times, I’ve gone on topical nonfiction binges: education theory, or cooking (oh yes, just because I don’t like to cook doesn’t mean I don’t relish a delectable cookbook now and then), or sewing and the needle arts. Last September and October I felt like I was doing little besides reading, but none of it was the sort of thing you keep track of in a nice, neat booklist, that satisfying record of what you fed your brain this month.

(My stars, how I do love a booklist.)

Anyhoo. Andrew Wheeler mentions several habits he has cultivated to assist his rather stunning goal of reading (or at least finishing) a book a day:

—has more than one book going at once, some heavier, some lighter (yup, I do that too)

—keeps a book by the computer to pick up while waiting for pages to load, etc. (but then when would I Twitter?) 😉

—reads while waiting in line (wouldn’t work for me as I’m never waiting in line alone: but I do tote books to read to kids if we get stuck waiting somewhere)

—keeps lots of enticing books around so there’s never a shortage of choices (I’ve got that one down pat)

—doesn’t watch a lot of TV

—makes a point to have dedicated reading time in his daily routine. Susan Wise Bauer urges the same habit in The Well Educated Mind. Makes sense.

I’ll say, though, that at this season of my life, with a houseful of kids both big and little, I just can’t count on having a set time of day devoted to reading for myself. (As opposed to reading to kids, or prereading books for the kids, or reading books to discuss with the kids.) What I have to do is jump on the opportunities when they arise. And that means strewing for myself, making sure I can always reach out and grab something to read when I sit down to nurse the baby, for example. If I take a book down to our patio room, where all the little ones’ puzzles and trains are, I can usually squeeze in a chapter while they play.

I don’t read much at night because unlike Andrew,  Scott and I do watch a fair amount of TV—one to two hours a night, I’d say. We watch LOST, Battlestar Galactica (not for much longer, sob!), House, Heroes (though what a disappointment it is this season), The Office, and 30 Rock. And often we’ll watch a Daily Show episode we DVRd the night before. Other nights we put in a movie, but it usually takes us two nights to finish a film because I crash halfway through. Scott reads in bed at night but I only pretend to. He takes the book off my face when I start snoring.

I can often sneak in a chapter or two early in the morning, though, before anyone else is awake—especially if I download a book on the iPod, as I mentioned the other day. I recently read Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother that way. I’m still plugging away at my DailyLit installments of Ulysses, too; I find I really enjoy waking up my brain with that tiny chunk of lush and inscrutable prose. I’m not saying I’m understanding all of it, but it’s good exercise.

My favorite part of Andrew’s post is this bit:

And what makes the whole thing go, of course, is guilt. You have to look at those towering stacks of books and desperately want to get through all of them, right now.

Ain’t that the truth. Sometimes as I walk through this house—all the walls are lined with bookshelves, even in the hallway—I feel almost tormented by the desire to read all those lovely, beckoning books. All the ones we own that I haven’t read yet. All the ones we own that I’ve read repeatedly because they’re so darn good. All the ones.

Sometimes I’ll think: that’s it. No new books are coming through this door until I’ve read everything we own. And then I’ll die laughing because that is crazy talk. For starters, there’s that book I’ve had on hold at the library for weeks that is finally ready for pickup. And that review copy that just arrived in the mail. And the book I put on preorder and forgot all about. And the present from a friend. And the book Jane borrowed from her friend—gosh, that one looks terrific. And that other one I’ve read three blog reviews of in the past month, and look! An Amazon gift certificate! Really, I have no choice!


Oh, books, books, books, my darlings, my hamburgers. (A little literary humor for the Paul Zindel fans out there.)

A few of the titles filling me with that sweet guilt and longing this week:

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbary
The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart (that’s the one Jane borrowed from her friends)
Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (Mental Multivitamin loved it; Sarah didn’t)
River of Gods by Ian McDonald (library reserve that just came in)
A Romance on Three Legs: Glenn Gould’s Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Piano by Katie Hafner (Scott’s library choice which I shall steal because it looks fascinating)

And on and on and on…had I but brain enough and time.

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14 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. sarah says:

    I loved The Zookeeper’s Wife. Entrancing. But tell me, tell me, what is this terrible hint about Battlestar Galactica not lasting much longer??!!

  2. Melissa Wiley says:

    Oh, Sarah, I hate to be the one to break the news. This current season is the last one…there are only two or three episodes left. I forget which. Judging by the tone of last night’s, I’m thinking two. Only two more. I’m not ready to say goodbye.

  3. Jennifer says:

    I love your all book posts lately.

  4. Yvonne says:

    I can’t believe you guys watch Battlestar Galactica too! My husband–a huge Sci Fi head–got me hooked during the first season and I’m still a sucker for it. I cover my eyes–a lot–but wow what an incredible show. Right now, I’m reading a 5 volume book of Agatha Christie mingled with a fat book of E. B. White essays–love him, he’s adorable. I’m waiting for the UPS guy to bring me my hardcover copy of Woman in White, Wilkie Collins–haven’t read it since high school, but loved it then.

  5. Melissa Wiley says:

    The Woman in White! Alice Gunther tucked a copy of that book, a favorite of hers, into a gift basket she brought to the hospital when Jane was first starting chemo all those years ago. I remember starting it but at the time I was doing so much cramming to learn about the illness, and then I got immersed in Martha research and never returned to the Collins book. But I have always intended to! If Alice enjoyed it, I’m sure I will too. Nice to hear another recommendation of it (and to have my memory jarred about it–add that to the ever-growing TBR list). 😉

  6. Melissa Wiley says:

    Re BSG: my daddy raised me on science fiction, so Scott didn’t have to twist any arms to get me to watch that one. 😉 I think it’s one of the finest shows on television and some of the best commentary I’ve seen on the suspicions and political challenges that follow a terrorist event.

  7. kort says:

    yes, my library holds list has been heavily influenced by your lists of late…loved, loved the Uncommon Reader.

  8. Anna says:

    I’m more of a Stargate fan, myself, but I can join in the mourning, on that account.
    Heroes… as an example, we were three episodes behind on Burn Notice, and three eps behind on Heroes, and I had zero desire to catch up with Heroes.
    But, those are both TV shows, and this is a book post, isn’t it? 🙂
    It comforts me to know that your book reading has been tidal, like schooling. I haven’t had a nice run of books in so long.

  9. Melissa Wiley says:

    I forgot to include American Idol in my TV list, because Scott doesn’t watch that one with me. So now you know all my televices.

  10. Melissa Wiley says:

    Anna, tidal, yes! I have already read about as many books in 2009 as I did in all of 2008. And 08 was heavily weighted toward December. The pendulum will undoubtedly swing back again. I think I read less during Daylight Savings Time!

  11. Jane Wilkerson says:

    Love your blog so much. Wonderful stories AND book ideas, for both little people and grownups.

    We LOVE The Mysterious Benedict Society (and the sequel) – my 12-year-old is on her third or fourth trip through this book. And I did enjoy The Thirteenth Tale, quite a bit. And The Zookeeper’s Wife keeps calling my name, too – but I haven’t succumbed yet. I am reading all kinds of wonderful things right now and loving that this is a big reading season in my life!

  12. Jenny in Ca says:

    you’ve got some good titles in your list! I love to read, but like you, I have so much going on with a houseful of kids, that I can’t dive into books the way I used to.

    I loved The Benedict Society and the sequel! I don’t think my kids have read it yet, but I did! The thirteenth tale was very gripping, but there were some dark/gothic/just ‘ewwww’ parts I wish she had left out..I kind of wished I had skipped that book, or at least those parts. Not one to give to your kids!

    enjoy your books!

  13. Anne says:

    Have you gotten to THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG yet? Move it to the top of your list!! I just finished it last night. It took several days to get through it, but it was so worth it. Think of dark, thick, rich fudge. That is this book. I cannot rave about it enough. It’s like a full body massage of your brain. Languid, delectable, … just Oh Wow! I wish I could do a better job of describing just how brilliant it is, how amazing the description, how precise the phrasing… I can’t thank you enough for putting it in your TBR pile [which is how I learned of it] because this one is a keeper. I’m getting it for my mother for Mother’s Day. I really look forward to hearing your thoughts on it and I know that I’ll remember the always in the never for quite some time.

  14. Melissa Wiley says:

    Anne, thanks for this great comment—you’ve got me itching to start Hedgehog next! Will report on the blog when I’ve managed it. I could use a “full body massage for the brain”!