Reading Less / Reading More

Last week Modern Mrs Darcy shared a thoughtful post about why she’s thinking if she should read less. Read less? That’s not something you typically see shared as a goal. Read her entire post if you want to see her arguments in full for it, but when I began to comment over there I realized that my comment was becoming so long that it was probably better served to be its own post here. So in many ways this post is my comment/response to her post.

Does it Have to be Either/Or?

I love reading. I love pushing myself to read, and I love making it a priority. I find it motivating to set big reading goals. But my highest priority ISN’T the total number of books I finish.

Reading for me isn’t only about how many books do I finish. It’s about being transformed by what I read. It’s about growing as a person. It’s about developing as a believer.

{It’s also about being entertained, so there will still always be some lighter books in the midst.}

Library day!

A post shared by Sheila Craig ๐Ÿ“š (@sheilarcraig) on

I don’t think reading has to be an either-or sort of thing: either you’re reading for quantity or quality. I think you can have a mix of books – some that you read for enjoyment that are light and don’t require deep thought or contemplation. Those are my favorite books for reading on the go or while multitasking – doctor’s offices, waiting in line, stirring soup. If I tried to only read deeper, more thought-provoking books, I wouldn’t manage them in those pockets of time, so the harder books wouldn’t be read any faster and I’d miss out on some reading-as-enjoyment time.

I read lots of memoirs and lighter nonfiction too – ones that do require more thought, but still aren’t books that I expect to transform my life in any significant way. I read them because I find people fascinating, and love learning about what makes them tick. I love reading nonfiction that enables me to have a smattering of knowledge over a wide range of topics – it helped me in my previous jobs as a librarian and museum employee when I had surface knowledge in a lot of areas. With these sorts of texts it doesn’t make a huge difference in my life if I read it slowly and carefully or if I read at my usual breakneck pace.

Reading Deeply Matters

Then there are the other books, the books that can make a difference in my life. In my thoughts and beliefs. In how I raise my children, or how I steward my resources. These are the books that I read deliberately and carefully. I force myself to slow down and engage with the material by reading a chapter at a time, and then leaving it for a day or two before returning for another one. I follow Catherine’s advice and flag pages of note and come back to them for more reflection.

If I had to read all of my books at this pace and this carefully, I’d lose my mind. I try to finish one of those sorts of books every week or two, although I usually have 5 or 6 going at any one time.

It’d be easy to see the list of books I’ve read and think I should focus solely on these sorts of books, and forget about reading the lighter items, but realistically I only have so much concentrated reading time to spend on these sorts of texts. And I can only engage with this sort of material so much.

So my long, rambling answer to Anne is that yes, we should read deeply, but that doesn’t mean we also can’t read widely too. It all depends on the specific book, and what we’re hoping to get from it.

Comments

  1. Well said! I completely agree.

  2. Yes! I completely agree. Well put. And I’m drooling a bit over your library stack ๐Ÿ™‚

    (This reminds me of the Classics Challenge over at the Huff Post in January: alternate a deep book with something lighter. Hmmmm.)

    • It was a great library visit, which was extra nice because I’d been feeling uninspired by the books I’d already had checked out.

      I don’t think I’m quite as intentional as that Classics Challenge sounds – I don’t necessarily completely alternate books like that, just try to always have a good variety of books that will fit with different reading moods and circumstances. And then I attempt to match the book to my mood or situation – if I’ve got the brainpower and surroundings to read a more thoughtful book, then go for it! Otherwise, grab something lighter.

  3. I struggle with this question, primarily because my husband views my reading as an addiction. He believes that I read to avoid tackling things which really should be given more time (like housework and other worthy endeavors… often ones he places a higher priority on than I do). I believe that my reading has increased because of my goal to become a published author. If I am well-read, then I can distinguish the good from the bad. Plus, it gives me great practice at writing condensed book summaries (something essential for query letters). And like you, I want to be changed by the books I read (in addition to the entertainment value).

    • Oh, that’s a tough situation. My husband isn’t a reader, but he has his own hobbies (primarily coding) that take up his time, and it’s really rare for him to comment that I should be doing something else instead (and usually if he does, he’s right because it’s along the lines of “why are you still reading? You’re exhausted and should go to sleep!”)

      I wish I had some great advice for you but I don’t.

  4. I’ve been thinking about this ever since Anne posted about it… I think I do a blend of light & deep. Right now I’ve been wading through a historical novel for almost a week (which is long for me), but there’s so much history in there it’s hard to read quickly. So when I finish, I”ll probably cross a few shorter, faster reads off the list. And then hit another deep one after that. I also usually have several genres going at once – so the fiction can be read more on-the-go, and the Christian nonfiction can be savored and digested. A little of both worlds, for whatever the time/mindframe calls for.

  5. Really great thoughts, Sheila… I’m going to have to read Modern Mrs. Darcy’s post next!

    I have always been a selfish reader…I actually quit a book club because I disliked most of the choices…and haven’t regretted it! But I’m one who wants to read what I really WANT to read. I have little problem abandoning a “for fun” book after giving it a fair shot. I rarely finish a book that is not meeting some need in my mind/heart. This is especially true now that I’ve started back to school! But there’s the side of me that also NEEDS to read and could benefit from stretching myself more. Anyway, balance. You’ve got me thinking today!

    • Her post is great, so you absolutely should read it!

      That’s why I’ve never completely wanted to join a book club before – I don’t want to read some books, especially the books that seem to be super popular with the book clubs I always heard about. The one I’ve now found has yet to have any books that I adamantly do not want to read, and if they do, well I might just skip that month. (I kind of did with Les Miserables; not that I was opposed to it, but I realized I’d never finish it in time, I wasn’t going to be able to go to the meeting anyway, and did I really want to spend all of my reading time for that month slogging through it? Um, NO.)

      I think if your school reading list is at all ambitious, you’re probably doing lots of stretching of yourself through it. When I was in grad school with tons of required reading, my own picks were virtually always lighter and more fun. No apologies for it either.

      • I did read it!…it was very thoughtful.

        Thank you for affirming my reading freedom. ๐Ÿ™‚ My school reading is very ambitious – as I’m sure you can imagine, having done this in undergrad! Stretching, but rewarding… Of course, right now, the thought of watching last night’s Downton Abbey sounds better to me than just about anything. My brain hurts! Alas, off to finish a paper. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you for the diversion! ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. I read about the same number of books every year and every month, but I find myself reading the same books over and over again. There are some stories I never get tired of. And some books need more than one read-through to grasp all the nuances.

    • This is something I think I need to do more frequently – I rarely reread, and there are definitely some books where I’d get more out of them if I read them more than once.

      Thanks for the reminder.

  7. It looks like most of us readers do more or less exactly that–always have several books going, and a mixture of fluff and substance (though of course some books can be both!).

    My problem right now is that I spend too much time on the computer/my phone. It’s easier to hold the phone in one hand while nursing/bouncing/whatevering the baby than a book, but blogs, even thoughtful posts on “deep” topics, just aren’t the same as reading real books! So I’m working to make the effort to pick up the actual books even though it’s more difficult (literally, physically), and I’m never disappointed when I do, no matter what I’m reading. ^_^

    • I know this well! That’s actually how I got into the habit of reading ebooks – first on my iPod via the kindle app, and then I got an actual kindle. If you don’t already have the kindle and/or nook apps downloaded to your phone, I’d encourage you to do that – there are a ton of free books available (although the quality varies widely) so even if you’ve hesitated thinking the cost of ebooks would add up too quickly, you can still get some good reading material without too much expense. (That was my holdup originally, and then I discovered that I could nurse a baby while holding the iPod and reading, but not a physical book).

  8. Exactly. Well said. In fact in reading this I am realizing that that is why my reading has been slower this month than last. I haven’t made sure I had lighter reading going along with my more depth reading. I think it is slowing me down over all.

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