On Reading and Time
“Sit in a room and read–and read and read. And read the right books by the right people. Your mind is brought onto that level, and you have a nice, mild, slow-burning rapture all the time.” – Joseph Campbell
Over the last two weeks I’ve found myself reading less, and I feel the impact in my writing and in my overall mood. It started with trying to get the blog done before I read, which is surely a noble pursuit, but a change of routine for me. Then came the distraction of a complicated jigsaw puzzle that lured me in on vacation and as far as I know may never be completed. And now I’m back and trying to crank out twice as much writing in the early morning hours when reading was an essential part of waking up my mind. And the call of the writing distracts me when reading, which muddies up the whole works.
Its not like I don’t have a cue of great books to read. No, I’m particularly excited about a few of them and want to dive back in. This is a disrupted habit loop that is still in a funk since vacation. A habit loop that requires attention. Normally I reset my reading by picking up a page-turner that spins my adrenaline up. That worked quite well earlier in the summer. Now not so much. So how do you rectify the problem? Schedule reading time after the writing and work? That doesn’t feel like a slow-burn rapture to me. It sounds like a chore. Reading for pleasure shouldn’t ever feel like assignment reading. We’ve all lived the school assignment reading discipline. Assignment reading gets the job done whether we like it or not. After school there’s plenty of work-related assignment reading written strictly to inform that fills our days.
So change the description from assignment reading to scheduled reading. Scheduled reading time works for me. I used it to work my way through some very dry reading in 2018 that bordered on assignment reading. Scheduled reading time is a short burst of time carved into the day to prime the pump. On a morning like today when I have a lot to do that might be ten minutes of quick reading, but even ten minutes will serve to reset the habit loop and leave me wanting just a bit more. And when time allows I dive deeper. Time is a funny thing, isn’t it? We tend to find it again when we’re highly engaged. And we wonder where the time went when we look up. Good reading will do that.
Look, I know the world is full of complicated problems and my reading habit doesn’t rise very high up on the things the world should be focused on. But I do believe the world would be a much better place if more people carved out some time for some nice, mild, slow-burning rapture. Whatever gets us off the news cycles and the click-baiting outrage and the constant stress of living in 2020 that seems to overwhelm so many people. Reading great books drops you into another world – a world filled with wonder and discovery and empathy. And when you step back into the “real” world maybe you’re just a bit better off for the journey you’ve been on.