This article was first conceived upon receiving an email from a Thinking Friend in rural northwest Missouri--a man who lives less than five miles from where I grew up. Even though he is now retired, Tom wrote about the problem that many of us have, the problem of not being able to read all that we want to read.
For most of us, the first reading problem is simply that there is too much to read. In addition to all the books and periodicals that beckoned for reading in past years, now we have the constant inflow of stuff to read on the Internet, including the incessant flow of Tweets and Facebook postings as well as “breaking news.”
So, the sheer volume of what we need to read and want to read is definitely a problem.
There is also a quality problem: so much is available on the Internet there is a tendency for more and more of us to neglect reading books and journal articles that have been carefully researched and written with the intention of being carefully read and digested.
Thus, we are faced with the problem of having/taking the time to read substantial books/articles rather than just the ubiquitous here today, gone tomorrow, writings.
Through the years I have certainly experienced the problem of having too much to read and too little time to read everything I both needed to read and wanted to read. However, I have two suggestions in this regard.
Particularly at the time when I was in the most demanding job of my life--both in terms of time and responsibilities--I purposely decided to spend the first thirty minutes of my workday every day reading important books and reading them carefully and thoughtfully.
That wasn’t much, but it was something--and something that added up to many significant books read each year. Of course, there was a lot of other reading I did every day--work related reports, letters, requests, etc., as well as academic articles.
Even in retirement I have continued the practice of carefully reading meaningful books for at least thirty minutes every morning. I have just finished Richard Rohr’s book The Universal Christ. (I am planning for my next blog article to be about it.) And now I am reading Serene Jones’s new book Call It Grace.
The other suggestion is one that many of you know and practice already: learn to read selectively. Everything doesn’t have to be read in detail. Thus, there are some books that, of necessity, I read only in part, and some I speed read--and it is all right to read some books that way. (Of course, care must be taken not to misunderstand or jump to conclusions.)
Although I have only as yet read three of its twelve chapters, I highly recommend Karen Swallow Prior’s book On Reading Well: Find the Good Life through Great Books (2018)--and I especially recommend the Introduction, subtitled “Read Well, Live Well.”
(I was first motivated to read Prior’s book after reading the enticing article about it in the Plough; you can read that article and see the attention-grabbing illustrations accompanying it by clicking on this link.)
Prior, an English professor, emphasizes, “Read books you enjoy, develop your ability to enjoy challenging reading, read deeply and slowly, and increase your enjoyment of a book by writing words of your own in it” (p. 18).
Those words apply specifically to books such as I referred to in my first suggestion above.
I close with the following words from Prior’s 2012 work, Booked (2012), p. 64.