‘Have we ever had enough time to read?’ So began a recent article on the Literary Hub website, drawing on a book by Associate Professor Christina Lupton at the University of Warwick. Reading and the Making of Time in the Eighteenth Century examines how female readers used to yearn to read but struggle to find the time to do so. Women of the time, like Florence Nightingale and Virginia Woolf, described being frustrated that they did not have enough time in which to read (alone).
‘Books have always posed a problem of time for readers,’ Associate Professor Lupton tells us in her article, and this point made me ponder. Are we reading enough?
Research has shown that reading makes us better people: more empathetic (see my article ‘Reading your way to empathy’). As James Baldwin wrote:
‘You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.’
Studies have also found that reading can directly affect self-esteem and wellbeing, making a person enjoy life more, feel better about him-/herself and be better protected from depression (see my article ‘Want to feel better about yourself? Read more books…’).
Of course, there are many intellectual benefits, too; reading is a fantastic way to learn. Even fiction teaches us about life, love and people.
So reading is important. But do we adequately recognise the benefits of reading, and consequently devote enough time to the practice?
Reading, for me, is an escape, a comfort and a pleasure. But sometimes when my life is busy, it feels a luxury rather than a necessity; it feels somewhat self-indulgent to curl up on the window seat with a novel and a cup of tea, rather than tackle the weeding in the garden or work on my latest novel. Yet I crave that reading time; I really need it. I should place more importance upon it.
An article in the Harvard Business Review suggests ideas to fit more reading into a busy life. Included among the suggestions are making books prominent in your home, giving up on books if you’re not sufficiently engaged, and reading in the ‘hidden minutes’ (as does prolific reader Stephen King, we are told, at basketball games and in cinema queues). The suggestion that strikes a chord with me is to read physical books rather than ebooks where possible, because ‘there is something grounding about having an organically growing collection of books in the home’, and you connect with an actual book on a deeper level.
Ultimately, I think that if you want to read more, you need to give yourself the permission to do so – to remember all the benefits and why the time reading is so worthwhile. Then, when you make the commitment to read more, the ‘how’ follows naturally.
Do you read as much as you’d like? Would you like to make more time to read in your life? Do you have any tips for squeezing in more reading time – or for reading guilt-free while the dishes are stacked up beside the sink, waiting to be washed? I would love to hear your thoughts.