Read me a story. Parents and grandparents have heard this phrase thousands of times. Little children yearn for literature. Remember asking an adult to read to you? Remember your excitement when you were finally able to read a book by yourself? In youth, we take immense pleasure in reading. As we grow, more reading is required. The reading assignments of middle school, high school, and college tempt us to categorize reading as work and not as pleasure. In today’s Information Age, the majority of our work hours are spent reading. Who has the time or energy to read for pleasure? Who remembers that reading can be pleasurable?
In How to Read and Why, literary critic Harold Bloom asserts that “Reading well is one of the greatest pleasures that solitude can afford you” (2). However, he laments that professional reading rarely recaptures “the pleasure of reading you knew in youth” (22). But that pleasure is attainable, and I want to take this opportunity to remind you that you are not limited to professional reading. You can read the literature that speaks life to you and refreshes your soul. You have the power to recapture the pleasure of reading—you just have to find the time and the resources.
Everyone is busy: students, professionals, parents, grandparents. I’ve even heard retirees complain that they are so busy in retirement they wonder how they ever had time to work. The difficult truth is that people find the time to do the things they want to do. Because reading expands our minds, teaches us to understand others, helps us hone our opinions, and is simply enjoyable, we need to carve out time to regain this youthful pleasure.
As a professor and a Christian, I have some understanding of busy. I also understand the joy of reading for pleasure. Here are three tips that have helped me find time to read for pleasure amidst writing lesson plans, grading papers, attending ball games and band concerts, going to church and small group, working with the youth group, and participating in my own extracurricular activities. I hope these tips will help you experience that joy as well.
Keep a book in your car (or in your bag)
Americans spend a lot of time in cars, on buses, and on trains. If you are a passenger, and can read on a moving vehicle, use this time to read for pleasure. If you are a driver, consider listening to an audio book. Audio books are simply friends who hang out with you a lot longer than the friends on your playlist.
It is also helpful to become cognizant of all the times you are stopped in your car. I don’t mean when you are stopped at stoplights—please don’t read at stoplights! But you can read in the carpool line waiting for the dismissal bell to ring. You can also read while waiting for your take-out to be prepared. Grab the book from your car or bag, and take it with you to the waiting area for your various appointments, whether that be the doctor’s office, the mechanic’s lobby, baseball bleachers, bus and train stations, the airport, or anywhere else you find yourself waiting. Don’t waste the gift of wait time by checking social media, which often brings more pain than pleasure. Read, and turn waiting into pleasure.
Read more than one book at a time
Keeping a book in your car or your bag ensures that you will have something pleasurable to fill your various wait times. But your car book should not migrate into your home. Otherwise, it will be forgotten at home when you are waiting for your take-out order. Instead, keep another couple of books in key locations in your home and read them concurrently. One of the best places to stash a book is in your bathroom, the reading room of the home. It is also good to keep a book on your bedside table. Try reading for ten minutes before turning out the light. You can also keep a book at your office. Instead of eating lunch while scrolling through your newsfeed, refresh yourself by escaping into another world with fictional friends who come to life as you turn the pages. Another way to always have reading handy is to keep literature on your electronic devices. When you find yourself on hold with customer service, or waiting for the concert or movie to start, click on your reading app.
The books you put in these different locations should not be work-type books or school books. They should be books that feed your soul, that move you to greater understanding, that invite you to experience emotion. Novels are the most popular reading pastime, but don’t believe the lie that all the best books are novels. Enjoy the brevity of a Christian living book, a collection of short stories, or some poems. These are the Sunday morning coffee cups of literature and should be lingered over. They are to be experienced and savored. The best ones will stay with you all day and marinate your mind.
Recognize your margins
In addition to planting reading materials in strategic locations in your life, recognize the built-in margins of time you already have. Few of us are engaged in urgent personal or professional matters all of our waking hours. (Although sometimes it feels like we are.) Where are the times that your mind is not fully engaged in the task at hand? If you have a workout routine, consider listening to audiobooks during your workouts. Audiobooks aren’t just for daily commutes. Do you have a trip planned? Listen on the plane or on the road. For family road trips, an audiobook can be a great way to connect over the miles instead of traveling as isolated pairs of earbuds. How do you unwind after work, with a snack and Netflix? Try a snack and a good book. What about bedtime? A friend told me that in graduate school he made a pact with himself to read a few minutes of fiction each night before bed. This tip changed my life. I read my Bible in the mornings when I’m more alert and fiction at night when my mind is tired.
If you find the margins and always have a book handy, you will rediscover the joy of reading. There is pleasure in exploring the worlds someone else has created, and there is a sense of accomplishment in finishing a book. Even though we may not want the book to end, we can finish it. We may never finish the dishes, the laundry, the projects, the plans, or the designs, but we can all enjoy the pleasure of closure in finishing a book! We can also enjoy the pleasure of talking to others about what we’re reading. When you talk about books, you will find other people who read. This keeps you reading as you recommend and receive recommendations and talk about what you like and don’t like about certain books, authors, or genres. Talking about reading expands your enjoyment from pleasure in solitude to pleasure in community.
Start reading! Read what you like. Read what interests you. Read what inspires and challenges you. As you read, you will be changed. You will find enjoyment, form judgments and opinions, and expand your world as you experience life and emotions vicariously through literature. Recapture the delights of reading. If you do, your tired bones and overtaxed mind will discover, as Harold Bloom did, that reading is “the most healing of pleasures” (2).