Over the years, I have tried to implement well-balanced reading habits in my daily life. There have been times when I was convinced I could get by on the entertaining tales of Neil Gaiman and George Saunders. There have been other times when I held that the literati were supposed to stick to the highbrow works of James Joyce and William Gaddis. Still, there have been times when I exclusively read philosophy, such as Baruch Spinoza and Ludwig Wittgenstein. However, as with most things in life, a balance needs to be struck between these extremes.
In an age where social media and streaming services have taken over, our reading time may be even more limited than it was before the ubiquity of these platforms. Reading merely to kill time is now a rare occurrence; consuming spare time is now the domain of social media and other tech innovations. And with these innovations, finding the time and willpower to read is more challenging now than it has ever been in recent history.
The truth is that reading is difficult, especially for those of us who may already have trouble focusing on something for an extended amount of time. My job is to read and write, and yet, reading can be difficult for me at times.
So, in a world of distractions, how can we return to reading?
There is no one-size-fits-all reading strategy for everyone. In order to find the approach that might work best, it is important to establish what it is we hope to get out of our reading time: What do we enjoy reading? If we can pin down what we enjoy reading when we get the chance, that is half the battle.
For those of us who like fantasy battle scenes, apt recommendations would be J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series or Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series. For anyone like me who enjoys absurd storytelling, perfect titles would be Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Albert Camus’ The Stranger, or even Max Blecher’s Adventures in Immediate Irreality. And for the reader who likes to dabble in American postmodernism, I would recommend Don DeLillo’s White Noise, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, or Charlie Kaufman’s Antkind.
Of course, a major problem in American society is that not only do people not read as much as they used to but that they do not even know what is out there. With so many books in circulation, the prospect of searching for a book that will be worthwhile can feel daunting. This is part of the reason why many people turn to the classics: These stories are the tried-and-true pieces of literature that have stood the test of time.
Reading this literature is, in some ways, more difficult than ever, and setting achievable goals, while a cliché, may be the best strategy for achieving good reading habits. And while reading goals are not necessarily helpful for everyone, they can be a helpful starting point. For instance, it can be productive to set a 10-page goal each day. Not only this, but changing up what we are reading can also prove beneficial. If, for example, I would like to read some fiction and philosophy each day, I might read five pages of Antkind and then switch over and read five pages of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching. One of the most important elements in my own reading life is that it is imperative to have multiple options to choose from. In the past, I thought that reading one book at a time would be best, but I have come to discover that this strategy can be restrictive.
No matter what our individual reading interests may be, we should make sure our goals are realistic. There are plenty of people who can read an impressive 50 or 100 pages at a time, but for many of us, reading that quantity would mean sacrificing the quality of our comprehension. Even if we only get around to reading 10 pages per week, that is still better than none at all.
Surely, for all the joy, meaning, and wisdom that reading can bring us, we can set aside time to read a few pages a day.
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