By Daniel Willingham @ The Washington Post‘s The Answer Sheet
I have generally been somewhat ambivalent about guest poster Daniel WIllingham’s thinking and writing. He is clearly an intelligent professor and can make compelling arguments, which I appreciate, I just find myself occasionally disagreeing with him pretty strongly.
In this piece, Willingham presents a short list of truly useful ideas for thinking about making time for reading differently. Here is his abridged list.
1) Don’t assume that that you have to have a long block of time to read.
2) Be prepared.
3) The best preparation is on your [smart]phone.
4) Don’t assume that you can only read one book at a time.
5) You don’t you have to finish what you start.
This is a practical list of advice for anyone claiming that they don’t have the time to read. In fact, that is why I like it so much. There is something on here for just about anyone.
I must admit, he first item actually is an obstacle for me reading longer works of fiction. I still do it, but I long for the blocks of time where I can enjoy the reading of a good novel more deeply. Unfortunately, novel reading has become more of a fine dining experience for me. I do it less frequently and when I do my expectations are higher than they otherwise might be.
I am probably the best at number two. I am rarely without something to read at the ready. I always have a couple of books in my backpack, and when I am without that I usually have something in hand that I will bring with me, toss in the car if needed.
I am still a smartphone holdout. While I have an iPad, I do not have it with me at all times, nor is it constantly connected. There are always a couple of items stored on it for reading, but I tend to read with it most on my couch in the WiFied house.
Another strength of mine is number four. I honestly can’t remember exactly when the last time I was only reading a single book. It has been easily over a decade. I generally am working through four to six volumes, especially if they are non-fiction and easier to drop in and out.
Item five was a lesson that took me years to learn. I was probably well into my thirties before I stopped feeling guilty if I didn’t finish a book. I still feel slight pangs every once in awhile, but I have learned to zero in on what I am most interested in a non-fiction book with greater precision. As for fiction, if I there isn’t something interesting or compelling to keep me involved, I rarely have a problem putting it down anymore. The list of things I want to read is simply far too long to suffer through a work that has not found a way to take hold of some aspect of interest and attention.
Perhaps my favorite bit, however, is the final paragraph.
No, seriously, I’m too busy. When was the last time you were bored? If you really can’t remember, then okay, you’re too busy. If you can name a time, then you could have been reading instead of being bored.
I almost feel like I might need to make this a poster for my classroom. I often tease my students about their seeming constant sense of urgency. High schoolers are always packing up in preparation to leave, off to their next thing, thronging to a door, thumbing their phones. Yet often when I see a student in the hall, outside class somewhere, they look aimless. I’ll ask, “What’s going on? What are you doing?” to which the response is almost always, “Nothing.”
“Why not?” I ask.
Perhaps, I’ll start asking if I can show them how to download a book or two onto their smartphone, just to see what their response is. My guess is they’ll run with even more urgency to be bored somewhere else, far from the crazy teacher.