Reading thoughts

First, here's our little spring flood over our driveway from earlier this week. I though I would post it here, too, so everyone could see it. Impressive, no? We had someone suggest to us today that if we called the township, they may take care of replacing the culvert, as that is kind of under their job description. I think we'll be making a phone call this week.

But back to today's post.

I've been thinking about this for a few weeks now. In an exchange about books with a friend, I mentioned that there were so many books, but too little time to read them all. A light-hearted jest was made (and I knew it was a jest) about there might be more time with fewer children. I replied back, that yes, that might be true, but I still manage to get through an average of six or seven books a month. I believe something about bragging might have been the next turn the conversation took.

Do people perceive my book lists as being bragging? I really want to know. The only reason I mentioned it was that I feel compelled to point out that having many children does not mean that I don't have a life or continue to use my brain. There are so many stereotypes out there about large families and the women who mother them, that I feel compelled to push back against them when I can.

So to get back to my original question. Is it bragging to say I read a lot of books? Is it bragging because I have a lot of children and still read a lot of books? I wonder if that is closer to the crux of the matter. Does it add to the erroneous supermom title some people insist on handing to me? I read fast, and choose to spend a good chunk of my free time reading. Yes, sometimes there are seasons where I don't get to read as much as I would like. I didn't get much reading done right after we brought Y. and R. home. I didn't get much reading done when we were in the middle of the move. There are seasons where I'm so tired that when I get into bed I immediately fall asleep, and reading is an impossibility.

We all get the same amount of hours in the day, but what we choose to do with them is up to us. Sure, some of us have more free time than others, but unless you are so living on the edge that survival takes up every waking moment, the vast majority of us still have quite a bit of free time at out disposal. And ultimately we make time for what we really want to make time for.

Here's another thought to ponder. I've had seasons where life has been so difficult that I didn't have the mental energy by the time evening came around to do much of anything other than stare dumbly at something on Netflix. That was the season where the more frivolous the content the better... Psych, Frasier, House Hunters... and J. and I would sit and watch for an hour or two before hauling ourselves into bed. What started out as a habit due to sheer emotional and physical fatigue became a rather disturbing inability to actually focus on reading.

Reading is a skill requiring focus and concentration. Watch a child learn to read. At first, just reading a few pages tires them. As they grow in skill, their ability to read for longer periods of time grows as well. The books written for these growing readers reflect this. There are short, easy readers, moving to short chapter books. From these short chapter books, it is a relatively easy jump to series fiction. Sometimes children get stuck here. These books are predictable and comforting. The reader knows how they work, and aside from details, there is little difference between them. (Kind of like House Hunters.) If challenged, the reader will then make the jump to actual juvenile fiction and beyond. It is a process, both for the development of reading skills, but also of concentration.

In the neural real estate inside our heads, there is always a battle raging. Vacancies just don't exist. If neurons are not being used in one way, then another function will be quick to jump in and take them over. We are regenerating our neurons all the times, so this taking over process can happen rather quickly. If sustained reading is a skill that must be developed, then if it is not used, it is also a very easy skill to lose. I certainly experienced this after our season of mindless TV. Don't get me wrong, at that time, it was really what I needed, it was just difficult to get my skills back to where they had been. It took conscious effort.

Reading takes ongoing practice if it is going to continue to be easy and enjoyable for the reader. It becomes a viscous cycle. A person stops reading books for whatever reason for a time. It could be a new baby, a new job, a particularly stressful time in life, grief, whatever. Other, mentally easier, ways of passing the time will be utilized. After the worst of that period is over, a person might decide to pick up a book and try reading again. But it's, not so enjoyable. There are so many distractions. It's hard to concentrate. A few pages might be read, but it is a lot of work, so the book is put down again. After enough of this, the book might be set aside. And less reading happens, thus reading becomes that much more difficult and that much less enjoyable. I honestly believe that the distraction of neurologically easier forms of entertainment is causing people to lose the ability to do sustained reading.

Now, many hundreds of words later, I realize that you, dear reader, probably do not suffer from this. In fact, it is probably not to any person who routinely manages to make it through my blog posts, that I should be directing this. But I'll ask again anyway. Is reading broadly and deeply and frequently a bragging right? If yes, why? Is it a intelligence issue? Seen as elitist? A cause for guilt? Clearly, I haven't quite wrapped my head around the whole thing yet.
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Kelly said…
I get the "I don't know how you have the time!" comment all the time. What I want to answer is "Because I don't watch a lot of tv" but I think that might sound critical, so I usually something like "We all make time for what we enjoy." Other things I choose not to do are spend hours and hours a week driving my kids to activities and keeping a hospital clean house. I strive for comfortable and sometimes achieve tidy, but I don't go around sanitizing things on a daily basis.

Somewhat related--a great way to increase the amount of books you read (while also quadrupling your To Read list) is to take a job as a librarian. ;)
Evie said…
I read a ton, too--while brushing my teeth, before bed, while nursing...I am glad you share what you're reading, and I've always seen it as you sharing about something you love!
Carla said…
I love your comments that reading well and quickly takes practice. I knew this was true, but had forgotten it, so I felt almost guilty to hear how much other people (moms) were reading.

I do think you have a talent for reading voraciously and are probably on the "high end" of all readers regarding volume, but I needed the reminder that even mothers of many children can find time to read extensively.

It reminds me of a friend of mine saying that when her youngest turned 5, she felt she was finally retraining her brain to listen to a sermon or lecture that was longer than 30 minutes. As single women, she and I would routinely listen to 1-2 hour lectures or sermons with great retention of what we had heard. Having little children with us in church or the lecture hall had changed our abilities to only handle shortened amounts with plenty of interruptions.

I don't consider it bragging. I find these posts helpful and encouraging as they tend to get me reading more.
Amy said…
I love seeing other people's books lists since I am also a big reader. I especially like when people rate their favorites. I always go check them out on Amazon to see if they are something I would be interested in. I have gotten a number of books out of the library at your recommendation. I prioritize similar to Kelly above and probably read 4-6 books a month. I don't keep track but always have piles of books by my bed. I never thought you were bragging. Some Moms produce lots of beautiful crafts, or play more music, or sing, or make amazing meals, or decorate cakes, or decorate their houses like a magazine, or write books, or teach exercise classes, or do what ever they are interested in. I read lots of books and do a little of some of the others.
Donna said…
You are such a non-braggy person that it would not have occurred to me to label your statement about number of books as bragging. I think it's in the tone more than the facts. I will admit to being jealous, however.
But about that reading many great points. I used to be a voracious, even annoying, reader. I rarely thought anything else (or anyone) measured up to a good book, or even a mediocre book. Now? I laughed when you mentioned Psych as that is my "comfort food" of the moment. I watch way too much TV which is a little odd because it is somewhat difficult to come by. What is more difficult? Good books! With no library access and no funds for buying books on kindle, I am reduced to the freebies from lists that come to my email. Now and then there is a goodish one and very rarely I will splurge on a 99 cent one that looks exceptionally good. Most of the freebies offered are bodice rippers and I just.can' Not that I haven't been reduced to a few romance novels, but really how many highland rebels and royal maidens can you really read about?
The highlight of last year was accidentally clicking the button for a free month of Kindle Unlimited. I felt compelled to download as many interesting things (that are on Kindle is apparently possible to have a collection of 1 million titles with not a whole lot of quality) as I could find and read them before the month was up.
So before this turns into a blog post of my own, I have been trying to wean myself from the mindless television that I crave because it reminds me there are witty adults in the world who speak English. Each really good book leaves me wanting more and intently searching the freebie lists for something that might suffice.
Rebecca G. said…
No - it would never occur to me to see reading a lot or broadly as bragworthy or bragging. Yes, I absolutely love to hear what others are enjoying reading because I am always looking for the next good read. I do find I prefer short informative articles or shorter factual books rather than longer, more well-developed ones these days - I do a lot of skimming of information, I find. Fiction is my true love. Also, being a print addict, reading a lot is more of a source of guilt rather than bragging on my side! I routinely read instead of doing important and necessary things. What helps me most is having another adult around to bring me to my senses! My kids' presence isn't enough... I do find, however, that in times of stress and overwhelm, I actually pencil in real time in the calendar for escape reading and it really helps me cope with the stress and give some needed balance. And at those times I read completely without guilt. It's a funny thing.

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