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Pickle Me This

April 27, 2020

Where I Find the Time To Read: The Global Pandemic Edition

This is the third and perhaps the least fun installment in a series of posts about how I find the time to read. (Part one was about reading with a small baby, and you can read the post-breastfeeding edition here.)

And this post is remarkable because in the beginning of this, I couldn’t read at all. It was terrible, because the world was already upside-down, and then here I was unable to read—and if I’m not a reader, then who even am I?

Finding my way back to reading has been to find my way back into my own head again, and since I managed this, books and reading have provided the most wonderful distraction. Books have proven to be the very best way to measure out these days, and worthwhile not just as an escape, but also for the uncanny connections they’ve managed to make to what we’re going through, underlining the universality of experience even in extraordinary times, and also how amazing books really are.

Here’s how I did it.

  • Rereading: In difficult times, there is nothing like returning to a book that’s familiar, a book that’s not going to surprise you. It’s a comfort thing, but it’s also a wonderful experience to be able to read again, to encounter a book you know and then find it changed. Or perhaps you’d forgotten it altogether—last summer I read Big Sky, Kate Atkinson’s first Jackson Brodie novel in almost a decade, and realized that I didn’t recall much of what happened in the first four books in the series. Returning to them since has been absolutely enchanting, and also so surprisingly perfect for this moment in a way I could never have predicted, not could have Atkinson herself as she wrote the novels years ago. That they acknowledge life’s darkness, which is important right now, but they’re also brilliantly funny and an escape in themselves. Getting to read these books again has been such a gift for me.
  • Create a reading project: Don’t make this aspirational, but instead make it something you really want to do, an indulgence instead of a chore. If your project, like mine, is about rereading, all the better, because these will be books you already have at home–which is important when you’re locked down under quarantine. I have one more Jackson Brodie book to read, and then I’m going to undertake rereading everything Margaret Drabble ever wrote in chronological order. Thankfully, Margaret Drabble wrote a lot of books, and I have this secret wish that as I read through them, the world outside might become a little less terrible.
  • Finally read the books you own that you haven’t read yet: I actually HAVE read all the books on my bookshelves, because the ones I haven’t read yet I keep on a different bookshelf…and some of these have been lingering there for a really long time. Now is the time! Keeping these titles distinct from the rest helps to focus your reading, and seeing the pile diminish can be satisfying. Remember too though that now is the time to acknowledge that some of these books you’re never actually going to read, and therefore you should get rid of them, which is perfectly fine and even freeing.
  • Have a book swap with your neighbour: You get something new to read, something just a little off your beaten track, and you also get a little burst of social connection. (Just make sure they’re not just giving you the books that they’ve finally accepted they’re never going to read, because that’s probably not going to end well for you…)
  • Acknowledge the reader you are: If your plan is to transform yourself into someone you’re not, then I’m not sure you’re going to be very successful. Life is hard enough right now, and I just don’t think it’s the best time to be adding reading Karl Ove Knausgård to your struggles if you, like me, have never found the prospect very appealing. Instead, pick up only the books you’re really excited about and read like nobody’s watching—because nobody is.
  • Don’t be afraid to break up with your book: If the same book has been sitting on your beside since March 11, then it’s possible that the pandemic is not your literary problem. Perhaps that book is not even a bad book, but it’s just not the book you need at this moment, and you should have no compunction about putting it away for awhile. Forever, if need be. Try another one, and even another one, and eventually, something will take. (Here are some recommendations!)
  • Order some books from your local indie, or from Indigo if that’s what’s available to you. I’m not saying this is going to get you out of your reading slump, but waiting for things to come in the post MAKES ME SO HAPPY these days and all days, and being happy feels good.
  • Set limits for social media: The only social media app on my phone is Instagram, because I find it inspiring, as opposed to Facebook or Twitter which just raises my blood pressure and lead to endless scrolling. I don’t hate these sites, but they suck up my time in unproductive ways, so I am glad they’re not always accessible to me.
  • Put your phone away: My best time for reading is from 9-11 once my kids have gone to bed, and I get the most reading done when my phone is out of reach.
  • Ask yourself just what you’re seeking from news coverage: I’m not hiding my head in the sand, and it’s important for me to know what’s going on in the world. But during the time when I couldn’t read books and was obsessively scrolling and refreshing news sites, I was desperately looking for answers that nobody had yet. They still don’t. Acknowledging the futility of this was useful to me, and it was heartening to realize that books knew more secrets. These days, I focus my news consumption on print media (it has context and it’s FINITE!) and don’t look at online news after sunset.
  • Stop watching so much Netflix. Unless you’re loving it and don’t miss reading at all, but I really do believe that books are a better kind of escape (and they help you sleep better). Rhonda Douglas is running a A 30-Day No Netflix Challenge over at her website as an incentive for writers, and I think it’s a great challenge for readers too. Or what if you set aside one or two evenings a week for reading instead of Tiger King? You probably won’t be sorry you did.

February 25, 2019

Where I Find the Time to Read: The Post-Breastfeeding Edition

A woman and two children riding the subway, all reading books.

In 2015, when my youngest child was not quite two, I published a popular blog post called “Where I Find the Time to Read,” a list of ordinary occurrences disguising excellent opportunities to steal a moment with a book. Understandably, considering my life at the time, many of these occurrences revolved around breastfeeding, which I always found to be a tremendous reading opportunity (and never mind the risk of dropping a hardcover on my baby’s head—and she was fine). But now that it’s been a few years since I’ve breastfed anyone, I wanted to come back to that list, provide some update and revisions. Because of course you don’t need to be lactating to get that book read. The following are how I still manage to be reading all the time.

  • A hammock of my own: I may not have a room of my own, but I have a hammock in my backyard set up all summer long in the shade of our silver maple tree. On sunny days, I’ll set up my children with a movie, and then head outside for hammock time, which entails at least an hour of uninterrupted reading, and the reading is ideal there. Everyone should have a hammock, whether metaphorical or otherwise.
  • Be prepared: I’ve written about this before, about how I’ve gone to concerts, birthday parties, and even my own book launch with a book in my bag—because you never know when an opportunity for reading is going to arise. Pro-tip: If you’re nearly finished one book, make sure you pack another, and maybe a back-up in case the other doesn’t take. Second pro-tip: book sleeves are really, really great.
  • I like my children to be well-rounded: My children are not enrolled in a huge number of extra-curricular activities, but the ones they are involved in permit me to read while they’re attending. I work extra hard at scheduling to make sure both children are busy at the same time so that I can read instead of entertaining the other. I read when they’re at Girl Guides, piano lessons, and swimming lessons, and I find it infinitely rewarding.
  • There is no data on my phone: It’s much easier to scroll through feeds on my phone than it is to read, it’s true, but scrolling on my phone makes the time go by so much faster and in the end I have nothing to show for how I spent my half hour while my children were at swimming lessons, just say. But without data, I can only use the internet on my phone where WiFi is available, which (mercifully!) isn’t everywhere yet. It makes my phone less of a distraction and I get a lot of reading done.
  • Frequent long baths: For me, a hot bath is like a hammock, an avenue to reading. The only real risk is getting into the bath and realizing that you’re not really into the book you’re reading, so I usually have at least two books piled up on my toilet seat so that there’s no possible reason why I might have to get out of the tub.
  • I read for lunch: Going out for lunch with a book continues to be my favourite kind of date, my ultimate indulgence. Restaurant hostesses really do have to get over acting so surprised when a diner shows up for a meal solo though, and you don’t need to make it so awkward by taking away the glass and a cutlery. A good book is worthy of its own plate setting. (Also, when I used to work full-time, I ate my packed lunch with a book every day.)
  • Public transit: Okay, I don’t take public transit on a regular basis (my primary mode of transport is walking, which is also a great excuse to read, except it’s winter now and it’s too hard to read while wearing mittens), but whenever I ride the subway, I’m reading a book, whether I’m holding onto a straphanger or sitting in an actual seat. (My biggest regret continues to be that reading on busses and streetcars makes me carsick.)
  • I pack books in the bag en famille: While reading in front of people can be anti-social, there is nothing better than reading together. For long subway journeys, trips to the beach, or to the park, I bring books for everybody. The extra weight is worth it for the extra reading.
  • I binge-read on my holidays: “How many books is too many books for a weekend away?” so goes the question on social media, captioned to a leaning tower of bookishness. But the question is absolutely rhetorical—there is no such thing as too many books. And I personally consider a holiday a bust unless I’ve managed to read at least a book every day.
  • Going to bed early: There is a definite relationship between finding lots of time to read, and being a little bit boring. Once upon a time, when I wasn’t almost forty, I would read into the wee hours of the morning, but those days are gone now, particularly since I must now rise early every morning and go for a swim first in order to have the kind of day I want to have. (My inability to read while swimming continues to be one of my life’s great frustrations.) So now I tend to go to bed soon after my children do, and leave my phone far, far away, which had result in two solid hours of reading before I turn out the light. These days, this is really how I get most of my reading done.
  • I stay in bed in the mornings: I do not go swimming on weekend mornings, and instead I roll over and turn the light back on and indulge in a chapter or two. Sometimes if I am lucky, someone will bring me tea. Sometimes my children will also come and visit, but eventually they go away, because watching someone read is very dull.
  • My limited relationship with Netflix: The only thing I binge on is books—and tea. I like Netflix a lot, but only watch it on the weekends, and usually just an episode at a time. Which means there is always time to read, even on Fridays and Saturdays.
  • I only read good books: What I mean by this is that I give up on books that aren’t working for me. I no longer read books that I think I “should” be reading if I really don’t think they’re appealing. I also have a trusted list of book experts whose recommendations I always listen to, all of which means that when I am reading, the activity is usually a pleasure. Which is absolutely the way it should be.

This post is part of a larger project I’m embarking upon this year which endeavours to make books and reading more accessible to the aspiring avid reader, that person who examines her bookshelves with guilt because she just can’t find the time to get all those titles read, never mind finish that novel for her book club. Stay tuned for more exciting things to come…

March 23, 2015

Where I Find the Time to Read

reading2I read a lot. I read for a living, and I read to save my life, and, “Where do you find the time to read?” is a question that continues to baffle me. It’s like being asked where I find the air to breathe. The time, like the air, is out there in abundance, and having children hasn’t changed that. It just means I have to be creative in finding a way to make that time my own.

The following is a list of ordinary occurrences disguising excellent opportunities to steal a moment with a book.

  • Extended Breastfeeding: Of the many benefits of breastfeeding, the time to read in is paramount. Once you’ve mastered holding a book open with one hand, it’s effortless, and oh so efficient—nourish a baby and your mind in a single shot. When my first daughter finally weaned at age 2 ½, I so mourned the loss of reading time that I had to have another baby.
  • IMG_20130606_151120Before Bed: Every night, there is a window of sometimes up to ten minutes between the moment my head hits the pillow and when the baby awakes, and so I read then. And when the baby does awake, I breastfeed her. (See previous point.)
  • Weekend lie-ins: Obviously, I don’t get out of bed in the mornings. Would you? On Saturday and Sunday mornings, there is always time to get a chapter in before I return to the vertical life, and if I stay in bed long enough, somebody probably will bring me a cup of tea. And then I don’t have to get up until I’ve drunk it.
  • reading4Walking: Walking while reading is walking the one risky behaviour I indulge in on a regular basis. Doing it while pushing a stroller is even more reckless, I realize, but sometimes one has to live on the edge. Also, I could make it to kindergarten and back with my eyes shut, so there’s no harm in doing with text in front of my face.
  • At the playground: I will argue that reading at the playground is not entirely the opposite of being present for my children, mostly because there are only so many mud-pies I can pretend to gleefully devour. Also, every time they look up at the bench and see me reading there, I’m increasing their own chances of being readers by setting a good example. Everybody wins.
  • reading6During interruptions: Basically, I find the time to read by always having a book in my bag. Sometimes two. And this means that when my husband takes the kids to the bathroom after a restaurant meal, I can finish a chapter along with the dregs of my tea.
  • Sitting alone in restaurants by myself: And other times, I forfeit the husband and kids altogether, and take myself out for a chai latte and oversized cookie, or even an entire lunch, and read the entire time. Cultivate your own company, is what I mean, and you will get so much reading done.
  • In waiting rooms: As a parent with a book in her bag, there is nothing more luxurious than having to wait for appointments while the children are asleep in their strollers or in the care of somebody else. I’ve spent some of the best afternoons of my life in recent years reading for solid blocks of time at the passport office, my doctor’s, or the dentist.
  • While flossing: Regarding the dentist, I have never before been so attentive to dental hygiene. I’ve become a vigilant flosser since I learned to floss and read, which is a skill involving holding open a book with my feet. I do this daily. For ten to twenty minutes at a time.
  • In the bathroom: Also, for ten to twenty minutes at a time. My digestive system is getting a bad reputation. But there is a door that locks and a stack of books nearby—why would I ever leave?
  • reading1Pancakes: I don’t spend all my time avoiding my family, however. Every Sunday, I make whole-wheat banana pancakes from scratch, which sounds selfless and well-meaning until I explain that once the batter is mixed, I pull out what’s left of the Saturday paper, flipping the pancakes between articles. (“Go away. Mommy is cooking.”)
  • But not at the table. Unless it’s breakfast or lunch…We don’t permit reading at the table at our house, because meals are a time for togetherness. We bend the rules for breakfast and lunch though, because bendy rules are useful for teaching flexibility. And because tables are so useful for having the Saturday paper spread across.

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