Finding time to read in my experience is hard. In classic irony, there’s a strong want to read but the effort required, at the time, seems too much. I would like to get to the bottom of why the act of reading, which when achieved gives me an ENORMOUS amount of pleasure, creates a great sense of resistance to do it.
As a writer, resisting reading is an even bigger no-no. “Reading exposes us to other styles, other voices, other forms and genres of writing. Importantly, it exposes us to writing that’s better than our own and helps us to improve.” I know this intellectually and love the feeling of discovering something beautiful, poetic or clever in another writer’s voice and opinion.
I sense I’m chasing a holy grail — a perfect reading rhythm. But perhaps there isn’t one or I could be looking for other means to motivate me to read.
I did recently find a reading rhythm for a short time. It came in moving states and not having many friends in the area or activities to attend to. It didn’t last for long, but it felt like it positively infused into all areas of my life. I felt more focused, my thoughts more creative, relaxed and centred.
In my work I read every day and I know this is part of the issue. I get home after using my eyes on a screen all day and they are pooped. My eyes have been deteriorating — another factor. I used to boast 20/20 vision. Just before my 35th birthday, I had a test. For a full year I thought I was going bonkers with little mental focus. It turns out my eyes were struggling to form words. They swirled on the page and in some instances I felt like I imagine dyslexia does. I now have glasses and so when reading is in flow, I can decipher sentences orderly.
So I certainly have my reasons. But I am sure there’s more to it.
Why do I ultimately resist something that is good? Why don’t I eat the apple knowing it’s good for me?
A previous student reached out to me recently. I had posted some pictures of the publications in my orbit during my short reading spurt mentioned above. The image included about seven books. On reflection it must have looked impressive. She messaged me to say, “Alex, I need advice on reading more. How do I do it?” And of course, when I read her message, it resonated. That want to read but something being in the way.
This is what I said.
“Hello, I would say I’m not the best guide here. I read for work and then I find it hard to read when I get home. I think though, it’s all about fun. You have to have fun when you’re reading. What did you love to read as a kid? Maybe you can revisit the joy of reading from those books. If you want to learn more about the benefits of reading, check out the Australian Reading Hour website. There’s so many health benefits to reading! That knowledge could encourage you more.”
“Thanks,” she responded, and then added, “I knew you were the right person to ask because I think I need to be stricter with myself and give myself a deadline.”
Ah, I thought. She’s reached out as I was once her teacher and a giver of deadlines, which motivated her to do things. So I obliged.
“Okay, I understand. I am giving you until next Friday to read a children’s book. Report back to me then.” I am waiting to hear if she does it.
This interaction made me reflect on what actually does get us reading.
- You’re paid to.
- You care about the person who’s written it. (So many friends read my drafts out of kindness)
- There’s a consequence if you don’t — such as you’re shamed, you fail the test, you get pizza, etc. You miss the deadline.
One of my memories from school is the MS Readathon. Children were challenged to read as many books as possible. Obligated friends, family and neighbours paid them for every book they read as a fundraiser to MS Australia. As an incentive for the child, however, when you reached a certain number of books read, you could go and eat all you could consume at Pizza Hut. It was the absolute best.
Reading was encouraged by a positive outcome. I was lured by the pizza. But as an adult, the intrinsic positive outcome of feeling good isn’t enough to break through.
I have worked on a campaign that may have cut through the mental barrier — in more ways than one.
This year I helped with Australian Reading Hour, a national event – which encourages the nation to stop what they were doing for one hour in the day and read. We launched the campaign at Parliament House in Canberra on 18 September. In fact, I interviewed Parliamentarians about what they would be reading on the day. You can watch the interviews here.
I learned a lot on this campaign. I discovered reading is good for our health and can reduce stress by 68%; even “relieving stress more quickly than listening to music, going for a walk or having a cup of tea.” There’s also evidence that, “Reading a gripping novel causes positive biological changes in the brain that can last for days.”
Charged with this information I can see myself starting to chip away at the resistance I have faced in reading for pleasure. Even without the pizza incentives of childhood. In the future, I may see reading, is like eating an apple a day or going for a walk and part of maintaining my health.
Reading for pleasure may become my new healthy lifestyle choice. I wonder how I will go?