That reading thing

Lately, I have been pondering ways to do more pleasure reading. As a kid, I always had a book on hand. I devoured them by the gross. In the years since grad school, however, I have found myself reading a lot less, and I know that is effecting my writing.

Okay, stop: just the fact that I am thinking about this in terms of how it “effects my writing” tells me I am not really framing this as “reading for pleasure,” and that’s one problem right there. Reading has become a means to an end, an obligation or chore, and that’s not a great start.

Anyway, there is plenty of advice out there about how to “find more time” for reading (much less, however, on how to make it a pleasure again). The most relevant suggestions:

(1) Watch less TV.

I don’t actually watch a lot of TV. And at the same time, I do. Most of the time, I have my DVDs playing in the background with the sound off, keeping me company while I do other things. Brain things.

I gave serious consideration this weekend to cancelling my cable. In San Francisco, I lived without cable for years for financial reasons. And nowadays, I don’t watch even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the shows and channels I am paying for just to have a DVR. I watch a few network shows, a couple cable channel shows, and that’s it. And since I have a Google TV blu ray player, streaming those shows is an immediate option that in the main would be less expensive than a monthly cable bill.

Only problem is, streaming video (e.g., YouTube, Amazon) doesn’t have closed captioning, which I rely on for dialogue comprehension, and they won’t be legally required to provide it until 2014.

And frankly, I don’t think TV is my problem.

(2) Turn off the computer.

Now we’re getting somewhere. I am ALWAYS on the computer. That’s where the bulk of my free time goes. I don’t have the internet on my phone, and I feel quite self-righteous about that. But to be honest, I don’t have the internet on my phone because I don’t need it. I have a computer with an internet connection in front of me sixteen hours a day. At home, at work.

I have blamed grad school for my loss of interest in reading, but really, grad school has been over for years now. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that around the time I graduated, the computer became more and more a part of my life. Writing in Microsoft Word instead of using a paper pad. Getting involved with the online world of Buffy fandom. Working on a website. Now, my life revolves around the computer: first thing in the morning, I check my emails, read my LJ friends list and blog feeds. Then I open the current chapter I am writing.

Soon, I am tempted away from writing to check LJ again. Work on an image in Photoshop, write a blog entry, tool around the internet. I can waste hours on these sorts of things. Soothing procrastination disguised as productive activity.

I need to learn to turn the damned computer OFF once in a while. Not just the Internet, the COMPUTER. Reading on the internet sounds tailor-made for my situation, but it’s not. The rest of the computer will still be there, a keystroke away.

(3) Make time to read in your schedule.

All fine and good, except I have a pile of books sitting waiting to be read that I never seem to get to. Well, wait… that’s not true. I started reading them and then never picked them back up. They didn’t keep my interest. And I’ve been burned that way enough now that I have stopped buying books just because their descriptions intrigue me.

Frankly, I read more when I had a library card. There was no commitment, not even 99 cents. If you couldn’t finish, you took the book back. No harm, no foul (although there was a smidgen of guilt). The book never laid around the house or on the kindle staring at you accusingly if you lost interest in it. If a book came due before you could finish it, you renewed it. If you liked it enough, then you bought it.

Last week, I trucked over to the Tempe Library and renewed my library card. I got the card five years ago when I moved into town and had no money for books. Then I got a job. I let the card lapse. It expired FOUR years ago.

(4) Read what you like, not what you feel you “should” read.

That’s what reading for pleasure has always been about. And I think the library card plan is a good way to start.

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