A few weeks ago, I posted on this site about my annual reading plan, which usually guides ¼ to 1/3 of the 100 (or so) books I read each year. As often happens when I talk about my reading plan, several people asked, “How do you read so much?”
After all, I keep fairly busy as a husband, father, grandfather, writer, speaker, literary agent, and man-about-town. So how do I manage to read a book or two a week?
- I pray. Daily. Actually, twice daily most of the time. And usually those times of prayer involve reading. So once or twice a day, I’m reading from (of course) the Bible and one (or two) other books. This year, I’m using Tyndale’s Mosaic Bible and my own The Bard and the Bible: A Shakespeare Devotional.
- I read in the bathroom. In addition to a varied assortment of magazines (Sunset, Writer’s Digest, Poets & Writers, etc.) in our first-floor lavatory, I keep a book in the rack. This is how I read several volumes of poetry a year. Regularly (see what I did there?). The current volume is one I’m rereading: Edgar Lee Masters’s Spoon River Anthology.
- I keep a book with me at all times. My wife, the lovely Robin, once expressed righteous indignation because I left the house for one of our weekly date nights with a book under my arm. “Am I such bad company,” she said, “that you need to bring a book?” I tried to explain that, no, she is sparkling, scintillating, captivating company …. but that one never knows when one might have the chance to read a page or two. She wasn’t convinced, but I still have a book with me at all times (and, as a happy and proud iPhone/iPad user, it is even easier than it used to be, using iBooks and Kindle apps).
- I “read” while driving. I admit, in the past I sometimes actually read a printed book while driving … but only on the expressway. My wife vehemently disapproved of that practice, so nowadays my “reading” in the car is via audiobooks on my iPhone via my Audible, ChristianAudio, or Hoopla apps. In this way, I “read” about a dozen audiobooks a year.
- I often listen to audiobooks while walking or exercising, particularly in Spring and Summer and early Fall (and also while cooking, doing the dishes, and shopping). I choose these books (like those I listen to in the car) fairly intentionally, making sure they’re not books in which I would want to underline or make notes. So, mostly fiction, biographies, and memoirs.
- I read while waiting in line, while eating, while waiting for someone to show up, at the doctor’s office, at the airport, etc. I even read while waiting in line to buy a book. There are hundreds of opportunities in a given week when I can steal enough time to read a page … or two … or more.
- I watch very little television. The lovely Robin and I watch a few shows together online or on the DVR, but I almost never watch television shows alone. I’d usually rather be reading.
- I absorb Shakespeare’s plays. In addition to attending Shakespeare in the Park performances, several times a year I watch one of Shakespeare’s plays with the text open on my lap. I love seeing how different producers and directors adapt plays, and I will often pause the presentation to ponder or find my place in the text. An amazing array of Shakespeare plays are available online (via YouTube or the Globe Player, for example), on library DVDs, etc. I also have a healthy collection in my iTunes library.
- I retreat. I take an annual prayer retreat (sometimes even twice a year), during which I talk to almost no one but God and listen to him … primarily through the reading of His Word and other books that foster “interior conversation” with God.
- I read on vacation. The ideal vacation for me involves a lot of time to read. In a hammock with a cup of coffee in hand. On a porch with a cup of coffee in hand. On the balcony of a cruise ship with a cup of coffee in hand. In a coffee shop with a cup of coffee in hand. You get the idea. (In fact, one of the things I love to do is connect my reading thematically with the place.) So, on my first ever visit to the Black Hills, I read Loren Estleman’s Sudden Country, set in that part of the country. On a cruise, I read Charles Nordhoff’s Mutiny on the Bounty trilogy. On a California vacation, during which the lovely Robin and I enjoyed a memorable drive down the Pacific Coast Highway from northern to southern California, I read Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana, which visits and revisits much of that coastline.
That mostly covers it, I think. My reading is more a way of life than a program, even with my reading plan. I just can’t satisfy my hunger for reading. For books. For words. For the experience of turning a page in anticipation, reading a line of prose or poetry repeatedly because it’s so striking or beautiful or apt, turning a book over in my hands or closing it with gratitude. It’s one of life’s simple–and best–pleasures.
Matter of fact, gotta go. I hear a book calling my name right now.
Bob, my man, you’ve got it right,
reading’is a way of life,
although it caused a sometimes fight
with my dear and lovely wife.
For all the years I lived alone
I always read at meals;
when married this became a bone
d’contention; guilty, no appeals!
I’d sneak a journal on my lap
or read the condiment labels;
I didn’t want the smallest gap
in perusing tales and fables.
But Barb no longer feels alone
as she now has a smarter phone.
Andrew, when the lovely Robin and I were engaged she expressed dismay at me and my brothers reading at the breakfast table rather than talking. I just laughed. Who talks before noon?
Linda M. Au
Or after noon.
When I was an intern for a nonprofit magazine, I stayed with the Executive Editor and family. It was the first time I was introduced to reading at the table. When everyone plopped their book into the stand in front of them, I really wished I could do the same.
Love this! I practice some of these but will add new suggestions to my daily reading plan. Thanks.
Thanks for the comment, Robin.
Uh, Bob, remind me not to borrow any poetry books from you.
Great blog post. You have inspired me to increase the number of books I read this year.
Vie, don’t poo-poo my reading habits.
I hope that book calling you is Uncommon… but seriously, you’ve described the lifelong habits of a bibliophile. As a child I’d get in trouble for reading at the breakfast table, in bed, and yes, in the bathtub. See what a lifetime of habits like these have brought me … to a place where I ‘m hoping others will want to read MY books at the breakfast table, in bed, and …
It’s one of them. 🙂
Here is a one-year daily chronological Bible study you will enjoy: https://mtbiblestudies.com/chronologicalbiblestudies.htm.
Very sneaky, Rodney. 🙂
Sharon K Connell
Bob…#3 & #4 made me want to reach through the LT and SLAP you. Listen to your wife!
But your second idea is something I’ve never thought about. Finding time to read is really a problem for me. This is food for thought. Thanks.
Don’t worry, Sharon. She has slapped me enough for both of you. But I still keep a book with me at all times. You just never know.
When my books are published, you can come to St. Simons Island and read them. Hope you don’t have to wait long.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D
Eat more fiber, Bob, and you won’t have time to read in the bathroom. I hope your home has multiple bathrooms, for your wife’s sake. That said, I am also a voracious reader and actually read while blow-drying my hair.
I noticed “bathroom reading” is marked as #2 on your list. That’s solid rationale.
Nice catch there, Rebekah.
Great ideas! I love reading too.
Good morning. Good to know I’m not the only one to take a book on an evening with my spouse. Or at the table. The one my family does not like though is when I read and cook at the same time. And like Andrew, if all else fails read the labels on the condiments. I love to read and learn. So little time for learning.
Do you think God has libraries in heaven?
Tammie Edington Shaw
Great reminder. I remember your article in Poets & Writers a few years back, where you explained how you divided up your writing by category, such as biography, poetry, etc.
After reading Stephen King’s endorsement of audiobooks in On Writing, I became a voracious consumer, and I rarely drive or walk without being immersed. With the everpresent hard copies I’m reading or rereading and my daily time in the Word, television and pro sports have definitely gone the way of the Dodo.
Joyce K. Ellis
Love this! Is there a way to post this to my Pinterest boards?
I like how you said that “reading is a way of life”. #1 and #10 I also follow, and #7 will surely allow for more books in my life. 🙂
I was wondering:
1. When did you develop your attachment to Shakespeare?
2. I recently pondered Measure for Measure as presented by Romola Garai (20th Century Fox-Amazing Grace and BBC-Emma) but could not come to any satisfying conclusions. And maybe that’s the point?
3. What do you think of John Milton’s words, “Books should be promiscuously read?” (From his 1644 Areopagitica, anti-censorship tract-with thanks to Karen Swallow Prior.)
Thanks for this thought-provoking post.
I’ve read a ton of books waiting on doctor’s appointments, especially when my husband went through cancer treatments and we were at the cancer center 6-7 hours a day. I also whip out my phone and read a couple of pages when waiting in lines. #1, 3, 6, 10 about cover my reading habits besides making time for an hour or two after dinner to read with my husband who in retirement reads four or five hours a day in his recliner and in the evenings with me. By the way, he is cancer free as of his last check-up. Next one comes up in late February. 🙂
There are 2 kinds of people when they see you with your nose in a book:
1) Either “How rude!” Or, “Yeah, I should read more.”
2) The kind who feel jealous.
I love this post. And it’s easy to see why you’re so “well-read.” I practice 7 of your 10. My mom told people, “Paula always carries something to read and something to write on.” I read as if someone threatened to burn all the books by next Friday. Thanks for sharing, especially the part about praying with God.
Your reading habit is something to mimic as well as admire. At Taylor University’s Writers Conference I bought your Bard and Bible book (which I nicknamed B&B) and saved it to start January 1st. My first delight, and it should not have been a surprise, is how your sense of humor comes out on almost every page. Then I wished I had not gotten rid of my high school English lit book, a volume of Shakespeare’s plays. Quoting Lady Macbeth’s speech happened to be a spark that ignited love between this high school grad and a college grad. Now it’s been 61 years of blessed marriage.
Great tips, Bob! Thanks for sharing this. I think many of us wondered how we could read more after reading your earlier post … and you’ve given plenty of ideas. I laughed when I got to the line about you reading on the expressway! I thought I was the only one that chanced that now and then.
Bob, Nice post! A very demanding college professor told us how to read effectively when I took a course in children’s literature. She made us read 100 children’s books in ten different categories (no such thing as 100 Little Golden Books). And no faking it either; we had to write a review of each book. All that in one semester, while we had other homework also. She said, “Read in the lunch line; read at table; read in the car…”
It developed a habit which only grew. After I passed that course, I started reading the newspaper while in line at mealtimes. And yes, I read food labels too.
One thing voracious reading does for a person: it makes people think you’re really smart.
This was a delight to read! Thanks Bob.
My reading has suffered since I’ve been focused on writing and building my author’s platform. You’ve provided a lot of good ideas where I can work on fitting it in!