Several of you have asked how to find time to read while the laundry needs folding and the dinner needs cooking and there are little people hanging on your skirts. Believe it or not, this is the first time I heard anyone express that wistful jealousy – and I want to thank you for giving me a fresh perspective. I hear what you’re saying, and will be more gentle in my heart when I share my glowing literary reviews.
For me, books are kind of life. How would one do without them? They have knit themselves into my daily habits since I was a tot, and in all honesty, I do not compromise much household-management quality in their pursuit. My house is reasonably clean (only reasonably) and the dinner I put on the table tonight was yummy.
I’ll tell you a few secrets about why.
1. Let go of the pressure.
First of all, please please don’t stress about reading. Books are a gift for enlightenment and for joy. The last thing you want is to get knotted up about this person’s book count or someone else’s challenge or how many tomes you Should Be reading. (Cris loves her challenge because she set it for herself, and because at the end of 2020 she will have read more books and more variety of books than she would have otherwise. The sky will not fall for her if it’s fourteen volumes accomplished instead of twenty. Or ten volumes. I didn’t ask her about this, but I know.)
You are reading what you’re reading. Let it be what it is. You are rocking this motherhood thing, and your cupboards* would put the rest of us to shame. Hold an open book in front of your nose, close your eyes, breathe in. See? Scent of heaven, and don’t you feel better already? Now you picked up a book today.
*or flowerbeds, or creative art, or laundry system, or time spent caring for people
If reading does not matter much to you, find little ways to nudge yourself that direction, but don’t force anything now. If reading does matter to you, but you struggle to incorporate it into a busy life, read on.
2. Find your favorites.
Write down the five best books you’ve read – recently, or ever. As you look over the titles, search for commonality. Are they all nonfiction? All historical fiction? Written around the nineteen fifties? Antique? Published by a house you trust? Are they story? Inspiration? Classics? Fresh releases and New York Times bestsellers? Little chunks of satisfaction, or deep and gripping plot? Fast paced? Richly worded? What do you love?
A few weeks ago, a new friend of mine who is nearly seventy told me, “I read fluff. I do. I feel kind of bad about that, but I spent all those years in social work, breaking my mind on all the hard parts of changing people and the world, and when I went home at the end of the day, I wanted to read fluff.”
“Oh wow,” I told her. “I totally get that, but for me it’s the opposite. I want to read all the big, important, social issues about race and drug addiction and education because I feel like my life is fluff.”
We had a good laugh together.
When you find common themes in the books you love, you will know what to look for next.
3. Branch out.
You can only branch out when you know where your roots are, and you can only grow your roots by branching out. If the roots represent your favorites, sprout a few leaves and try something new.
Until you know a lot about books, grabbing random ones off library shelves will not work for you. Start by Googling booklists that relate to what you’re interested in. Even better, ask a librarian for recommendations – and be specific about the kind you want. Better still, ask a friend to pick three favorite books off her shelf for you. You will nearly always find a winner, and some good reads you wouldn’t have necessarily chosen for yourself. They will grow and stretch you.
4. Surround yourself.
Reading happens naturally when books are ready to hand, begging to be opened. I keep classics and favorites on my piano, children’s books on an open shelf, board books in a basket, library books wedged against the loveseat, and whatever we’re currently reading on the end table.
Take the library books or loaned books you just gathered (see point 3), and put them where you’ll find them when you sit down for a moment. If you come across an interesting new title with a recommendation you trust, buy it inexpensively, and resell later as you wish. Keep a few good books on hand – more than you can read. Build a little excitement for that half hour tonight after the house is quiet.
5. Plan it in.
I hope you don’t hate me for this, but I think that in numerous ways, life with little kids is exactly suited to a prodigious amount of reading. Hear me out. Among the things I learned to love about breastfeeding was this: a great many enforced hours of sitting in quietness. Sometimes just snuggling. Often, reading.
Winter is good in the same way. My children love couch time and snuggle time with Mommy. And PJ days with popcorn. And family evenings in the living room – rarely are we all there together, but at any time a few of us will be hanging out with a good book. Children can make you “busy,” but they can also slow you down.
Pick a few times to fully savor the joy of reading. In the days when I was getting up multiple times a night with a baby, I went to bed as early as I could. But these days, the large majority of my reading happens on Sunday afternoons, and in the dark delicious hours between 9:30 and 11:30 at night. Don’t tell.
6. Seize the little moments.
My life holds tons of waiting time, in little pieces. Sitting in foyers until the professional calls us back. Waiting in a vehicle. Watching the pasta cook. Showing up a bit too early. For these moments, a book tucked in the purse is lifegiving. It’s also why I like the Libby app on my phone. Libby is a lending network from which I can borrow digital books from local libraries for free, and read a few pages anytime.
I had forgotten this until Gina’s comment reminded me, but I used to spend those moments checking social media and numbing out. Frankly, I’d rather read something I love. See more thoughts in the link.
7. Read with your kids.
Don’t discount the books you read with your children, even if they’re picture books or juvenile fiction. Reading aloud is a beautiful way to experience words, relationships, and stories. I tend to get a little severe when they interrupt me too many times, but otherwise we get along swimmingly.
Create a regular story time just before naps: three stories for the kiddos, then fifteen minutes for Mommy while you watch them drift off. Or choose a great bedtime book for reading aloud to older children, and share a chapter or two each evening. Little House on the Prairie books will always be precious to me, because when I read them I can hear my dad’s voice, and feel again the wrapped up cozy feeling of childhood bedtimes.
8. Read with a friend.
No, I don’t mean in the same room or at the same time, because hey. That would be super cool but not super practical. What I mean is, read a good book and then give it to someone who’d enjoy it. Compare notes. Tell her your next recommendation, and ask for hers. Swap impressions – who didn’t like the ending, and which character had it coming, and whether that new Christian writer knows what she is talking about.
It’s good motivation, good incentive, good reward for your efforts. It makes the book stick more – mean more, somehow.
9. Grab audio.
I’m new to this, because I can’t figure out what to do with all the interruptions and noise in my house. I hate missing parts of books, even words here and there. And I don’t like wearing headphones when I’m with my children. And I don’t always know what content is coming, and whether I’ll want my four-year-old picking up that impression of farming/ marriage/ war/ appropriate words to use in the kitchen.
I have friends who listen to audio books while driving, walking, cleaning, or washing dishes. I do it when I can, but it takes me a long time.
10. Talk about what you’re reading.
I tease my husband that he doesn’t have to read – I pass on to him all the good parts. “So I’m reading this book by a 500-pound lady. It’s amazing. She has fantastic things to say about hunger and need.” Or, “I’m not sure what to think about this new book, but it’s changing the way I think about the adoption of older children.” Books shape me, and I want my husband in on it. We talk about how the cultures I’m exploring intersect with truth and our own stories. I read him the most beautiful paragraphs.
My reading comes alive when I can share it.
I talk to my kids too – maybe about books I wouldn’t let them read yet, that still have plots or pieces worth passing on. I’ll read a single chapter aloud, or retell it in my own words, or quote some statistics. I consider all this to be educating the family, gently opening our eyes to the strange and wonderful things in our beautiful world.
There are busy, intense times of motherhood when much reading is a weariness of the flesh: when you are simply too tired, too ragged, to invest in the extras. It’s okay, hon. Truly okay. But if reading rejuvenates you, carve out a little section of life for it when you can.
How do you do it? What do you think?