Why You Should Read More and What to Read

Happy February! I know you are all reading this post on a computer, but I think you should reconsider how you absorb information.

I teach college-level English and about once every five seconds, a student is texting or tweeting or snapping or Facebooking. It’s only a problem in my class because, when they are on their phones, they aren’t doing anything else. We’ve all heard that it’s just not possible to multitask—our brains weren’t made for that, but what I want to know is why are my students so addicted to their phones and how does this influence their reading ability?

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Ferris Jabr, from The Scientific American, wrote an interesting article titled “The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of paper versus Screens.” In his article, he explains that people who read information from their screen may experience some reading comprehension issues. He also notes that, when we read information from a book, it is easier to retain that information and recall it later. Because of the landscape of the text, Jabr writes,

“A reader can focus on a single page of a paper book without losing sight of the whole text: one can see where the book begins and ends and where one page is in relation to those borders. One can even feel the thickness of the pages read in one hand and pages to be read in the other. Turning the pages of a paper book is like leaving one footprint after another on the trail—there’s a rhythm to it and a visible record of how far one has traveled. All these features not only make text in a paper book easily navigable, they also make it easier to form a coherent mental map of the text.”

Now, I don’t think that the internet is bad—of course, I’m writing this blog to be posted on the internet, I talk to my friends over the internet, and I hear important news from the internet, but I do think it’s important to vary how we get our information. Instead of getting information from the blue glow of the screen, it’s nice to sit down and read an actual paper book.

So how can we start spending less time on the internet and more time with a book? The first idea is, obviously, to set a time limit. You’ll want to figure out how much time you are actually spending on the internet. I would suggest that you track your time on a daily and then weekly basis. Then, put your time into categories. Are you spending more than zero to two hours on the internet a day? Are you spending between three and five hours a day? More than five? More than 10?

Once you’ve figured out your computer time, start thinking about what else you could be doing with that time. Think about how your brain feels after spending five or more hours staring at your computer. Think about how your neck feels. How does your back feel? How about your eyes? Not only are there real issues with reading text online, but sitting in one position for that long cannot be good for your body.

Now come up with an amount of time that you’d like to spend on the internet per day. Do you want to spend two hours online and the rest off? Do you have to spend eight hours online for work? If so, see if you can make your weekends as internet-free as possible.

Once you do that, try to put a plan into action. How long are you going to sit at your computer today? Get a timer and set that timer to your daily limit. When that goes off, evaluate how much work you’ve done. If you must stay on the computer longer, you might need to adjust your time limit. Otherwise, congratulations! Now you can focus on other things like reading.

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Now that you’ve stepped away from the computer or the e-reader, you have time to read actual books, so what are you going to choose? I’ve created a list of some books I read recently that might interest you.

Space Case by Stuart GibbsThis book is a really fun read. Even though it’s technically a young adult book, I don’t think my time spent reading was wasted. This murder mystery book follows a kid named Dash and his family as they spent time on the moon. Complete with red herrings, fun lunar terms, and a strange death, this is a murder mystery book for all ages.

Tree of Codes by Jonathan Safran Foer– Published by Visual Editions, an innovative London-based publishing house, Tree of Codes takes readers on a strange journey. The book has been extracted from a longer text titled The Street of Crocodiles. Foer physically cut apart the book to uncover a separate narrative. Readers have called this book captivating, beating, and haunting. If you’re a looking for a book that’s a bit out of the ordinary, pick this one up.

Lament for the Makers by W.S. MerwinThis book of poetry is a lament for all the beloved poets that died during Merwin’s lifetime. It features a beautiful tribute by Merwin followed by photos and poems from the “makers” that we lost. With poems by Auden, Berryman, Bishop, Plath, Pound, Wright, and others, this book makes a great companion for the poetry lover.

The Poetics of Space by Gaston BachelardThe Poetics of Space is part philosophy, part guidebook. It is a lyrical journey that explores the house and how our houses shape us. Bachelard breaks down the meaning behind each room (the attic, the basement, etc.) and provides a lingual connection between the thoughts we have about each room and the rooms themselves.

The World is Round by Gertrude SteinThis book would be great as a gift for a kid or an adult. Written in Stein’s stream-of-conscious style, the story follows a protagonist named Rose as she discovers herself.

Pinning the Bird to the Wall by Devon Miller-Duggan- The first full-length poetry book from poet Devon Miller-Duggan, Pinning the Bird to the Wall is a beautiful and important book of poetry.

To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing by Simon GarfieldIf I had time to read books twice, I’d read this again. It is a beautiful exploration of letters, letter writing, and famous letters throughout history.

Although some of these books are offered as e-books, I suggest that you try to read them by hand. See if you can spend some time reading them in a coffee shop—without your computer or cell phone.

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Once you spend some time reading, you might find that the usual places in your house (your computer desk, your couch) just aren’t that conducive to reading a good book. You may want to create a space in your house that is just for reading.

So once you found your space and some books, you’re on the right track. But how can you make sure you’re reading enough? In between the gym, making everybody lunch, and work, how do you fit in reading? I’ve created some ideas that might help you stay on your reading track.

Create a Chart
I know that I’m all about the charts, but this one might actually help. Create a chart with all of the books that you want to read this week, month, or year. When you finish one book, cross it off the list or write a little bit about the book on the side. I found that tracking my reading habits makes it easier to read.

Join a Group
Joining a reading group can be a great way to read more. Find a local book club or start your own. I find that reading groups can be really fun because, if you find the right group, you might be able to hang out outside the reading group. Plus, when you have a reading group, you’ll never be short of ideas for what to read.

Carry a Book with You
This seems like a silly idea, but I found that when I carry a book with me, I fit in a lot more reading. When I’m waiting at the post office, sitting in the car waiting for my friend to meet me, or wasting time at a restaurant, it’s easier to squeeze in some time to read.

Cut out Something
Reading takes time, and that means that you might have to cut something out. Whether it is that hour that you spend watching T.V. or that time you spend playing cell phone games, you may need to cut something out to make time for reading.

Read a Lot at Once
It’s easy to read a lot when you carve out time—I find that, whenever I read at night or on the weekends, I’m about to read more. To do this, I find three or four books that I really want to read and I don’t do anything else. I turn off my cell phone, turn off my computer, and turn off the T.V. I grab some tea and start reading.

Although I love the convenience of e-books, I think it’s important to find time to read physical books. I showed you some of the evidence above, but it might be better to try it out for yourself. See if you can pick some books, create a reading list, and maybe you can get the family involved so you can read more.

To get your family involved, you may want to set up some family reading time. Find a time that works for everyone and create a list that everyone wants to read. Then read together. After you each finish a book, spend time talking about what you liked and didn’t like about it.

Good luck. I hope this helps you find some time to read a bit more. Feel free to comment with your favorite books.

photo credit: Reading in the Park via photopin (license)

photo credit: Chemistry in the Kitchen Rebook via photopin (license)