slow living : read more books

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Read more books – the first resolution on my slow living list. Easy, right?
Books have always been a part of my identity. I tend to read fast and furiously, churning through novels the way Orla does bowls of pasta. A friend once joked my book collection was in danger of burying me alive; “It’s lucky you have fat reserves.“, he added helpfully.
As a child I read so voraciously that I recounted my entire life in third-person narrative in my head – ‘She paused, reflecting on the secret she had just confessed.’ I’m still not sure if that’s weird, or weirdly common?

Then along came Orla. Like most working parents, between the commute, the hours at the office, the housework & cooking & life-admin, there’s barely enough time to give her the attention she needs. Once she’s asleep at night, I’m too exhausted to pick up a book; too frazzled to keep my brain tuned in to little black and white words, page after page.

This plays into my problem with news, too. So bitesized and stimulating – quick, fast brain-gratification. It has pictures, generally on a nice backlit iPhone screen. When my sleepy brain starts to slide, I can flick to something new, wake it back up with a whole different topic.
Maybe that’s not a problem in itself, but it makes reading news an awfully tempting diversion. My reasons for trying to cut back on news, and how that’s going for me, are a story best saved for a different day, a different post.
What I’ve found myself missing the most is the language; that daily wash of words & syntax over my brain, the way it kept my vocabulary rich, a deep pool brimming with fish of every size and colour. Since I stopped reading, that pool became a goldfish bowl, the same forgetful little words swimming round in endless circles.

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So, somewhat paradoxically, the first thing I did towards my ‘read more’ resolution was discard about 70% of my ‘home library’ – that’s the actual pile, above. This appealed to my minimalist mindset, but was mainly in response to a simple question I asked myself: do I actually want to read this right now?
If you want to declutter your bookshelves, I recommend applying that principle to every book on your shelf. ‘If I had 30 minutes to myself right now, would I choose this book? Does that thought excite me?’ If the answer was no, it went on the donation pile. It turns out, we hold onto books for a lot of reasons besides actually wanting to read them. Reasons like;

1} because I read it once, and enjoyed it at the time
2} because I started it and never finished it
3} because I think it says something about me to others to have it on my shelf
4} because I think I should read it/ it’s a classic
5} for sentimental reasons
6} because it might be useful one day

Those are all fine (possibly with the shameful exception of 3) but if I don’t plan to read a book time soon, was it really worth storing, dusting, moving house four times with it in tow? Reminding myself that it has never been cheaper or easier to access literature at short notice, & that all reference books are pretty much obsolete now that Google exists, I let go.

After dropping off all that deadweight at the charity shop, I contemplated my newly condensed library. I felt stimulated enough to immediately slip a presumed-lost Simone de Beauvoir into my handbag, to put Sylvia Plath by my bedside. I felt truly excited to read these books!
And yet, a fortnight later, I am no more than a few pages into each.
That problem of time that I mentioned? That hasn’t changed. It isn’t going to change, not anytime soon. I realised I needed to think more laterally.
I commute 3 days out of 7; in total, this works out at over 7 hours in the car every week, even before you add in the driving I do during my working day. I’d already turned off the radio to limit my news exposure, so it made sense to replace this time with something intentional.

The free trial at Audible caught my eye. I’ve never really considered audiobooks before – I think I had a secret belief that it was somehow ‘cheating’! I relented once I saw a lot of books from my wishlist were available, and selected an 11-hour recording of a newish novel, read by the author.
In my dark car at 6:30 am I was reluctant to try and get into a new book, but boredom won out. Within minutes I was hooked.

2 weeks later I’ve nearly finished my third book; I can’t get them fast enough! It’s a complete revelation – suddenly I look forward to my commute, that twice-daily slog transformed into joyful, indulgent, me time. I look for any excuses to listen – hoovering, cooking, editing photos on the computer. Unable to listen without busying my hands, it’s actually made me more productive at work and at home! I’m so evangelical about it that I’ve even got Rory into listening – and then we get to talk about them, something we’ve wanted to do and never managed in the whole time we’ve been together!

If you fancy giving it a go, you can sign up here (if you’re in the UK I’ll get a free audiobook when you do, too!) Be sure to unsubscribe before the trial ends though, or they’ll bill you using your amazon payment details.

Does this count as slow living? I’m not really sure. Probably I should be making time to recline in a sunny window seat, and read my real, lovely paper books, but that just isn’t possible right now.

How are you getting on with your resolutions? And more importantly, can anyone recommend me a good book? πŸ™‚

  • Oliveandiris

    Loved reading this & am now tempted by an audiobook. I drive to work 3 days which is at least 6 hours a week driving. I’ve been listening to podcasts but like the idea of a book.
    One of my resolutions was to read more & I read 1 chic lit book but seem to have lost my momentum already. Maybe I’ll follow your example

    I’m interested to see how you’re getting on with your other aims this year xx

    • Sara

      Yes, from what you say it sounds like you *need* to try Audiobooks! Momentum is a perfect word for what I’ve been lacking in my reading, too – and what audiobooks provide! As I type this R, who has read one book in the entire duration of our relationship, is starting his second audiobook whilst washing up πŸ™‚ x

  • Oh I could’ve written this myself, (well the bits about reading fast and furiously and the endless thirst for books as a child. And of course the lack of time for it at this stage in life). Reading has always been a huge part of who I am too, when I get caught up in a good book I literally walk around the house doing everything with one hand whilst still reading it. I walk into a lot of stuff and it probably irritates everyone else in my family beyond words but I am powerless to fight it. I am now kind of jealous that I don’t have a commute so I can listen to audiobooks too! Though when Lila starts back at school in a week or so and the house is quieter then I might just try putting one on as I go about my daily tasks. As for recommendations, it’s not high brow or anything but I absolutely love all the novels by Kate Morton. Also The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is fantastic. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society has a special place in my heart too and has been re-read many times xxx

    p.s Also that bit about narrating your own life in your head…I think it means you were born to be a writer πŸ™‚

    • Yes yes yes! Part of why I read so quickly is because once I’m absorbed, I forsake everything else to keep reading. That’s the only problem with audiobooks actually – if I get to work when something good is happening, I don’t want to get out of my car! haha! You’ll find them perfect for when you’re doing chores in the house for this exact reason though.
      I loved the Guernsey LPPS so based on that alone I trust your recommendations. Never read any Kate Morton, so I feel excited!

      & born to be a writer, you say? I had been hoping for ‘born to be a lady of leisure’, but writer works too… πŸ˜€ xxx

  • This is a good idea. I love the visual aspect of words — the way they are on the page means something to me. But this certainly might be something to try for all those commuting hours — assuming I can actually hear well enough over the clangor of the train. Thanks for the tip!

    • I was worried about feeling lost without the tangible structure of the pages, and I guess I thought it would lose some of it’s intellectual merit if I wasn’t actually reading it. For me though, the experience is remarkably similar! I really highly recommend trying them out.
      Let me know how you get on! x

  • I am so impressed with your problem solving skills! In my first year of uni (when I was so depressed I nearly dropped out) I had a wonderful habit of falling asleep to Alan Bennett. So it feels strange now that I am not immediately signing up to audible. I think, like you, I’m a bit hooked on the paper, the turning… The ritual of it all!

    More thought required xxx

    • Yes! Audiobooks to fall asleep to were my only experience of them.
      All I can say is that they are surprisingly close to the experience of reading; I thought it would feel unintellectual and be distracting, but it absorbs me in just the same way, and I *feel* like I am reading. I even catch myself saying to people, ‘in the book I am reading…’ and then correct myself. Give it a try, and then come and tell me how I was right πŸ™‚ x

  • I used to narrate my life, too. *nods* Not sure I could do audiobooks cos I needs to see words – always put subs on when I’m watching tv & my thoughts are written out in my mind’s eye.
    How is the Encyclopedia of Snow? I’ve seen it before on your pages and always meant to hunt it out. *dons snow boots*
    My resolution was to lose weight or move to an iron galaxy (cos needed to support bulk). Have done neither. *kicks space ship* *wobbles*
    Book recommendation is The Seas by Samantha Hunt. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/332768.The_Seas

    • Sara

      Oooh interesting! I’m not a visual-verbaliser at all. Love hearing how people’s brains work.
      Encyclopedia of snow is a better photo prop than it is novel, tbh. I’m living a lie.
      Off to investigate The Seas as an audiobook! πŸ˜€

  • Oh, just wondering, what are your fave books? And book character heroines? And book crushes? Also, your declutter skills make me feel like the last of the hoarders. Am intimidated and impressed. I think you could organise an Armada. *nods*

    • Sara

      I couldn’t organise an armada, but I could definitely help them throw away their ornaments and novelty mugs. It’s a valid skill.
      That’s TOO BIG a question, especially given I’ve just shed my previously book-loving skin to the charity shop.
      I’m afraid I still have an undying love for Pride & Prejudice, which I swear gains more genius the more times you read it. Also, early Kate Atkinsons, Maggie O’Farrell, Esther Freud and Helen Dunmore. I just read (listened to) We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves which was completely wonderful – I can’t stop recommending it to people.
      More answers to come as I remember them… x

  • Since being lucky enough to start a contract where I can walk to the office, I’ve hardly had time to read as my daily trip on the tube in the morning was my reading time. I struggle to set aside time to read as life just gets in the way. Audiobooks are a great idea, though. I used to sometimes listen to podcasts on my morning walk but maybe I’ll switch to audio books instead!

    • Walking to the office is such a luxury! I was able to for a while when I was younger, and it was so good to be free from traffic! Yesyes, you must try audiobooks – if only because it gives your brain a break from the endless stream of facts and information. I loved Serial, and that’s sort of what got me into audiobooks. If you have any Podcasts you’d recommend, please let me know! x

  • Beautifully written, echo comments above that you should be a writer, well you already are so continue, more etc. I’m so sentimental about books, there are few I could part with. Reading for frazzled by small children right now, I recommend poetry! I’ve got Ted Hughes birthday letters by my bed and it’s amazing. I tried to read it a few years ago and it didn’t go in, am adoring it now (another reason why I keep my books! I’m not always ready for them!). So highly recommend Birthday Letters if you’ve not read it. Best things I’ve read recently are the Hilary mantell books, not as inaccessible as made out but do take a while to read. Then would recommend to you john banville’s ‘the sea’, Carmen by Alexandre Dumas is great (and short). Then lively and light reads, dodi smiths I capture the castle, again if you haven’t read it (and the secret history by Donna tart which I’m sure you have already). Finally anything by Agatha Christie!! Love love love agatha Christie! Xx

    • Better late than never, I’m spotting this comment and looking up your suggestions! Thank you, thank you, thank you! xxx

  • Lydia

    I honestly can’t remember the last time I even tried to read a book that wasn’t for Finn!!

    Audible sounds super.

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