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.
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? 🙂