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Jane Austen and Plato sit on a little table, from "How do you find time to read heavy books in a digital age"

How can you find time to read heavy books in a digital world?

The solution my dear reader is to create a dedicated space and time to read. But this doesn’t mean you stop doing things or just stop working. Here I am going to share with you how I “created” an exclusive space and time to read.

If I could find time to read so can you!

I have recently started reading my collection of books that I amassed for the last 5 years and I now realize that it is difficult to read. Even for someone like me who has a degree saying he’s good at reading. Getting distracted while reading is very easy, even finding time to read is complicated. And even if you have the time and the desire to read, the world seems to be designed for you not to read. But then how did I managed to finally read a few books from the collection? The solution I propose is not easy, but it consists of creating a space and a time in our hurried lives to be able to read and enjoy the act of reading. Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to become a monk, or to delete all the social media apps from your phone. But I do require effort on your part. After all, a life without Jane Austen and Plato seems to me a very boring life. Especially if your only escape are Marvel movies. Not to mention that the more books you read, the easier it becomes to keep reading, until you find yourself in a snowball effect and you start neglecting your personal appearance and your interpersonal relationships because nothing makes you feel like a good book does and you are constantly looking for more daring or unknown authors, and you cannot stop reading because now you are a bottomless barrel. So, shall we begin?

How do you find time to read as an adult?

Look, I’m going to be honest with you. For most of my life I only ever read Marvel comics, and my life was like that until by chance or fate I ended up studying a degree in English literature in Quebec. That’s how funny life is. What I read in school was out of obligation and since I had no job nor any other obligation I read in the bus and on the metro, in my room during weekends or in my living room waering headphones while my family watched a movie on Netflix. But in addition to having no obligation to work, it was easier to read in school because my teachers served as a filter between good and bad literature. But what do you do when you have a full-time job, debts to pay, a romantic void in your life and the impulse to want to do anything to distract you from this sad and rotten world such as getting lost in TikTok (or in your social network of choice) in which you spend your time arguing with strangers and libertarians and the occasional Russian robot? 

The solution my dear reader is to create a dedicated space and time to read. But this doesn’t mean you stop doing things or just stop working. Here I am going to share with you how I “created” an exclusive space and time to read. My problem was that I had too many books to read and felt that I had too little or no time to read at all. But everything changed when I asked myself, if it was true at all that I didn’t in fact have time enough to read? After all, the day has 24 hours, and although I work 8 hours Monday through Friday, like any fine arts graduate in a field that cannibalizes my creativity, that still leaves me a few spare hours to read. So the first thing I did was find out where those hours were, or what I was spending them on. For this I created a graph with my work week, marking the spaces where I am busy working, eating, exercising, or simply spending time with my family. There I discovered that there were periods when I had nothing to occupy myself with. For example, traveling to and from work on public transport, when I wake up early on weekends, when I don’t go to the gym and it turns out I have the whole afternoon free!

Using my trusty pocket notebook, I replicated my calendar and divided it into the blocks of time that I usually spend outside the house and inside (and that I’m not working). I discovered and implemented the following:

How to read while on the go:

  • In the morning it takes me 1 hour to get to work using public transportation, which means I can spend that hour reading instead of listening to music or podcasts (to stay informed of current events I subscribe to newspapers like Le Devoir or CanadaLand and read their newsletters instead of relying on social media), I even read while waiting for the bus.
  • At work during my break-time I can read a little after I have enjoyed my lunch and I can even read after work during the journey back home or to the gym. If I get sleepy on the way home and I can’t read a physical book because my eyes keep closing, then I listen to an audiobook instead which requires less effort but still keeps me awake.
  • In the gym I also listen to audiobooks, especially non-fiction books that are not very heavy (or theoretical), I prefer very long and classic books (that is how I finished “A tale of two cities”). I purchase audiobooks individually, or download recordings from Librivox. I dislike Audible and I am not interested in the latest celebrity biography.
  • After leaving the gym I take another bus, but on this trip I only listen to music, and only if I am not that tired I continue reading the book I carry in my backpack, otherwise I just enjoy the ride and the sunset. Sometimes doing nothing is everything.

It is important to mention that when reading in the bus I do not listen to music at the same time, this is because the noise of the bus itself drowns out the other sounds. But at home it’s different.

How to read while at home?

Once at home and after taking a bath, I prepare myself a coffee with milk foam and sit down to read for 1 or 2 hours wearing headphones. I also read quietly aloud (that is, whispering), this helps me to be attentive and not lose the thread of what I am reading. Sometimes I don’t wear headphones at all and read with a louder voice to drown out any background noise that may distract me. With this I can concentrate 100% on the book and read without blocking the outside world with my headphones. It’s also fun to read Jane Austen’s super long paragraphs without taking a breath!

Using this method I have been able to read several books already, but all this can only work because I also maintain a limited and intentional use of my cell phone. I’m not a crazy monk or anything like that, I have Instagram and I like to watch ASMR on YouTube. I also like listening to podcasts and Radio-Canada with my phone. It’s just that it’s not the only thing I do in my spare time.

Being that I live in Montreal I always read something in French and something in English at the same time. It helps me not to neglect any of the 2 languages and I feel that I do not close myself to a single type of literature. It is rare that I read books in Spanish though, oui c’est triste, mais, whatever.

A room (to read) of one’s own

Now allow me to describe the dedicated place to read that I created for myself. First, I needed a quiet place, with enough room to leave the books I was reading and my coffee or drink in turn. Although I could do that in my living room, there is usually always someone watching TV, or playing xbox, and even when wearing headphones, the noise and lights distract me quite a bit if I happen to read in the living room when my family watches a movie.

The only space where I could read in relative silence was my room but there I only had my bed, and reading in bed is the worst decision you could make. So, how did I turn my bedroom into a dedicated space for reading? First, I bought an armchair that doesn’t take up much space and a small table big enough for books and coffee and nothing more than that. The armchair is comfortable, but not enough to fall asleep in it. Another important thing was to have good air circulation, so I put a tower fan in the corner of the room to keep me cool.

A note on the usage of smartphones when reading

In order for my time and my space to remain mine alone I have taken some steps towards ensuring that my phone does not interrupt my reading spaces and times. I shall describe them below:

  • My cell phone has all the normal apps everybody else uses, but they are not on the main screen.
  • Notifications are super restricted to only include my family messages, and reminders.
  • The most important thing of all is that whenever I am reading, my cell phone is not close to me. When I read in my room, I put it on another piece of furniture away from me, and when I read in the bus or on the metro I keep it in my backpack. To listen to music I use wireless headphones.

Final words on how to read as an adult and actually enjoy it.

So in order for you to read, you have to create your own exclusive space and time to read. You do not have to copy what I do but you can certainly use it as a basis to experiment and find out what works for you, but above all just remember to read, live and enjoy. Don’t let yourself be overcome by cynicism. Accept what you can’t control, get to know the world outside of Twitter and talk to your neighbors, join a book club, and touch some motherfucking grass.




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