As I’ve grown older, finding time to read independently as an adult has become progressively more difficult. This is due in part to an increase in responsibilities and time commitments, but it is also due to my own habits and attitude toward reading. Now that I’m no longer reading my way through the Western Canon for school, or reading as preparation for teaching English classes, I often find myself feeling guilty over the time I do spend curled up with a good book. At some unidentifiable point in time, I mistakenly began to think of reading as an indulgence, rather than a necessity.
But reading is just as important for adults as it is for children, regardless of our other obligations. It may not be something we are required to do each day, but that doesn’t mean we can’t – and shouldn’t – treat it as such. And the rewards of reading are endless: it educates us, kindles our imaginations, enables us to experience more expansive thought, requires us to engage in serious self-reflection, inspires us to strive for excellence, and serves as a continual reminder that there is more to the world that what is immediately before us. In short, it is both magical and life changing.
So, without further ado, here are our suggestions for finding (i.e. carving out) time to read as an adult.
Audiobooks can be a wonderful resource. While not a replacement for reading books, they are certainly worth exploring as a complement to your other reading practices. To give you some ideas, I enjoy listening to audiobooks when I’m walking to campus or downtown to the library, and while I’m doing household chores like cooking, folding laundry, washing the dishes, etc. They are ideal for times when whatever I’m doing is completely incompatible with reading but I still want something to occupy my mind.
Depending on the length, I’ve found that I can usually get through an audiobook every one to three weeks this way. The key seems to be selecting books that have excellent narrators and are, by nature, highly engaging. I also tend to prefer listening to authors whose language is more concise but reading books by authors who utilize more complex language. Audible, LibriVox, and Internet Archive are just a few of the many great programs available for audiobooks.
If you are someone who likes to keep a “to do” list for each day, write down your reading “assignment” the night before. This is a good way to start shifting your mindset from thinking of reading as an activity you get to do only if you have extra time to thinking of it as something that you need to do nearly every day, regardless of circumstance.
If it helps, you can even treat reading like a chore – not in the sense that it is onerous, but in the sense that it something that you need to keep up with on a regular basis. Keeping your goal easily attainable is also helpful, so I’ll often write down “Read 10 pages of ______” on my to do list, knowing full well that once I start reading, I’ll likely keep going.
Instead of spending that unexpected 5 to 10 minutes of waiting time on your phone, read your book instead!
Most of us have received at least one book that we are not even vaguely interested in from someone who knows how much we love to read. Although you may feel obliged to, you do not need to read these books! Your reading time is too precious to waste on a book you don’t find valuable, especially if the attempt will cause you to procrastinate from reading or even avoid the activity altogether.
Alternatively, if the book is one you do intend to read, you don’t need to do so immediately. When I receive a book as a gift I’ll often say something along the lines of “thank you so much, I can’t wait to read this someday. I’m not sure I’ll be able to get to it this winter, but I will certainly short-list it for the future.” Then, when you get around to reading the book, be sure to let that person know so you can talk about it together!
This can be helpful in maintaining your enthusiasm for reading and your reading momentum, especially because there are likely books that you want to read but not read every day, or books that you don’t want to read more than a few pages of at a time. When I have 3 or 4 books going at a time, the odds that I can’t wait to keep reading at least one of them at any given time are much higher than the odds with just one.
For a long time I was a book purist and resisted the digital book trend. I’m not sure what I thought would happen if I read a digital edition of a book, but I just wasn’t into it. Eventually my mom got me a Kindle for Christmas and I immediately fell in love with it. It’s the perfect size for traveling, and I’ve even taken it on numerous backpacking trips since it doesn’t require a flashlight or headlamp to use. It’s also ideal for times when you want to turn the light on to read but your significant other is still sleeping. (The one I have is now 5 years old and apparently indestructible. Doing anything in the Kindle store requires significant patience, but once a book is downloaded, the actual reading function works smoothly and the battery lasts for weeks, even in cold weather.)
If you do have access to a tablet or smartphone for reading, be sure to take advantage of your local library’s digital collection, or subscribe to one online. Most public libraries have fairly extensive digital collections where you can electronically “borrow” ebooks for weeks at a time. You can even place yourself on a wait list for a given book and adjust your settings so that the title will automatically download to your device as soon as it becomes available! If you are looking specifically for children’s books, Gateway to the Classics also offers hundreds of titles from the golden age of children’s literature. (You can also gain access to regular free ebook downloads by subscribing to our blog here.)
Numerous studies have examined the negative effects that blue light emission from smartphones can have on melatonin production and the quality of your sleep. Reading before bed instead of spending time facing a screen can make it significantly easier for you to fall – and stay – asleep, with the added benefit of giving you extra time to read! It’s both a lovely bedtime routine, and an easy way to improve your “sleep hygiene.”
If you do shift work or have a regularly scheduled lunchtime, reading can be a great break-time activity. Depending on your line of work this may be more or less difficult, but if you are able to take a break of 10 minutes or more, try reading just a few pages during that time. I especially recommend it if you are an introvert working in a highly social setting – those few pages can offer a good deal of solace during an otherwise hectic day. (I did this both as a teacher with frequent interruptions, and also during clinical shift work where I had a 30-minute lunch break in the afternoons. In both cases it was something I looked forward to each day and something that greatly re-energized me.)
You don’t need to wake up at five am to find reading time each day, nor do you have to read before bed or during your lunch break if those aren’t feasible times for you. However, do start paying attention to the small gaps in your schedule and the times that are conducive to reading and take advantage of them as you can. If you can find time to read for ten minutes a day, two or three times a day, do that. It’s a starting place that demonstrates your commitment to reading and twenty or thirty minutes of reading is far better than zero.
There’s absolutely no reason you can’t meet up with a friend at a coffee shop or have someone over just to read. People study together, so why shouldn’t they also read together, either independently or aloud? This can also be a romantic way to spend time with your significant other. I had a college professor who once told me that she and her husband read War and Peace aloud together before bed over the course of about a year and that it was an experience they will both cherish forever.
Our final suggestion is to maintain a “to consider reading” list. This list is meant to include the diverse books that you hear about on a podcast or in an off-hand comment from a friend, and it should be long, un-curated, and include titles from a wide range of categories. It is intended as a resource for when you are in a literary dry spell and simply need inspiration. Return to it whenever you want to read something new, but aren’t sure what to pick up next. As a note: you definitely do not need to read all of these books during your lifetime, nor should you attempt to do so; simply maintain the list as a large resource pool and use it on an as-needed basis.
What other ideas would you all add to this list? Please let us know in a comment below what your most successful strategies have been for finding time to read independently as an adult!
Most families who read aloud to their children do so at bedtime. I recommend that you do that too, but that you also find another time of day that you read to your children on a regular basis, so they come to expect it AND to look forward to it.
One time that works well for many families is mealtimes—because you have a captive audience!
Here are two examples of what that looked like in our family . . .
When my younger two children were 5 and 6, I worked the early shift so I could pick them up at the end of their school day and we could spend the afternoon together. Their father had the job of getting them up in the morning, preparing their breakfast, and getting them out the door in a timely fashion. He told them that if they got dressed and were ready for breakfast on time, he would read to them while they ate. He selected Hurlbut's Story of the Bible to read to them. With 168 stories from the Old Testament and New Testament, there was ample material for many morning reading sessions. The children were so anxious to hear their story in the morning that they scurried about so they would be in their places at the kitchen table ready to listen, well before their breakfast was served. After they had made their way through all 631 pages, they wanted to hear it again, and so in the course of a year they had heard all 168 stories twice. After that grounding in the Biblical narrative, they knew the stories of the Bible better than many of their Sunday School teachers!
Next they tackled Uncle Remus: The Complete Tales, adapted by Julius Lester and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. No doubt they would have read through many more books together had not their father died soon thereafter, making the memories of their morning read-aloud time all the more precious.
When I took up the mealtime reading, I chose suppertime. I ate much more quickly than Daniel and Rebecca did, so I started reading as soon as I had finished my meal. William Bennett's The Book of Virtues provided a variety of selections for us to read together, including short stories, folk tales, and poems. Keeping this large book on the counter near the table encouraged us in this habit, making it something we all looked forward to!
So there is no scrambling to find something to read during the mealtime read-aloud time, choose the book ahead of time. Preferably a lengthy book that you keep in a place of honor in your kitchen or dining room. By that simple act, alone, you will demonstrate to your children how much you value reading.
Why not get started with mealtime reading now?