I hit that “Remind me in 15 minutes” button if I’m actually doing something important. But more often than not, when I see this screen I realize I’m not. And then, for the rest of the day, every time I go to open Instagram, I see that the app icon is grayed out with a little hourglass next to it. This disincentive is important because my phone tells me that I pick up my phone an average of 70 times a day (!!!!). I know everyone has their own methods for managing the time-suck of Instagram or whatever your digital vice may be. This is mine.
I already use Screen Time to set a time limit on my son’s iPad, but I tried it out on my phone just yesterday and set a time limit of 1 hour for social media apps. I was shocked at how quickly I saw that screen. I didn’t even make it past lunch. Gonna keep it set and see if this helps my addiction at all.
“I always read a lot. I read the same amount, no matter what season it is. I read every night. When I’m on book tour, I’m on airplanes all the time, so I’m always reading. People say, ‘How do you have time to read?’ Oh, come on, it’s simple! You’re single and you don’t watch television.”
“How do you make time for that?” can almost always be answered with, “I make time for that.”
Still, here are 5 things that have helped me read more, and might help you, too:
1. Quit reading books you don’t like.
“I believe that the phrase ‘obligatory reading’ is a contradiction in terms; reading should not be obligatory… If a book bores you, leave it; don’t read it because it is famous, don’t read it because it is modern, don’t read a book because it is old…. If a book is tedious to you, don’t read it; that book was not written for you.”
—Jorge Luis Borges
“Nobody is going to get any points in heaven by slogging their way through a book they aren’t enjoying but think they ought to read.”
“There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag — and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or a movement. Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty — and vice-versa. Don’t read a book out of its right time for you.”
—Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook
If you aren’t getting anything out of a book, put it down, and pick up another book.
Every hour you spend inching through a boring book is an hour you could’ve spent plowing through a brilliant one.
When it comes to books, quitters finish more.
Sometimes a book just isn’t for you, or it’s not for you yet.
It helps if you choose the right books in the first place. Stop reading what you think you should be reading and just read what you genuinely want to read. Read what you love and read at whim.
2. Carry a book with you at all times.
Get used to carrying a book around with you wherever you go and reaching for it in all the spare moments you’d usually pull out your phone. (Commutes, lunch breaks, grocery store lines, etc.)
Go to bed early and bring your book with you. If you fall asleep while reading, pick it back up when you wake and read for a bit before you get out of bed.
Always have a book queued next in line for when you finish the current book you’re reading.
Feel free to read promiscuously — date 3 or 4 books at the same time until one makes you want to settle down with it.
I am partial to carrying paper books and reading with a pencil, but I also love my e-reader, and a smartphone is undeniably handy, if you can avoid social media and the internet.
Which brings us to our next point.
3. Keep your phone in airplane mode.
“Reading is socially accepted disassociation. You flip a switch and you’re not there anymore. It’s better than heroin. More effective and cheaper and legal.”
A big part of reading is visiting other worlds, and you can’t visit another world if you’re constantly distracted by this one.
If you’re gonna read on your phone, switch it into airplane mode so you’re not even tempted to go online.
When you sit down to read a paper book, either put your phone in airplane mode, or plug your phone in across the room so you’re not tempted to reach for it.
Get a paper dictionary, so when you read at home or in the office, you don’t have to pull out your phone to look up words.
4. Make regular trips to your local library and/or bookstore.
“You must go to the library and fall in love.”
I find a lot of great books through friends and online and through my own reading, but there’s nothing quite like the “serendipity of the stacks,” the magical discoveries that often happen when you’re browsing in a library or a bookstore.
If distraction is terrible for book reading, it’s great for book discovering. You never know what you’ll bump into in the stacks. You go hunting for a book and you find an even better book shelved a few books down from it.
I frequent the “New” and “Recently Returned” shelves at my local library and sometimes I’ll even snoop to see what people have on hold on the reserve shelves.
Nothing beats a well-curated selection in a great indie bookstore. It’s glorious to spend an afternoon shopping at Bookpeople or Powell’s or The Strand or any number of the great stores I’ve had the pleasure to visit on book tour.
5. Share books you love with others. (They’ll give you more books to read.)
“Read the books you love, tell people about authors you like, and don’t worry about it.”
The great thing about sharing your favorite books is that you meet other people who love those books, and they’ll share with you even more books to love.
Take notes, and let the books stack up. Gigantic book piles aren’t a sign you’re doing it wrong, they’re a sign that you’re doing it right.
* * *
If you need something to read, my new book, Keep Going, is out April 2nd.
I put on This Is Spinal Tap last night and it was just as funny as I remembered. Maybe even funnier. I love all the stories about rock stars who watched it and didn’t laugh because it was too real. (The Edge said, “I didn’t laugh, I wept. It was so close to the truth.”)
The movie has an extra edge for me, too, because I’m headed out on tour soon, and life on the road, even as a boring author, has a certain kind of absurdity and indignity to it. (“Dignity! Always dignity!” Gene Kelly quips in Singin’ in the Rain, which, come to think of it, is another essential and brilliant sendup of show business. They might make a good double feature.)
The line that most stood out to me on this viewing was Michael McKean’s: “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.”
Every artist knows the truth in this. I often know an idea is worth working on if I honestly can’t tell if it’s incredibly stupid or absolutely brilliant. (“This idea is so dumb,” I’ll think. “I bet everyone will love it.”)
Stupid ideas turn out to be clever and clever ideas turn out to be stupid.
Sometimes a stupid idea is the very thing you need to get started.
“You take a stupid idea,” says cartoonist Tom Gauld, “but then you are very serious about it.”
It’s a fine line between stupid and clever.
For me, there’s a weird, unfathomable gulf—I almost wrote gulp—between the completion of a novel and its publication. Some days this duration feels interminable, as though the book has voyaged out like some spacecraft on a research mission, populated by forgotten losers like the ones in John Carpenter’s Dark Star, a craft cut loose by those who launched the thing and now grown irretrievable, bent by space and time into something distorted and not worth guiding home. Then there are other days, where the book might be a pitch that’s left your hand too soon, now burning toward home plate, whether to be met by a catcher’s mitt or the sweet part of the bat you can’t possibly know. Hopeless to regret it once you feel it slipping past your fingertips. Just watch. (That’s the gulp.) The weirdness is in that interlude where the book has quit belonging to you but doesn’t belong to anyone else yet, hasn’t been inscribed in all its rightness and wrongness by the scattershot embrace and disdain of the world. It’s a version of Schrödinger’s cat, unchangeably neither dead nor alive in its box.
If you make the kind of visual books I do, they really have to be seen to be understood. I came across these “art book walkthroughs” by Graeme Franks a few days ago. Simple, perfect online advertisements for my kind of books. Here’s the one for Steal Like An Artist and here’s the one for Show Your Work!
I had my six-year-old do (a more hurried & shaky) one in the trailer for Keep Going:
And way back in 2010, I did one for the Newspaper Blackout trailer. I think I used some sort of HD camcorder, but now, of course, you can just use an off-the-shelf iPhone. (And get better quality, too!)
I made this list when my oldest was only 3. He’s 6 now.
Before I closed his bedroom door last night, I said, “Happy reading!”
“Happy… whatever it is you do after I go to bed,” he said.
“Goodnight!” I said, smiling and tiptoeing away…
Last year I read Joan Miro: I Work Like a Gardener, which re-publishes a 1958 interview with the artist interspersed with images of his work. He said:
I work like a gardener or a winemaker… Things come slowly. My vocabulary of forms, for example, I didn’t discover it all at once. It formed itself almost in spite of me.
(See: “The gardens where ideas grow.”)
As if providing a future commentary on these maps, he also said, “An artwork should be fertile. It must give birth to a world.”
Reminds me of what Bruno Munari said about trees: “A tree is a slow explosion of seed.”
Cheap wine tastes better in a juice glass.
I took a picture of this deteriorated sticker at the airport yesterday and thought of Bertha Truitt, the mysterious main character in Elizabeth McCracken’s Bowlaway, who, whenever she’s asked where she’s come from, answers, “I’m here now.”