Better Reading

Book Shelf in the garage.

As I finish my seventieth year on planet Earth I’ve been considering why I read and why I should.

Reading has become such a habit it’s unclear I’m approaching it the right way. As Socrates is said to have asserted, an unexamined life is not worth living. I want my remaining days to be worth living and for reading to be part of them.

I’ve become a lazy book reader. I read in bed, in the middle of the night when sleep fails me, and when I wake too early to get up. I read when I can’t fall asleep when I should. I have four subscriptions to newspapers along with several daily newsletters and countless emails. I read articles linked in social media and of course the posts on my pages.

Most of that reading is good, yet the backlog of books to read is growing. There is also a randomness to how I pick books. Unless I’m on a deadline to write a review of an advance copy from a publisher, my choices are somewhat impulsive, based on what a friend said, who wrote the book, or the context in which I heard of it. A retiree has few deadlines and constraints when it comes to reading. There is a sense my impulses on reading have not always been the best for me.

According to my Goodreads tracker, I’ve read 30 of a 36-book goal for 2021. In July I read one book and I’m working on my first in August. I like the Goodreads reading challenge because it gives me a point of focus. I feel good clicking the link to say I finished a book. Whatever I do, I’ll keep using the social media platform.

There is an existential angst to all this although I don’t intend to dwell there long. I need to move from habit to active engagement in reading–I know that. I also need a better strategy for picking what to read and when to read it.

Taming the internet and it’s 24/7 fire hose of words is important. Scrollers gonna scroll, and I am one. It is one thing to get through the feed to find what’s engaging. There is no reason to follow a rabbit hole in real time, every time. When there is a linked article, I could use the application Pocket to save it to read later. If an article is worth reading, it will still be so at a designated time. I already devote some of my morning routine to reading. It should be easy to add saved Pocket articles to the mix at that time.

When I consider reading done this year, the best part was researching my ancestors settling in Minnesota. It resulted in this piece of writing for my autobiography. More of that would be good. As the gardening season commenced, my interest in autobiography waned and I moved on and outdoors. Once the garlic is planted in October, I expect that kind of reading to resume. It is some of the best I do and I want that.

Like many, I read to learn. I’ve been tracking my reading on this site for years. It’s a simple list of books with the most recently read at the top. If one looks through them, there is not a particular theme or concentration. Someone I know will recommend or write a book, and it falls into the reading queue. I have a long reading queue which want organization.

When we consider the gravest threats to our lives during the coming decades, the effects of climate change may be the most challenging. I expect to continue to read books , studies and articles about the environment as a mainstay of my reading.

This blog is about gardening and cooking, creating a “kitchen garden.” When I read about these topics, I’m looking for something specific: how to combat a pest, for instance. The best of what I read is doing the research in my library of cooking and gardening books–finding answers to questions about process. I don’t read many gardening or cooking books cover to cover.

An example of a cooking book I do read cover to cover is Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. More than anything, she presents a narrative about cooking that goes beyond a single meal or dish to how we connect them together. I also read Anya von Bremzen’s Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing. Again for its narrative more than cooking tips.

The thing I’ve been dodging here is my book reading. How does one get from being a lazy reader to more engaged? The answer is obvious. Set aside prime daytime hours to read, and stick to a schedule. Instead of using reading to fill hours I should be sleeping, make it the main event for at least part of the day. Morning is the best time so adding an hour or two to my daily outline might serve.

The harder part is in book selection, working on the reading queue. It is easier when I’m working on a project like researching my Minnesota ancestors. Like a coal miner, you just follow the vein. I also want to be moved by what I read. I’m thinking of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. I want things from reading and haven’t given them adequate consideration. All I can see is the growing book stacks waiting to be read and no way out except to spend the time.

Why do I read? To learn, to enjoy, and to be a better human. Why should I read? To retain relevance in a changing world. Without devotion to ideas found in books relevancy can be difficult. So I end where I began, with questions. There are a couple of things I can do for better reading. I can’t wait to get started.