My ability to read books cover-to-cover has been impacted by the Internet and other electronic distractions. I read a lot, but mostly snippets: emails, social media, blog posts, and short online articles.
Two years ago, I looked forward to reading a novel while on vacation. The first day, I sat on my sofa and read a paragraph. Then I looked at my phone. I read another paragraph. I checked social media. I read the first paragraph again. I checked new email. I realized it was going to be more of a challenge then I thought. I had to force myself to sit and read for one hour without touching anything electronic.
Most of my book reading now is focused on Buddhist Dharma and social studies and I prefer to have them in paper rather than download to my electronic reader or tablet. Often, I’ll read about an interesting book in an online article, I’ll get excited and buy it, I’ll start reading it but then get distracted by another book I’ve read about online. I became aware of the problem in the last year and curbed my purchases (and also started buying used books again), but it wasn’t until this month that I realized how big the issue had become.
I was shocked when I looked at my shelves full of books on Buddhism, positive psychology, economics, and ecology that I’ve bought or been gifted in the past 8 years that I was so excited to read … and never finished reading.
I’m all over the place like I am on the Internet. I read a bit here, get distracted, pick up another book, read a bit of it, and repeat. I read books a lot, but not a lot of those books!
So I documented all the books in a spreadsheet and categorized the newer books as unread or unfinished. Yes, I was aware that this seemed compulsive, but once I started, it was enlightening in the same way tracking expenses can be (I spent how much on lattes???).
I want to make time in my schedule for study, so I applied some old school discipline – I determined an ordered reading list and must read the assignments, completing one before starting another. I may tweak the order as I go but, once started, I must either finish reading the book or drop it off in a donation bin before starting the next. As I work my way through this list, I’m not planning to add more books unless they are for a class (and I’ll check the used book store first) or are an exceptional new release*.
My concern is that I am collecting more than reading at a time when I’m trying to minimize all my stuff. It also shows a lack of discipline with something—study—that I want to focus on. I had already purged a lot of novels and other books but hadn’t looked at reducing these because I am building a Dharma library: they will be available to others in the new business I have planned for simpler living. That’s valid but the library is now full. All of those books I bought because I was so excited to read them – well, I’m still excited to read them! One at a time.
*I already know I will have to make an exception to get This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein’s new release on climate change!