Friday, September 22, 2017

How to Read More in an Age of Technology: Part One

Reading less these days? 

The impetus for this blog comes from a recent post by author Philip Yancey, that went pretty much much viral. This once prolifically reading author has bookshelves that are now languishing as he finds his brain becoming re-wired by technology. The comments are telling, too, as many share their own stories and most agree. 

Smartphones, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, games, Pinterest and iPads are demanding our attention. Walk through any mall and three-quarters of the shoppers will be staring down at phones. And okay, I'm not anti-technology. I’m just as guilty. I mean I even sleep with my iPhone right beside me. (I know I know. Shoot me now!) But when insomnia hits, what better way to fall asleep than to listen to some droning book being read to me, or some podcast, or some soothing music? (I’m even thinking of getting a pair of those sleeping type headphones. (Okay, now you can really shoot me.)

But, as I was reading Yancey’s post it came to me that probably a lot of people are finding that their reading is diminishing these days. How can we get it back? How can we become absorbed in a novel once again? There should be a Fitbit for reading, I'm thinking, something that will keep track of how many pages we have read that day, and remind us when our reading is falling off.

To counteract this - here are a few of my own random thoughts and ideas:

1. You can’t read a book on a phone or an iPad or a tablet. Please bear with me one this one, don’t put your hands over your eyes just yet. To read a novel, I think you need a real book or a dedicated eReader. 

Here’s my story: I had one of the original Kobo eReaders. It was light. I could adjust the font to suit my old eyes, and I didn’t have that weird page turning balance thing that I have when I'm lying on my side in bed and trying to read a hard-back book. I loved it, but then after seven years the battery didn’t hold a charge. But surely I didn’t need another one, right? I have one of those big-screen iPhones. I’ll just use it. It’s got a reading app, right?

Well, I couldn’t. First of all, the screen was too bright. Even after dimming the light, it was too shiny. I couldn’t read it out in the sunshine, and what’s the point of a book that you can’t read on the beach?

But, the main thing was that I was distracted by it. I would be reading along and—oh wait! A new Facebook message! Oh wait! I got a new email! Oh wait! A text message just came in! So, I went in turned off all of those notifications. Now, I’ll just settle back and read. And yet in the back of my mind there was this little ping—Hey, maybe I should check Instagram. See if there are any new pics of the grandkids. It won’t take two seconds. Or, I’ll just zip over here and play a quick game of solitaire before I get into chapter four.

Nope, maybe it works for you, but the iPhone simply didn’t work for me as a reading device.

So, I bought another dedicated eReader, and I love, love my new Kobo Aura H2O.

I know that there are also Kindles that compare.

All I can do is read on it. It looks like a book, and it's gently front lit, so, I can read it in bed at night. I can take it out in the sunshine. It's completely waterproof so I can even read it out on the water. Or in the rain, if I wanted to.

Studies say these e-ink screens are better for the brain at night than shiny, backlit screens.

If your reading has fallen off, put away the phone and the brightly lit tablet and get either a real book, or invest in an eReader. They’re not very expensive.

2. Blame the book, not yourself. I can’t tell you how many times I have opened up a novel to read, even a beloved mystery novel, and then after about four pages my mind is wandering. After chapter two I’m blaming myself—it must be happening—I’m getting too old—I can’t concentrate—I can’t read books anymore—There's something wrong with my brain.

No. There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s the book.

That's why I began this blog. Maybe it was a survival thing. I wanted to prove that there are still books out there which are unputdownable. If you find your mind wandering, keep looking. Feel free to scroll back and use this blog as a guide. I have more than two and a half years worth of books that my mind didn't wander inside of.

3. Join a book club. Not only is this fun, but you will end up reading completely out of your comfort zone. It might just be wonderful. Left to my own devices I would end up with nothing but mystery fiction on my Kobo. My book club expands me. I’m devouring and discussing books I never would have chosen. 

If you don’t know where to find a club, go and ask at your local library. If they don’t have one, give them your name and offer to start one. Another place to look is your local independent bookstore. Many have bookclubs. Also, you might want to try and do a search for “bookclubs.”

4. Talk about books with your friends. I know, you might get some strange looks when the first thing you say when you sit down for coffee is, “Read any good books lately?” But you might come away with some good and interesting suggestions. And a reading partner.

5. Write book reviews. Recommend a good book on your Facebook page. Do a search for book review blogs. Many are joint efforts and are always wanting new book reviewers. (I know. I've been asked.) This blog of mine, this labor of love, has forced me to read, even when I wanted to zip over and play solitaire.

6. Devote an hour a day to reading. Really? Is that too much? You’ll go for a walk for an hour, or spend an hour at the gym, or watch TV for an hour. Make it a priority to read every single day. Okay, half an hour. But schedule it in.

7. I mentioned how cool it would be to have a Fitbit for reading, well, there sort of is one. It’s called the Goodreads reading challenge. I do this every year. Here is my own link. 

When 2017 began I decided that I would read 30 books this year. In past years I’ve aimed for 24. Because I easily managed that, I decided that this year I would up it to 30. Not sure I'm going to make it. While you’re at it, have a look around Goodreads which is like a Facebook for readers. I find book recommendations there and often find myself scouring the book reviews for books I might like.

How do you keep reading when bright screens, click bait and five second sound bites keep tempting you? I'd love for you to share your ideas in the comments.  

NEXT TIME: Part two: More on reading books in an age of technology.


  1. Somehow I have programmed my brain that I am only able to read for my own pleasure at night. Bedtime. I read a lot during the day on screen, mostly, but that is most often, work-related. So because I only 'allow' myself to read at night, then I battle the guilt train if I read for pleasure during the day! But I like some of your suggestions, especially 'join a bookclub' or 'start one' idea. My biggest fear there is 'what if I don't get it done and then I'll look like a fool or it will too much pressure' thoughts, though! I'll get through. But I think for right now I will try to add Sunday afternoon to my reading time. Hey, it's a start! Thanks for the motivation, Linda!

    1. I get this! I feel the same way at times, but am trying to change this bias. I never watch TV during the day for the same reason. In his wonderful book On Writing, Stephen King says he writes during the morning and reads in the afternoon. I try to think of that when I feel guilty.

  2. I totally agree with you when it comes to a dedicated reader. I love reading outside but it's just not possible on a phone.
    My 'secret' to more reading is simple. Turn off the TV! I also keep a list starting in January just to see how many books I read. (Not an official 'challenge' but it seems to keep me motivated...) I usually write reviews, too, on goodreads & Amazon (& sometimes other places)

  3. I read somewhere about having a reading hour a day, and loved that idea. It was not to be "reading to learn," but reading good writing for the purpose of pleasure and becoming a better writer. I am too drowsy at night to read, my brain shuts down, so I read in the morning, right after my quiet time with God, if I can. Now, this doesn't happen all the time, because I have bursts of time when I am just busy with other things, but in my head, I have permission to take an hour daily to simply read, and that alone, helps. I recently downloaded, "Reading Like a Writer," by Francine Prose, to my Kindle. I love my Kindle, and recently I organized all of my books stored on it into folders, so now I have a folder for devotionals, one for novels, one for First Nations reading, etc. This makes it easy to access exactly what I want to find. Reading is such a great pleasure. I agree that we are so distracted by the chirps and pings that surround our lives.

    This summer I read an entire book out loud to my 19 year old granddaughter, who learns audibly rather than by reading. It was the most wonderful bonding experience. She had to read the book for a university course, and although it was a tough book to read (Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid, by Evelyn Lau,) we stopped and discussed it all the way through. Viva reading!

    1. Wow - what a great experience you must have had reading that book aloud. I didn't mention this in my blog, but I think for the writer, reading is not optional. It should be a part of what we as writers do every single day. It is absolutely imperative.