How to Get Back to Enjoying Reading Again

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The Bookworm (Der Bücherwurm) 1850 by Carl Spitzweg.

Has it been a while since you were really bitten, hog-tied and spell-bound by a book?  Do most books seem okay, but not super-duper fantastic the way they used to be even five years ago?

What if I said I could help you get back that charmed feeling books used to hold for you?

I moved from Australia to Canada in 1996 and in the sixteen years I’ve been living in North America, I have never ceased to be amazed at how much work the average person squeezes into their week.

Australians really like their downtime.  They guard it zealously.  Shops and malls close at noon on Saturdays and don’t open until Monday morning.  Weekends are spent playing sports and kicking back and relaxing.  The Easter long weekend is a mandated four-day break that sees Australia’s cities almost completely empty out as everyone heads out into the bush for camping and barbecues, because nearly every shop, office and business is shut for the entire four days.  Everything comes to a halt and Australians relax.

So Canada was a huge culture shock for me, and my visits to the United States have shown me that the States is just the same, only more so.  People here are easily the hardest working people I’ve ever met.  Shops are open all weekend, so there is no universal down-time.  Easter is just another long-weekend, and the shops are all open anyway (that one really hurt).

If you have a nine-to-five job, it’s not really a nine-to-five job.  Not the way I was raised to understand them.  You work your 9-5, yes, but then you work through lunch, too.  And stay after five to catch up.  And you have a business cellphone, so you monitor calls after hours and deal with crises.  Plus, you only get two weeks’ vacation when you first start and if you’re in a job that increases that time, you might eventually build up to the federally mandated four weeks that everyone gets in Australia.

I worked at Starbucks as a barista for nearly eighteen months.  I don’t think I had a two-day weekend that fell on a Saturday and Sunday the entire time I was there.  I rarely had a consecutive two-day break even in the middle of the week.  Christmastime, I got Christmas day off. That was it.

The reason I mention all this hard work? In 1933, the five-day work week was officially sanctioned by the American Federation of Labor.  Before 1933 the standard work week was five-and-a-half, or six, roping in half your Saturday, or all of it.

But it seems to me that sanctioned or not, the five day work week is just the base upon which we pile more and more work.  Women in particular have all the additional responsibilities of running a house and child-rearing that seem to fall into their laps, including all the taxi-service duties.

There are thousands of people who work second jobs just to pay the bills, too.

Then there are the undisclosed millions of us who aspire to greater things, and are moonlighting or working away at potential or developing alternative careers outside of our five day work weeks, while still trying to maintain some semblance of a life.

Are you reading this blog at work?  On your cellphone while you wait for something else to happen?  Are you squeezing in your reading between laundry loads, and are the kids yelling in the next room – or next to you?

In 1933 it was perceived that a five day work week was sufficient to support a family and back then, only one bread-winner per family was needed.  If a wife worked, the man was considered weak for failing to provide for his family properly.

Now, we work our asses off and crowd instant entertainment into the cracks and margins of what is left of our lives once the work is done.  I finished reading a fiction book this week – it’s the first book I’ve finished in nearly a year.  It took me three weeks to read it, reading a screen’s worth at a time on my cellphone whenever thirty spare seconds showed up. I used to read two or three books a week.

We all know life has got faster and busier.  I’m not making a new point here.

But you can slow it down.

I won’t dazzle you with lots of science (I’m a geek.  You’re going to have to live with that one.)  But I will mention Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, which demonstrated conclusively that our perception of time is subjective.

Here’s a demonstration.  If you’re already feeling a little impatient because this blog starting off in the strangest place, has been meandering on for too long and you want to get to the good stuff, already, and when is she going to shut up, anyway … Feel that tension in your gut?  Just below the sternum.  There.  You can even press your fingertips into your abdomen and feel how tight you’re clenched.

Now, while your fingers are still touching your belly, draw in a deep, deep breath, so that your fingers are pushed outwards.  Really get the air right down to the bottom of your lungs.  Hold it there for a few seconds, then exhale slowly.

Repeat that slow inhale and exhale and really bottom-out your breath, four or five times.  Do it properly.  Don’t skip, don’t fudge.

All the tension in your gut should be gone.

And the relationship that tension has to time?

From start to finish, you’ve been reading this blog at the same highly efficient speed as you’ve always read.  Reading is so ingrained in the adult reader that if I were to ask you to tell me what the colour of this font was:  Purple, your first instinct would be to say “purple”, not red, because you read the word before you processed the colour.

But while you were reading the first part of the post, you were tense, worrying about everything else you had to do, and trying to skim through it fast so you could get the gist of it and move on.

With the deep breathing exercise, I just helped you remove the tension.  And with the promise of a demonstration, I hopefully snagged your attention fully and completely.  You’re now concentrating fully on my words, and processing them completely, rather than skimming or skipping.

The fact is, you’re not reading any slower than you were when you first started reading the post.  If anything, your reading speed may have picked up just a bit, because you’re reading more efficiently.  Why?  Because you’re not trying to do anything else.  You’re not multi-tasking.  You’re only reading this post, so all your attention is on processing these words.

You’re probably enjoying the reading process, now you’re nice and relaxed, too.

So.  It feels like you’re taking your time, slowing down and enjoying reading this post.  Yet you’re reading as fast, if not faster, and absorbing more.

Time is very elastic, isn’t it?

Next time you pick up a book to read, try this.  Deep breathe, relax and tell yourself you’re going to slow down and enjoy the story. See what happens.

By the way, this works for almost everything.  You can slow down time by relaxing and concentrating, whenever you need to.  It just takes practice.

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