the opposite of speed reading

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“Everywhere there are doors leading to new spaces and new stories and new secrets to be discovered and everywhere there are books.”
~from The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

There are days when I wonder if Carl knew what he was subjecting himself to when we married.

There are the days when a casual walk through our home is marked by a trail, a gathering of books I am currently reading. Each book blending into the landscape until I scarcely realize the sum.


However, over the last year when my life felt tangled and out of sync from aging, mounting stresses at work and dealing with chronic pain, I reaffirmed my shift to living more simply and slowly. My affection for books didn’t diminish but I grew weary of seeing books scattered everywhere. The physical clutter caused me to feel anxious by the vast quantity of literature surrounding me at all times.


Those who live with me, understand this is a slow process. I am not perfect but I am trying to rein in this habit and retrain my ways. It’s a delicate balance to keep order among the books I own and those retrieved from the library.


Two months ago, I lassoed every stray book and took the weighty assortment to my downstairs workspace. Once assembled, I sorted those books into two piles. One pile represented library books that no longer interested me or were not the right timing and would be returned. The second pile was comprised of books I wanted to read, either my own or library owned. I cleared out a section on one of the shelves above my work table and separated library books from owned books. I attached small post-it notes with due dates along their spines.


Any book entering our home will first be placed on this shelf. From this collection, my reading material will come.


I hadn’t realized the weight I felt from having books, even those I was enjoying, spread throughout my spaces. All these unfinished books seemed akin to feeling indecisive and overwhelmed. My reading attention had become scattered and splintered. I was highly distractible. My digital habit of keeping my computer or phone tabs open morphed into countless bookmark usage. After all, I am surely capable enough to read a book, catch up on Netflix with Carl and text a friend simultaneously.


This year, I am endeavoring to read one book at a time. Well, to be honest, one fiction and one non-fiction book at a time. I have also decided to no longer set goals related to the number of books read in a year. My personality drives me towards speed reading instead of savoring the experience of a great book.

Maybe you haven’t read a book in years and have no concept of my issue.

Have you let magazines spill over the coffee table?


Surely you meant to take out a pen to complete the Sunday crosswords but watching each week’s edition cover the previous one leaves you discouraged.


It could be too many clothes to fit in your closet, so they “decorate” other areas of your home?

Are you afraid to open your inbox because the number of emails, unread or otherwise has reached staggering numbers?

Putting my overflow of books in their place and beyond my line of sight brought freedom. No longer am I letting my books manage me.

A small newly created habit where I scan the shelf, assess which books are due soon, which ones cannot be renewed for extra days and the books which have lost their luster for now. Then weed out books and decide which ones might be next in line. I leave the books in their appointed place unless it is time to bring one upstairs.

Since I am a mood reader with a capital M. My previous routine was to gather an armload of books when deciding on my next read, peruse the first few sentences or pages and whichever one captured my attention was the winner. Now I use the same method, but I don’t sit in my living room chair but before my work table. Nothing comes upstairs unless it is my chosen book, not a hopeful contender.


Like keeping a tidy home, tasks need to be done regularly.

To keep my mind tidy, I must be vigilant to not create piles of any sort.
Tidy up, my friends.

Once you finish, why not take 15 minutes and read a good book?


I am off to practice what I preach as I see a few stray books attempting to create a book stack. But here’s a peek at what I am reading now:

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The Next Right Thing
This book is about making decisions. I preordered it before I knew a big job-related decision was looming. I was completely undone with indecision and didn’t have the attention span to read this book. However, one of the bonuses for preordering was a video and workbook course called Discern and Decide. I spent most of one day and completed the course. A different medium helped connect the dots. Months later I was ready to make the decision to leave my job. There will always be decisions to make, large or small. I am hopeful reading this book will aid me to make my next decisions regarding work. The course is still available for a fee, it was immeasurably helpful to me.

The Starless Sea
I have been waiting for Erin Morgenstern to release a new book after loving The Night Circus more than eight years ago. Her newest book is beautiful inside and out and required restraint to delay reading until I had sufficient time to fully immerse in the richness of her storytelling. I have read the first 25 pages and by the time this post is published, I hope to have spent the weekend between the cover of a captivating book.

*****

I love this quote from James Clear’s most recent 3-2-1 newsletter:

Reading is like a software update for your brain.

Whenever you learn a new concept or idea, the “software” improves. You download new features and fix old bugs.

In this way, reading a good book can give you a new way to view your life experiences. Your past is fixed, but your interpretation of it can change depending on the software you use to analyze it.

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