Stories from middle America

I’ve heard it from others and have said it countless times myself: “I just don’t have the time to sit and read a book.”

Listen, we’re all insanely and overwhelmingly busy with any number of professional commitments, passion projects, family and friends, get-togethers, and the like. Our free time flounders in a choppy sea thick with calendar alerts reminding us of something to do (or something we forgot to do).

I work in a public library. You may think that in a four-story building teeming with books I’d be reading every day. And you’re right: I do read every day. However, it happens because I make it a priority. Of course, making something a priority means abandoning (or at least delaying) something else.

Blaming social media is too easy. What I instead find in my own life, and witness in strangers on a daily basis, is our absentminded behavior with our tech. Every hour, we blandly scroll through our social media feeds, our email, our text messages from two days ago. Those wasted moments really start to add up.

We know why we do this: we’re all stressed, and we need a mini mental vacation. But a few months ago, I started picking up a book and reading a page or two when I need a grown-up time-out.

Books on a park bench

I discovered that stepping away from social media allowed me to quickly clear my head, as well. The varied voices we hear from Facebook and Twitter can stay with us. A nonsensical post or tweet you read from a complete stranger can take up valuable space in your mind. And you may simmer on such unnecessary content without even knowing it; when instead, you could be feeding your brain with a great story.

“But Wendy,” you may be thinking (or saying, in which case I won’t judge you for speaking to a webpage), “you work in a library. Of course it’s okay for you to read at work. But that’s just not an option for me.”

Please allow me to politely disagree. If we’re talking about a day at work, save up your free moments, take the entire lunch or the entire break allotted to you, put away your device, and pick up a book. (Or, if you’re a fan of ebooks, download one or two or more.)

The more you read each day, the more you will find yourself wanting to read each day.

It takes practice. The reactive nature when our devices beep and chirp and squawk is just that: reactive. But it doesn’t have to be. Silence the darn thing and put it out of view.

And it takes planning. Keep a book (or ebook) with you at all times. It may feel like you’re back in college lugging around books — ahem, The Goldfinch and her 775 pages — but the only barrier between you and the book you’ve been wanting to read will be, quite frankly, you.

When you arrive home, the same pull often exists to our televisions. So much streaming content! So little time! But remember the beauty of such on-demand entertainment: it is always there, patiently waiting for you. (The same holds true for the pages and pages of photos, status updates, and tweets.)

Teacup with stacks of books

Resist the urge to grab the remote and, instead, open the book you’ve been reading (or have wanted to read). Your local library is a great (and free) place to start. When I’m unsure of what to read next, I love visiting the Omaha Public Library BookNook. Library staff regularly review various titles. Which means trying a completely new genre, when borrowed from the library, won’t cost me a penny. (Beat that, two-day free shipping.)

The success in most experiences — yes, even the recreational, restorative ones like reading — comes from structure and planning ahead. Enjoying a bottle of wine means stopping at the grocery store. Zoning out during a sixty-minute massage means making the appointment. Relaxing in your favorite PJs means doing laundry every now and then.

Make room in your handbag for a book, pick up a copy, and start reading today. Which title will it be?

Dogeared is Wendy Townley’s monthly column on COOP, where she writes about all things literary. Sometimes that means the new paperback stuffed in her Vera Bradley bag, sometimes it’s her latest library treasure, and sometimes it’s her own thoughts about this magical thing called writing.

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