Tuesday, 25 June 2013

When Did Reading Become Such Hard Work?

I have a question to ask you all; when did reading become such hard work?

I have always loved reading and even as a small child my mother would find me sitting in a corner immersed in a book rather than being out playing with my friends.  I was a devourer of books; getting them from the local library, as birthday and Christmas presents and from jumble sales.  I started off on Enid Blyton, progressed to pony books and then started reading my mother’s romances. Some of my favourite books I read multiple times, until the pages were dog-eared and the covers battered.  Now I read a fairly eclectic mix of non-fiction, thrillers and horror with the very occasional chick-lit romance thrown in.

Book Stack Waiting to be Read
Book Stack Waiting to be Read

But reading has always been easy; you just pick up a book you like the look of and read it.  If you don’t finish it, it’s no biggie.  But I don’t know whether this has been a knock-on effect of the internet, but for a lot of folks out there reading is now hard work and a serious business.  People are compiling reading lists, setting themselves targets about how many books they want to read in a given time and then talking about it on the net.  It makes my ten minutes reading a day just before I switch the light off at night look very inadequate and I have had to ask myself a very hard question – am I a lazy reader?  Am I just not disciplined enough?  After all, there are millions of books out there and how am I ever going to get through them all unless I have a plan?

Of course I could blame the Kindle.  With the electronic e-readers that are now available, people can have hundreds of books sitting there waiting for them to dive in.  I still use the local library, so my queue is based on how many they let me take out and how many I can carry home.  Buying books poses some of the same problems, along with the big question of storage.  I have at least twelve packing cases full of books stored away, as well as the ones I have out on the shelves.  I shudder to think how many I have taken to the charity shops over the years, although parting with any book is always a wrench.  I mean how do I know whether or not I may want to read it again in fifteen years and tie-dyeing tights may well come back into fashion?

One of the things that I loved about travelling in Australia was that they have book exchange shops, where you can take your old books and they will give you a few dollars for them or exchange them for some different titles.  Some of these places are like Aladdin’s cave, piled high with a huge assortment of reading material, some of it many years old.  I found a lot of books that I had read and loved years ago, so had some nostalgic moments as I dived into stories that I remembered from my teens and twenties.

But if being a disciplined, goal driven reader is right up your street, where can you go to achieve your aims?

Book Clubs: 

Book clubs have become very popular.  They can be as simple as a few friends getting together, choosing a novel they are all interested in reading (not always so easy!) and meeting up at each other’s houses for tea and cake (or wine and pizza), to discuss the book.  There are also several high profile TV book clubs you can join, which generally seem to pick a different title every month or week.  In the US, Oprah has a book club, with lots of different articles and a book of the week suggestion and here in the UK Richard and Judy still have a book club on the internet.  Otherwise, if you can’t cajole your friends into giving up an evening a month to discuss literature and share snacks, just do a web search and you are bound to find a book club in your area or on the net that is right for you.

Reading Lists and Goals: 

Now if you are a really organised, motivated person you can create your own lists of books you want to read, set a time frame and keep tally of how you are doing.  But if you want some company, there are now plenty of places on the internet where you can hang out and do all this, with the added bonus of being able to interact with a group of like-minded avid readers while you are doing it.  Perhaps, one of the best known sites is Goodreads, where you can set up our profile, add books you have read to your shelves, post reviews and join in the discussions and groups. There are even book clubs on Goodreads you can join.  Of course, we authors love readers that post reviews of our books.  Good ones are great, but even a less than glowing review that gives constructive criticism can be very helpful for the future.  Shelfari is a similar site and there are also sites like Wattpad where you can post your own stories as well as read and comment on stories written by others.

So Gentle Reader, if you want to take your reading habits to the next level and set yourself some serious goals and you do not want to do it alone, then there are now many resources you can tap into to help you get there.  As for me, I might get around to that pile of books that have been sitting on the shelf for over a year once I’ve made a cup of tea, but then I’ve always got the excuse that I’m supposed to be writing them!


  1. Hi Cynthia

    I think it's all part of the modern culture of rushing at everything, which has been exacerbated no end by the growth of the internet. No-one seems to be happy unless they're doing at least 2 things at once, like talking to a friend and checking their phone at the same time! I'm just as guilty of setting goals and rushing at everything as the next person but sometimes I long for a quiet life!

    Here's another question - does being a writer change your attitude to reading? It certainly has mine - I still love to read, sometimes the same things, but I view books in a different way now, and that's a pity. Doesn't stop me reading though, or writing!

  2. Thanks for reading and leaving a great comment Ellie. I agree with you that everyone seems to be rushing around doing at least two things at once these days. One of my pet hates is going out to dinner with a group of people and then having most of them spend their time looking at their phones or texting.

    Writing has changed my attitude to reading. I do have a small book review blog, but very rarely post these days because I found I was reading every book with a critical eye and not really relaxing into enjoying it. I also feel guilty if I read now, as I could be writing - that's why I love holidays and long flights!


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