I Believe I’ve Found a Solution to All My Reading Problems

by James Wallace Harris, Sunday, November 3, 2019

Problems:
  • I miss reading like I did when I was young
  • I try to read too many books concurrently
  • I start too many books I don’t finish
  • I buy too many books I never even get around to trying to read
  • I start too many reading projects (reading multiple books on one subject)
  • I’m attracted to too many subjects
  • I want to read every book that sounds great
Solutions:
  • Only read one book at a time
  • Only listen to one book at a time
  • Keep a list of books I want to read next
  • Keep a list of audiobooks I want to listen to next
  • I can only buy a new book/audiobook when I’m finished with my current book/audiobook and I must read it immediately.
  • I must look through my TBR lists before buying a new book.

When I was a young bookworm I only bought a new book when I finished my old book. I didn’t have much money, so deciding what to buy and read next was a huge pleasure that I’d spend a lot of time contemplating. When I first joined Audible.com, I only had two credits each month, and I was very careful about how I used them. I’d listened to everything I bought. Deciding on the next audiobook was always a delicious time of deciding.

Being able to afford all the books and audiobooks I want has been bad for me. I spend more time buying books and thinking about buying books than I do reading and listening. When I was younger, I used to read an hour or two every day, and many hours on the weekend. I barely read three hours a week now, but I do get in 5-7 hours a week of listening to books. I miss those days when I got so into books I’d finish them in a day or two.

I thought when I retired I would get more books read, but it’s been just the opposite. I have too many other distractions in my life. I won’t go into all of them, I’m sure everyone knows about all the new entertainment diversions that have popped up in the last couple of decades.

What worries me is another problem, a lack of focus. I wonder if getting older is reducing my ability to stay focused, or is it just all the distractions? Part of the problem is I have dozens of books pulled off my bookshelves in different stages of being read. I jump from one book to the next as my mental whims come and go. I have too many writing projects I want to research, and that means I don’t get anything finished. I can focus just enough to complete a blog length essay. I’d like to write something longer, but that would require focusing on one topic for days or weeks and my mind can’t seem to do that.

I’ve been wondering if my lack of writing focus is related to my lack of reading focus. Sometime after midnight last night, a solution jumped into my mind. I theorized if I only read one book at a time maybe that would help. Because reading and listening work only in their own unique settings I decided I could keep one book and one audiobook going.

From this theory, I’ve developed a plan that I believe might solve all my reading problems. I can’t start or buy new books/audiobooks while I’m working on a book/audiobook. I have to keep TBR lists for books and audiobooks with at least a hundred titles on each and I have to read through those lists before buying a new book/audiobook. I  have over a thousand unread books I could put on each list but the idea is to put just enough books I’m craving to read on each list to remind me why I shouldn’t buy another book.

To further keep me from buying new books/audiobooks, is making the rule I can only buy books after finishing books, and I must read any new purchase immediately. Any new book becomes the next read. In other words, to buy a book/audiobook I have to look at my TBR list and decide I want to read a new book more than any of the books on the list.

Right now I try to read all the books that are laying around and it doesn’t work. I need an analogous saying for “My eyes are bigger than my stomach” regarding reading. When you have countless books you’re dying to read it’s rather insane to go buy more. And boy am I crazy.

I don’t know if I will have the discipline to accomplish this plan but I’m going to try very hard. I’ve already started unsubscribing to the mailing lists advertising books on sale. I’ve got to break my restless habit of visiting used bookstores twice a week. I’ve also got to break my habit of jumping on ABEbooks and ordering any book that I think I should read.

I believe I will actually save money if I only buy books just before I read them even if I have to pay the full new price. Now, I’ve come to that conclusion before. And it slowed down my book buy a great deal, but I still bought way more than I can read. My problem is I want to read too much and I believe buying a book means I’ll eventually read it. That’s obviously not true.

The trick of this plan is to only buy a book when I’ve just finished another, whether book or audiobook. And only purchase that book if I want to read it before any of the other great books I already own and supposedly dying to read. If I can stick to that one act of discipline I believe it will have a cascading effect on solving all my reading problems.

Update 11/4/19:

I’ve decided I need a quitting factor. If I commit to reading a book I don’t want to be stuck finishing it if the book is no good. But I also want to give a book a fair shake. I figure I need to read a certain number of pages to get to know the book, but I’m not sure what that number will be. See the comments below for one suggested formula.

I also need to decide what to do with books I quit. Do I still keep them? For printed books, I’ve always donated those to the library book sales. But what about ebooks and audiobooks that clutter up my digital libraries? I’m thinking I should delete them. I believe Amazon has a provision for that, but that seems kind of drastic.

Finally, I decided on a couple loop-holes about buying books. If I buy a new book it has to be read immediately. But I can buy books I’ve already read. Quite often when I listen to a book I want a printed copy for reference. I keep an eye out for cheap used copies. Or there are books I’ve read in the past that I wished I owned a copy for reference. And sometimes I want to buy reference books that aren’t meant to be read from cover-to-cover. Finally, there are some books that I collect for various reasons — because I want a special edition, or I want to replace an old copy, or I just want an edition for its dust jacket or cover. This leaves me a little room to have fun book shopping without stockpiling books to read. However, my discipline will be sorely tested if I see a mint used edition of a book I’ve always wanted to read for $3.

I’ve already finished the first book I committed to reading and wrote a review last night. That felt good. I’m already reading on the second book I committed to, and I’m very excited about being able to stick with it. I skipped TV watching last night to read on it, and got up this morning and read some more. This early success suggests my idea of committing to reading only one book at a time works.

I guess its finally time to get down to the nitty-gritty of reading all those books I bought to read in my retirement years.

JWH

 

11 thoughts on “I Believe I’ve Found a Solution to All My Reading Problems”

  1. If you’re not already following superhero librarian Nancy Pearl’s advice about book commitment, I heartily recommend it. Ms. Pearl says when deciding whether or not to finish a book we’ve started, subtract your age from 100 and read that number of pages before deciding whether to finish the book. So, at age 25, we must read 75 pages before saying, “Not my cup of tea.” But at age 75, we need read only 25 pages before deciding whether we want to commit to reading the whole book. I suppose that as we age, we become more discerning … plus, time is more precious. Once we reach age 100, Ms. Pearl grants that we may simply judge a book by its cover.

    1. I didn’t know about Nancy Pearl, so I will check her out. That’s funny about what we can do at age 100.

      I meant to put in a section in my post above about developing a quitting factor. I was thinking about 50-100 pages or one hour for an audiobook. By Pearl’s rule, my quitting limit would be 32 pages. What I should do is require myself to read 32 pages before buying a book or checking it out from the library.

      I wanted to be a librarian at one time. I’ve worked in both public and university libraries, but never got my MLS. I often think of my book-buying habit as an indication I should have been an acquisitions librarian.

  2. If you are crazy, James, then I’ve got the very same crazy. Thanks to you, it ratcheted up when you turned me on to Scribd.

    It’s like a constant low level white noise kind of anxiety – I can’t read/listen to everything, so what should I choose? Which book deserves my diminishing time/eyes/ears? I DON’T KNOW.
    I just started keeping a reading log – short notations on day I started a book, my first impression, when & why I finished it or discarded it, a brief entry on the reason why I did either one. Maybe that will tell me something.
    Keep us posted on how your solutions are working.
    Linda

    1. I didn’t think about Scribd when I wrote that. I’m not sure I’ll need it now. But I love Scribd.

      One thing that I’ve been doing this morning that’s been very rewarding is looking at all the half-read books I have and trying to decide which to finish first. I already see that some are not ones I want to commit to finishing. And that made me realize what I’m doing is committing myself. When I try to read so many books I’m not making a commitment, and it’s easy to stop reading. I’m now looking at books I really want to commit to.

    1. That’s a good question. I haven’t thought about it yet. I’ve decided to count short stories in an anthology like a book, which I will have to schedule. Maybe I should treat whole magazines like a book too. But I want to be able to read individual stories when they come up for discussion online.

  3. (It seems my initial reply to your post did not make it into the moderation queue, so I’m resubmitting).
    Thank you James! I will definitely consider this strategy in hopes of curbing my book spending 🙂

  4. Good luck! I follow a quite similar approach but I added another category of books that I in fact *could* read in parallel:

    – Fiction
    – Non-Fiction

    For instance, right now I’m reading “Children of Time” and “The Sketchbook Handbook”. For both I require a different state of mind or context so they usually don’t eat into each other’s time.

    How are you dealing with gifted books? For instance, I often don’t know what to answer when someone wants to send me a gift for birthday and so I tend to just give them a link to my book-wishlist 😉 Whatever I get then simply makes it to the very top of my list (right after finishing my current book).

    1. Currently, I’m reading a nonfiction book while listening to fiction. I listen to books when I exercise, when I cook, eat, and do the dishes, and at other times when doing something that allows listening. I read when I can sit and concentrate.

      People don’t usually give me books. They probably think I need another book like I need a hole in my head. Or that books have given me holes in the head.

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