Replay: “No time to read”

I hear this a lot.

Often when someone hears I am in the process of writing a novel, they say something like, “Wow. That’s great.” This is unfortunately followed by, “I haven’t read a novel in [insert large number] years.”

I wonder if they realize how their saying that is like jabbing a stick in my rib. Of course my desire to see people read is self-serving. I didn’t labor on a novel for four years only to have people say, “Who has time to read it?”

But my dismay is more than self interest. When asked, the reason people usually give for not reading is not enough time. “I’m so busy these days. There’s so much to do.” (This may explain why we’re now as a nation graduating kids as bad in verbal skills as they’ve been in math for the past several generations. And notice how most doctors and scientists in the U.S. these days are Indian or Asian, and often not home-grown. Also note how these people usually speak and write more literate English than those who are home-grown.)

Here’s why I’m skeptical that anyone doesn’t have time to read: I’ve never met a person who said, “I haven’t watched television in years (or even days). I’m too busy.”

I’ve never really bought the idea that we “don’t have time to read anymore.” When exactly did we have time to read? When we were working fourteen hours a day, six days a week, before the advent of Social Security and mandatory retirement? I know on TV (TV again!) we see people from the past, in drawing rooms, sipping brandy and reading Dickens or Thackeray. Yeah, that’s TV. (Masterpiece Theater to be exact.) In reality few people had that much time to hang around in drawing rooms. (Today we’d call them the “one percent.”)

People who don’t have time to read learn to play guitar or build remote-controlled model planes. They coach the neighborhood kids in soccer, become Four-In-A-Row champs and download videos of cats swinging on ceiling fans. They go to the auto show, have season tickets to the ball team, manage to see every IMax movie and have watched Star Wars so many times they know all the ropey dialogue and can tell you what “T.I.E.” stand for in T.I.E. fighter. They’ve managed to download fifty thousand apps to their iPhones, most of which, let’s face, don’t really do anything anyway.

Everyone has time to read. You just have to make it higher on your list of priorities. Why, for instance, is reading always below television or tweeting or Facebooking?

I go for walks at night in my neighborhood, and see almost every house aglow with the light of a television screen. Sometimes there are two or three in a house, a big one downstairs and one or two smaller ones upstairs. My personal preferences are quite the opposite. I only watch TV when I don’t have anything I want to read at the moment, or when there’s a really special broadcast event (rare). Books are almost always first for me. Oddly enough, I always find plenty of time to read!

I’ve missed some popular TV, however. I try, really, but I can’t seem to find the time. Busy, you know. Steven Tyler and Chef Ramsey will have to wait.



4 responses

  1. Another good one, John. I am reading two novels right now so I’m not one of those people with “no time to read.” I make time, too. Partly because I am always studying what makes a good story. When you write fiction, you really need to know how to write a story that people can’t put down. As you stated so eloquently, the competition for people’s time is fierce.


    February 29, 2012 at 10:04 am

  2. I too have to read to get ideas about how to write. I don’t mean copying, but seeing how authors make things work. As I’m sure you know, there’s a big difference between reading a novel for pleasure and reading it to see how the author “did it.”


    February 29, 2012 at 10:13 am

  3. nonya in San Antonio Texas, 78212, ROAD RUNNER HOLDCO LLC

    Another great post, and I can’t wait to read the novel.


    March 6, 2012 at 3:30 pm

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