Are You Reading Less?

Elizabeth Bluemle -- July 17th, 2013

Is it just me, or are even avid readers reading fewer books? Once upon a time, I would read several books each week. My annual reading numbered in the dozens, even hundreds, of titles. Lately, I am lucky to read one or two books a week. For a bookseller, that’s  not enough.

In part, I blame an unusually busy personal year. But I know there’s more to it: more media competition for my time, more technology-driven distraction, more white noise all around.

I don’t spend a whole lot of time on Facebook or Twitter or even YouTube, I haven’t developed a Pinterest, and I don’t Tumblr. I also don’t Instagram. But I know what all those things are, and that knowledge has to have come from time spent encountering and exploring them. Time that comes out of my reading hours.

I don’t have a television at home, but I don’t get to feel virtuous about that because I can and do access Netflix, Hulu, HBO, PBS, and just about any other video source on my phone, iPad, or laptop. I can live-stream Wimbledon matches and watch The Daily Show. It’s a cornucopia of visual seduction.

I have a thing for science and nature news, and it’s amazing how much time can pass browsing National Geographic or NASA’s photo archives, and reading articles about new discoveries.

If I, someone who has always read books about as constantly as drawing air, find myself struggling to read as much as I used to, how much less are people reading who have always been more casual about it? This worries me.

I’m also using audiobooks to catch up on my reading, which is helpful; even on my busiest days, I have my commute open for listening.  (Note to publishers: If only more titles were available as audio advance reading copies, you might get a much bigger pool of booksellers reading them! But I digress.)

I’ve resolved to pay much closer attention to my (admittedly rare) leisure time and adjust my activities accordingly.

Readers, are you also finding yourselves with less time (or simply carving out less time) to read? If so, are you planning to change that, and how?

19 thoughts on “Are You Reading Less?

  1. Misti

    In a normal year I read 250+ books. The year, at the end of July, I have just crossed the 100 mark. I’m definitely reading less, and I blame the iPad. It does compete for attention.

    I’ve also been listening to more audio this year, which contributes — listening is so much slower than reading, and where I would normally read on my lunch break, I find myself listening — or reluctant to pick up a book because I was listening on the drive, and am still caught in the world of that story. (As a teen I was able to have multiple books going at once, but I seem to have lost that ability in recent years.)

  2. Cristina E. Garcia

    I go out of my way to read more but I definitely feel other media is constantly vying for my attention. Just today I was considering whether to watch the documentary Independent Lens: Wham! Bam! Islam!, read or catch up with news.

    I can say that my new Kindle Touch has definitely contributed to my increase in reading. Before I was using my phone to read e-books but the e-ink screen feels so much nicer on my eyes. I can read for hours without tiring. Not to mention I can’t access Facebook, Twitter or the internet as easily on my dedicated e-reader so I don’t get as distracted.

  3. Jef

    I have day job as well as the bookstore, so I probably have less time to read than other booksellers. However, my reading has stayed consistent. I can average about a book a week. I’m able to read a chapter each way on my train commute to the office, then another chapter before bed. I consider reading to be a necessity for maintaining mental/physical/spiritual health; I need the quiet mental stimulation to rest my mind, body, and spirit. I only use social media a bit each day for bookstore marketing, and I do stream movies through Netflix, but probably no more than two hours per week, usually when I’m ironing. I can listen to nonfiction audiobooks, but it’s hard for me to focus on fiction audiobooks. I like to see subtleties of how the story is communicated by how the words are arranged on the page.

  4. Kathy E

    I go through cycles of consumption.. I can go for weeks of reading 3 to 12 books a week (Juvenile Fictin, YA, adult fiction romance, mystery, sci-fi, romance), and then go through a cycle of binge Amazon/netflix television series streaming. I do not have cable television, and prefer to read my books on my ipad. If my days are noisy with customer service, I prefer the quiet and controlled pace of books.

  5. Kitti

    Since the end of a 6.5 year relationship in late April, I’ve been reading a lot more. I read very slowly, so it doesn’t look like I’m reading much more, but I am.

  6. Christian

    I generally do not feel that I am reading less right now. Because I am a teacher I tend to find a fair amount of time over the summer to read. During the school year I read a book at school and a book at home. Some days I have more time to read and other days I really have to squeeze in my reading time. I make every effort to read before I go to sleep as reading at night helps me relax. I tend not to watch a lot of TV. However, I do spend time writing book reviews for Alibris and Amazon. I review a book about every ten days. Bottom line: my reading time varies depending on my schedule but I do not feel that I am reading less.

  7. Elizabeth Lund

    I read just as much as I used to, if not more. Though I also consume a lot of Internet media, I get so many good recommendations from blogs and people online that my reading list is constantly growing. And I have more access to the books themselves than before thanks to easy online holds at my library and ebook lending.

  8. Bob

    I’m in my 60s now, and I find that as I get older, my attention span seems to be getting shorter and shorter. A decade or so ago, I’d be able to sit with a gigantic book like Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy and happily read away for hours, lost in its narrative. Now, I can hardly go 15 minutes without feeling the urge to “do something else” (even to picking up another book) before returning to whatever it is that I’m reading. Has anyone else experienced this? I wonder if it’s just a natural part of aging.

  9. Nell

    I found myself reading less and assumed books had become more boring because I knew more about real life. Then a friend forgot his reading glasses at my house and I tried them on as a joke. It was that easy. I went to the eye doctor and the optician and got one set of reading glasses for books and another for computers (focuses farther away). Now I can concentrate for eons on end, as though I were a child of 45. I never would have guessed it on my own. Think about that next time somebody who just happens to be 50 tells you that certain softcore telenovelas and large-print YA comics are Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerke that blow literature out of the water. I can read just fine without my glasses, and I’m not wearing them now. But apparently they do very good things to the cost-benefit analysis of reading an actual book, the kind with smallish print and many pages.

  10. Diana

    This has been one of my best reading years ever, I’m up to 37 books and going strong. But between work, social media, and a strong addiction to Doctor Who I find that I have to manage my time better to get enough reading time.

    I’ve noticed a major decline in a lot of the regular customers at the store, but a big rise in vacationers getting books to read by the lake. Which makes me realize just how hard it is to be unplugged these days unless you’ve made the time for it.

  11. Carol Chittenden

    Like you, I’d take in more if it were ARC’d on audio. Other than that, the bookstore’s demands leave barely 5 pages a day other than the newspaper at breakfast and The New Yorker over some dinners. And that’s without video/TV/wifi at home.

    But there’s another problem, too: after 27 years of surfing frontlist madly, my appetite is shot. If a book doesn’t capture and thrill me within those first five pages, no matter how esteemed and beloved the author, I can’t swallow another chapter. I’d rather go back to quality backlist than fight through another dystopia, another self-absorbed nitwit, another scatological brat. Hats off to editors, those brave people, who must needs sift the possible gold from the obvious dross, soldiering on season after season.

  12. DA

    I am working just as much but am still reading more than ever this summer. And I don’t mean audio books–which I find I can’t concentrate on in the car. I prefer the printed page. I am a Facebook Refusenik and I do not use Twitter. I do watch TV but not as much in the summer. I rarely read on a eReader unless I have to. RIght now I am alternating between some great Y/A stuff and adult novels. I always read when I go to bed (or I can’t sleep), and this summer I am also trying to read out on my porch in the evenings. And I have been passing along a lot of books to friends this summer who tell me they are also reading more–at the beach and at home.

  13. Leslie

    I’m reading about the same but I do feel the tug of competing media. What has declined is my TV viewing. I dislike reality TV and there is way too much of that now.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you on advance audio copies. More than half of my reading is audio, about 60 books a year, and I’m always posting reviews for those books after the publishing date.

  14. Ellie Miller

    If anything, I’m reading more these days, close to a book a day. I’ve always read a lot, but now that I’m a widow with few demands on my time and energies…microwave summer temps here in Nevada also lessen any desire on my part to be out-and-about…my books are my greatest source of comfort and enjoyment. I’m currently trying to downsize my library which, perhaps inevitably, has led to much REreading, trying to decide whether ‘to-keep-or-not-to-keep’. I’m also taking pleasure in series rereads: currently Ngaio Marsh from beginning to end (32 books). When it’s an author whom I like and admire, I REALLY enjoy just moving into his/her world bag-and-baggage for a prolonged stay.

  15. Miriam Lubet

    My reading remained about the same while I was working. It is a high priority in my life. But I agree that there are a lot of distractions. Now that I am retired I hope to increase my reading.

  16. Theresa M. Moore

    Since I spend most of my time writing books I have not had time to read someone else’s. This week, a power outage at my house allowed me to pick up a book I’d been trying to finish reading for months and I was able to close it. What I wonder about, however, is how many people have been so affected by extreme weather, fires, tornados and other upsets that they cannot find the time to read either. As the decline of sales at Barnes & Noble stores will tell us, books are considered a luxury item and not essential to a fully rounded life. This has got to change.

  17. Rhonda

    I have a blog, facebook and pintrest. And I swallow movies and TV the same way I do books. I also write. I know for sure that I’ve practially stopped reading anything that I’m not bound and determined to finish (Hunger Games for example). I mostly read other manuscripts on my critique site or books my sister pushes on me because she knows I’ll love it. I just don’t have the time to browse and read on my own. I don’t own an ereader (she does) so I often read my sister’s books on it when I have the time. But that’s not often between a full time demanding job, editing my debut novel and the pile of season dvds I have collected. I worry I’m not alone all the time, especially since the bestsellers everyone talks about tend to have the lions share of the reading market these days. I suspect that’s because people don’t have time, so they read what others recommend too. Readers are being squeezed between the ridiculous amount of books available now, and the tons of other things demanding your attention. We won’t waste our precious time on anything that’s not a surefire hit. If you still read several books a month, you’re ahead of the curve from what I can see. And I used to read several books a week too.

  18. Alison

    I agree with Becky – I’m reading more on my ereader, especially e-galleys. I find too that I’m doing a lot re-reading, some for comfort reads, and some to remind me of what happened in books 1 and 2 before I read the new book 3! (for example.)

  19. Becky

    I’ve actually been able to read more since I got an e-reader. I just pick it up, and it opens immediately to my last bookmarked page. I used to keep losing my bookmarks in traditional books (where losing my bookmarks translates to my daughters couldn’t resist pulling the brightly colored pieces of paper dangling out of Mommy’s books).

    I really only watch one show on TV, and don’t stream anything on my phone, laptop, or tablet. If I’m not at work, sleeping, walking, or playing with my kids, I’m reading.

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