the meditative pace of reading

As a jumpstart in my writerly life, I am participating in a 30-day challenge to reflectively write at least 150 words and then post online. We’ve since expanded on the idea with international colleagues into #modigiwri. Join us and here goes!

Due to some recent life experiences, I imagined I might have the opportunity for some more time for reading. And by reading, I mean longform reading. That is something I had not indulged in in a long time—especially fiction.

In fact, I always feel guilty when I have my students review Pew Research Reports and inevitably several choose the libraries reports that show shockingly (every time) that not only is reading in America not in decline, but circulation at libraries is up (and used most by Millennials–take that generation snobs). More recently a study reported the following:

According to the research, Americans read a mean average of 12 books per year, and the typical (median) American has read four books in the past 12 months. And this has largely been the case since 2011, proving that Americans aren’t dropping their reading habits. And since 2012, a total of 74 percent of Americans have read at least one book in the past 12 months — not exactly book worm levels, but much less scary than most stats would have us believe.  —Kerri Jarema for Bustle

I thought those numbers were a misprint. 12?! I mean, even 4?! Then again, at this time of year folks are posting the lists of books they’ve read, and maybe those numbers are accurate. I mean, check out President Barak Obama’s list. If he can fit these all in…

So….who is not reading? Me (along with 22% of us).

Tonight I finally started one of the books: Open City by Teju Cole. It was recommended to me years ago and I purchased it promptly. Embarrassingly, and even though it doesn’t seem possible, the page edges have started to yellow.

The first time I sat to read I read one and a half pages. No joke. That’s it. That’s all I could get through. Not that I didn’t have time. I just didn’t have patience for the pace. I was loving the prose, but between each word I lifted off the page to read swirled a million other things. My mind flitted from mundane responsibility to tasks to projects to conversations.

I sat the book down deciding to just keep it there and to try next time.

Next time? Four pages.

This time though I realized as my mind flitted through what I had been able to get done that day (not a lot—not a good sleeping day for the little one), I remembered that I had read a post by Betina Hsieh on mindfulness (with technology) and she reminded me of several of the practices of mindfulness, like awareness as noticing without judgement. It got me thinking that reading a story or novel takes a different kind of mental pace and focus. I could think of reading as a form of meditation where the intense focus on the present (another practice) is on the present-elsewhere that the words take you. It has been so long since I’ve read in this way that I think this is a practice that I will have to get reacquainted with.

So here’s my plan. Open City is sitting by the rocking chair. Bad Feminist is sitting where I do feedings. Interpreters of Maladies is in the bathroom. Her is by the sofa chair in front of the fire. I will not whiz through any one of these books; rather, I will let myself linger a bit longer in each of these places, practicing the slow meditative pace of reading’s transportation.

Just FYI, when I was faced with the prospect of being bedridden for a while and then having to slow down and sit for long periods to feed a new child, I thought I should ask for book recommendations. Here are the ones friends and colleagues suggested when I asked:

  • Crossing to Safety
  • A Man called Ove
  • The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
  • a. S. King
  • Neil Gaiman, American Gods
  • Brown Girl Dreaming
  • All the Light We Cannot See
  • Magesterium series
  • Lockwood and Company
  • Anything by Jonathan Stroud. Lockwood, Barthemeas, any…
  • The Color of Water: James McBride
  • The Invention of Wings:Sue Monk Kidd
  • Blackmore: Julianne Donaldson
  • The all girl filling station’s last reunion: Fannie Flag
  • Kate Morton
  • The Cross Gardener: Jason G Wright
  • Neil Gaiman, Ocean at the end of the lane
  • Exit West, a novel by Mohsin Hamid. (It’s short, but it took me awhile because the language is exquisite.)
  • Karl Ove K — My Struggle
  • Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Nobles

The top photo is from my visit with Queens Paideia School. You can read more about my visit here!

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5 thoughts on “the meditative pace of reading

  1. Hi Anna, I am part of a book club and I’ve learned to just read to enjoy the words and ideas and let them swirl around until book club time, which is where we hash out our thoughts. It’s not a study group, just a club reading the same books, coming together to share its impact. Very relaxing. I don’t think I could read four different books at one time! Let us know how it works! Also, I enjoyed learning about Queens Paideia School — what a vision! Glad you wrote about that too. Enjoy your reading time!

  2. Don’t look at reading as a chore, Anna, and then whatever time you spend with a text is the right amount of time.
    Another Teju Cole book that is definitely worth a visit — — Blind Spot — small essays connected to his photography. His writing always surprises and inspires me to look a the world through a different light. (I have not read his fiction). Terry turned me on to Cole’s Blind Spot, and so I am passing the recommendation on to you and others.
    Be peaceful.

  3. I have different books in different places as well and am trying not to worry if I take a long time reading them. I need to remind myself with reading, and with knitting, that it’s the process that is important rather than the rush to finish!

  4. Nodding to others’ comments on not considering reading a “chore,” but something to be enjoyed at whatever pace works for you. In homage to your post, and to the newborn babe in your home:

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