I’ve finally finished a book. I bought James Woods’s How Fiction Works when I was in New York in July/August, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve only just finished it now. In fact, I’m even more embarrassed to admit that I haven’t finished anything else since that time. I’ve got about six books that I’ve started and not finished on my bookshelf, and thinking about it, the only thing that I have apparently managed to finish this year is the Twilight Series, and that only took me a week to read the four books.
I do love reading. I love the feeling of getting swept away into another world, the feeling when you have a great book on the go and it almost feels like a secret that you have and you take any spare moment to read so that you can escape to that other life.
But it appears that reading is something I’m not very good at any more.
I’m not a fast reader, which I find a hindrance. I feel like if I could just read faster, then somehow I would read more. But looking at my pathetic efforts at reading this year, I don’t know if that would really make much difference. I mean, I’m a slow reader, but I don’t think I’m so slow that it should take me a few months to read a book that’s only just over 200 pages! I’m not so slow that I should have only read five books this year, four of them being aimed at teenagers.
What I’ve come to realize is that reading is something that does take a certain amount of dedication, for me at least, and it’s something I’m dreadfully out of practice at. I feel like my attention span has possibly gotten shorter as well. Sometimes I start reading and I can feel my attention drift off to thinking about something else. My eyes are still reading the words, but my brain isn’t taking any of it in, and I realize I’ve read a page of words, but that’s all they are – words. I haven’t learnt or retained anything.
But my problem with making time for reading is part of a wider sense of time wasting or running out. I just sometimes feel that living gets in the way of my life. Obviously I have been filling my time with something for the past year, if not reading, but it’s sometimes difficult to know exactly where your time goes.
There are 168 hours in a week, and I work full time, so 40 hours a week are gone there, and I sleep maybe eight hours a night, so that’s 56 hours gone. So that’s 72 hours left. If I whip 22 of those hours off for some boring things like, I don’t know, showering or eating breakfast, that still leaves me with 50 hours of something resembling leisure time. Even if it’s only 40 hours, I still feel like that’s a lot of time to get something achieved, but apparently my achievements don’t involve finishing books, or sometimes even magazines – I bought the November edition of MindFood magazine last month and still haven’t managed to read it all, because apparently I haven’t had time.
I have all these ideas of things that I want to do – read more books, write more, learn Spanish, I’ve got the third season of Arrested Development to watch that I borrowed off a friend months ago (sorry, Steph!). So if I’m not doing all of these things, what exactly am I doing?
I know one of the big time suckers is the internet. I have to admit I waste a lot of time there, but I wouldn’t have thought it would be in the vicinity of 40 hours. Surely not! Especially considering I’m on a computer all day at my work. 80 hours of computer time a week sounds a little scary. Internet time wouldn’t worry me too much if it were being used productively, like reading the New York Times or Salon or something that’s helping me learn. Instead, chances are I’m reading gossip posts on Oh No They Didn’t. I actually have that website open right now, although, thankfully, the New York Times as well.
I always wished I could be one of those people that just didn’t need much sleep. That if I only needed five hours a night to function, then I would suddenly be that much more productive, because I would have an extra three hours in the day, but I think I’m starting to realize it would actually probably just give me more time to waste at this stage, and I would just end up looking like crap from lack of sleep to boot. I haven managed to convert myself into a morning person. I now enjoy getting up early in the morning, but I’m not necessarily more productive with that time. I just spend a bit more time lingering over my morning coffee, reading the paper and still manage to be running late for work.
I recently read a letter written into Cary Tennis’ Since You Asked advice column on Salon.com that was asking how to get into a routine. In the reply, Tennis explained that in order to get a better idea of where his time was going, for a few days he wrote down he was doing at 15-minute intervals to try and see what patterns were emerging and where his time went.
I am thinking of trying this, but I’m also concerned that I will manage to skew the results. Chances are I’m not going to waste an hour on ONTD when I have to write down what I’m doing every 15 minutes, but I guess it could be worth a shot. And hey, at least I might be more productive for those two days. In fact, maybe that’s the way to increased productivity – keeping very close tabs on myself.
It would also be interesting to see a time map of those incredibly productive people, say, someone like Michelle Obama, who managed to have a husband and raise children and work and still find time to work on those gloriously toned arms and looked good. I bet she even found time to read a book or two, although probably not Twilight.
I actually remember thinking that surely one of the only benefits of being imprisoned would be that you had all that time to read. I could catch up on all the books that I never got around to reading. But I think by noticing how much time I manage to waste already, I don’t imagine I would be that much more efficient. I’d probably be gossiping with other inmates and complaining how I still hadn’t managed to finish Crime and Punishment.
Oh, and when I said at the top of this post that I had finally finished How Fiction Works, I have to confess that I haven’t actually finished it – but I almost have, I swear! I will post my thoughts on it sometime soon, and I’m hoping to make a book review a bi-monthly occurrence on my blog as a way to encourage me to actually finish books. I had initially thought weekly, but let’s not go crazy here.
PS: The title for this post is a quote from a commencement address by Gloria Steinem in 1987 at Tufts University – ‘This is the last period of time that will seem lengthy to you at only three or four years. From now on, time will pass without artificial academic measure. It will go by like the wind. Whatever you want to do, do it now. For life is time, and time is all there is.’
I really love this quote, as it really captures, for me, how the nature of time has changed completely after leaving university. Now that it is completely unbounded by that ‘artificial academic measure’ it is at once seemingly endless and also so much more fleeting than it ever was.