Permission to Read

Professional Development, Reading
Woman reading, circa 1900

From the National Media Museum –

Have you ever found yourself falling into a bad habit?  Maybe with coffee: a latte here, and there, and then you add some flavor, and then it becomes a mocha, and then suddenly one afternoon you’re sitting there waiting for your Venti caramel chocolate freeze with extra whip and you realize that once upon a time, you liked to drink coffee.

I did that with reading.

Last week, I was reading a nice, meaty blog post about scholarly communication, and feeling twitchy and guilty. It was so long–practically 900 words! There had to be something else I was supposed to be doing! I was wasting time!

It was when my brain screamed those last words that I gave myself a shake. How had I gotten to the point where I thought reading–and reading a pro blog, mind you–was a waste of time? Come to think about it, it was not so long ago that I would sit down every morning after breakfast with the dog and read until I had to leave for work.  Sometimes blogs, sometimes a nonfiction book, sometimes–gasp!–a novel.

But somewhere along the line, I’d gotten pressed for time and started using my reading time to catch up on homework. I still went to news sites and browsed short articles, quickly nibbling on a few main points and an expert quote before flitting off to something else. At the time, I didn’t think much about the decrease in the depth of what I was reading, nor did my overworked brain miss that depth. Then news articles had become Twitter headlines: a concept, perhaps, with a hint of a viewpoint in it. I could see that things were happening, who was talking, but clicking through to what they were actually saying suddenly seemed too much work. I just hit “favorite” so I could come back later.

I don’t know when I planned to come back. I think I intended that time to be soon, but it turned into months. Then a coworker sent me a blog post on scholarly communication to read. There I was, reading for work and chafing at a few hundred words, and it hit me what a crazy place I’d let myself get into. How can it be a waste of time to take in new ideas, especially when those ideas have been carefully thought out and articulated? Without drawing upon all the insight around me, how can I expand my professional horizons beyond my own little cubicle? And besides, crazy girl, reading long pieces is a lovely way to slow down, to focus attention, to think below the surface of the world.

I have a new mission, one I hope will last. I have given myself permission to read beyond the first 140 characters. When reading blogs, articles, and reports online, I will allow myself to read the whole piece, if it’s useful, and if not, choose my stopping point based on content. I will read to build up my knowledge base, but also to learn about what is happening outside it. Sure, I can start with the news, but I will give myself permission to go beyond just one source’s report. Hey, I might even go crazy and start reading novels again!

But seriously–how do you keep from falling into bad reading habits?

6 thoughts on “Permission to Read

  1. I love that three bloggers liked this, but no one else commented, and I’m wondering, did they read to the end?

    I have learnt to précis my blog posts if I want them to be properly read. I recently posted the piece I wrote about Atget (photographer) for a print publication but got fewer than normal comments as the post was too long. We live in a world where everyone is looking for a quick fix I find. But you’re right, we should take time to read more. In fact I’d be interested in a link to the article you mention 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As I was reading this post I was thinking YES I KNOW THIS FEELING – not so much about the coffee ( I don’t think we have all those flavours and things in Melbourne (Aus) cafes???) – but about that twitchy guilty thing when reading, even the work stuff! And then – just as knitsofacto suggested above – I ALMOST STOPPED READING. But no, this was interesting, this was something that resonated with my own experience and I wanted to read to the end. So thank you Allison for giving me the permission to give myself the permission to keep reading. And thank you also for the link to that article!


  3. Very thought-provoking, Allison. Since I retired last September I’ve read hardly anything long and/or serious and it’s more-than time I got my Act Together!
    Many thanks for the wake-up call!


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