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?