Making Time for Books

Since we posted our annual Best Books of the Year review yesterday morning, I thought this recent post over at Harvard Business Review was appropriate. Literary technologist Hugh McGuire describes the constant barrage of digital information day in and day out:

I was distracted when at work, distracted when with family and friends, constantly tired, irritable, and always swimming against a wash of ambient stress induced by my constant itch for digital information. My stress had an electronic feel to it, as if it was made up of the very bits and bytes on my screens. And I was exhausted.

To his horror, he realized that his constant immersion in this easy, instantaneous web of mental overstimulation caused him to

read just four books in all of 2014. That’s one book a quarter. A third of a book per month. I love reading books. Books are my passion and my livelihood. I work in the world of book publishing. I’m the founder of LibriVox, the largest library of free public domain audiobooks in the world; and I spend most of my time running Pressbooks, an online book production software company. I might have an unpublished novel in a drawer somewhere. I love books. And yet, I wasn’t reading them. In fact, I couldn’t read them. I tried, but every time, by sentence three or four, I was either checking email or asleep.

Drawing on new neuroscience research, McGuire points out that the constant novelty triggers the release of dopamine, conditioning us to continually seek out potential pleasure in new things (e.g. new emails, Facebook updates, etc.). This constant bouncing around between topics also depletes our brain’s energy. McGuire suggests three rules by which we can diminish the stress of information overload and learn to read again:

  1. When you get home from work, put away the laptop and iPhone.
  2. After dinner, don’t turn on Netflix, the TV, or the Internet.
  3. No glowing screens in the bedroom (Kindle is ok).

While I don’t do these exactly, I have made a rule of “no iPhone or Internet one hour before bed.” I finally have a set bedtime every night before work. Granted, I’ve only been doing this for about a week or so, but I can already feel a difference. If you saw anything in our Best Books post that you would like to read, but just can’t seem to find the time, give the rules above a try.


3 thoughts on “Making Time for Books”

  1. Oddly enough, I find myself developing a greater capacity for reading now than I had in my pre-tech days. Back before I owned a cell phone I read almost entirely fluffy fiction. I still love fluffy fiction (sci-fi and fantasy especially) and I believe escapism in moderation is a wonderful thing. But if I tried to read a non-fiction book or a work of serious literature, I’d never make it through the entire thing.

    And yet on Christmas Eve, I read Thomas Nagel’s Mind and Cosmos from cover to cover. In one day. It’s not a long book, but it’s not light reading, either.

    My reading is also inextricably linked to tech these days. I read the General Conference talks for the General Conference Odyssey primarily on my iPhone (where I can easily highlight away). Most of my books that I “read” in 2015 were audiobooks, but a few were Kindle books that I read on my Surface Pro 2. Almost every single book I read ends up generating at least one note in Evernote and they all generate a Goodreads review.

    Not sure where I’m going with this, other than that the intersection of tech and reading is complex. I hear a lot of people who can’t “read deeply” because of all the time they spend hopping around Twitter (or whatever), but I’m really skeptical that I get less out of glowing words on my Surface Pro 2 (where I read, among others, “The Island of Knowledge”) than I do from traditional books (where I read, among other, “The Blank Slate.”)

    I do have one similar rule for myself, however. I can’t play FPS games within an hour or so of sleep. They get me much too wired. If I do manage to fall asleep (usually I can’t at all), I have those weird lucid-dream thingies where you’re dreaming but you’re aware that you’re dreaming and it’s nightmarishly stressful because the whole point of being asleep is to not be thinking and yet there you are: thinking. I hate that. So no fast-paced video games before sleep for me.

  2. I’m with you. This isn’t meant to be a Luddite, anti-tech post. I’m totally pro-tech when it comes to literature access, availability, and convenience. But I do find myself getting distracted from reading when I get caught up in browsing Facebook, YouTube, or whatnot. If I didn’t care about reading, this wouldn’t be a big deal. But I do, so it kind of is for me. Even still, I think this has more to do with prioritizing time rather than technology being a hindrance.

  3. I’m new to your blog, but saw a friend share a link to this in my Facebook news feed. I’m enjoying it already.

    To get more reading done, I’ve tried to capitalize on free time in every reasonable way (reading while waiting for the bus, reading while on the train, reading while waiting for someone to arrive, etc.).

    One additional thought: I remember Julie B. Beck (former LDS general Relief Society president) tell of how her husband sometimes (when he wanted peace and quiet) instituted “breakfast with books” in their home, a time when there would be no conversation at the table–only eating and reading. I haven’t tried this, but it sounds like an interesting way to get children to read and get more reading done for yourself. (source:

Comments are closed.