Turning Pages: The different ways of finding time to read

I love to curl up with a good book and give it all my attention, but that’s often not how I read these days. It’s bits and pieces on the internet, and the hours add up alarmingly … and then it’s only a short step to cute pet videos.

So how to rekindle the good book habit? One way is to give yourself a kickstart with a communal event. On September 19, Australian Reading Hour has a great idea for everyone: stop what you’re doing for one hour and read a book. Alone, or with your kids.

Another way is to download an app onto your phone. Much as you can use an app to improve your fitness or your health or your meditation, you can use one to improve your reading.

The idea behind Australian Reading Hour is to give yourself time on September 19 and get back into the habit of reading.Credit:Shutterstock

Mary Elizabeth Williams used Serial Reader to choose titles from a huge range of public-domain classics, then set a time each morning to receive a short selection from a title that would take her up to 20 minutes to read. When she finished, she got a little note of encouragement and a spray of confetti.

It worked. She started off by rereading Anne of Green Gables, then moved on to an Elizabeth Gaskell novel she’d never read. ‘‘I’m reading actual literature again,’’ she writes in salon.com, ‘‘books that make me work a little harder and think a little more deeply.’’

She contacted Serial Reader’s creator, Illinois developer Michael Schmitt, to find out what inspired him. He told her that when he was at college, he found himself reading books he wasn’t absorbing properly. One was Willa Cather’s My Antonia. At a class lecture, his professor read out a quote and cried so much that he couldn’t continue the lecture.

Schmitt was puzzled. He’d thought the book was OK, but what had so affected his professor? Years later, he revisited the book and others like it, but found he was reading too fast. He wanted to slow down, to force himself to sit with the book for longer over many days.

So, being a geek, he made a prototype app for himself and read a little bit of My Antonia each day, with the rest of the day to reflect now and again on what he’d read. ‘‘I remember getting to that part and remembering it as I read it, and it hit me the same way. It’s an incredibly emotional book. Cather might be my favourite author.’’

He launched the app after testing it on his friends, who liked the idea they might finally get round to reading War and Peace if it was served up to them in bite-sized chunks. And it’s surprising how fast you get through. As one review pointed out, you can read Crime and Punishment in 79 days, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in 28 days and Middlemarch in 146 days.

Other apps are taking up the idea and offering serialisations of more contemporary works, for a fee.
I prefer to read my classics in the traditional form: if I want to read a little bit every day, there’s this invention called a bookmark. And there’s never been a better choice of form, from cheap paperbacks to the sumptuous Folio Society illustrated editions.

Still, I can see it might be fun to get a message, however corny, to encourage you to go on. As Schmitt says, ‘‘It becomes a part of your mental fitness and general wellbeing to try to expose yourself to new ideas and these great stories and this mass of great literature.’’

Jane Sullivan’s latest book, Storytime, is published by Ventura Press at $26.99.

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