"If You Find Reading Boring, You're Not Doing It Right."

I have been reading seriously for a long time.  And I can’t imagine a life without books.  As someone wise once said, “If you find reading boring, you’re not doing it right.”

Which begs the question, what does it mean to “do it right?”

A particularly fine place to read

I think the first thing a reader must do is to read what they love.  When I was a child I read a great deal of fantasy literature, preferring it to the Nancy Drew/Bobbsey Twin mysteries many of my friends enjoyed.  I liked fairy tales and Narnia.  I adored comics.  Every Thursday, when my mother when grocery shopping, she would buy me a new Classics Illustrated Comic.  This was my introduction to Robinson Crusoe, Moby Dick, Les Miserables, Ivanhoe . . .perhaps this explains why I was the only kid in my class I recall truly loving The Scarlet Letter.  During my teens I read Tolkien, Elizabeth Goudge, Gabrielle Roy and then Sylvia Plath and James Agee and Flannery O’Connor and Anais Nin. I always like a human drama, tinged with a wallop of darkness.

Then I went through a period of reading very dubious novels indeed — trashy, sexy, scandalous things I could devour in an afternoon, like a binge of junk food.  These were undeniably difficult times when I suffered, I now see, from a fairly serious depression and simply couldn’t concentrate on anything more challenging.  I picked them up cheap from the drugstore on a Friday afternoon, sometimes four or five or six of them, and spent isolated weekends gulping them down. I think something in this period harked back to my childhood and a box my often-depressed mother kept in her closet  It was full of paperbacks with lurid covers: half naked women in various forms of distress, pulp fiction crime novels and pot-boilers. My mother would retreat into her room for long periods and perhaps dream that someone would come and rescue her.  I might have picked up the same habit — at least for a time.  It didn’t last and wasn’t satisfying, as junk food never is, but I now find it interesting that even in a painful time reading, even if it wasn’t nourishing reading, still figured.  I learned from it.

Certainly, reading well is a question of being able to enter a semi-trance and engage one’s imagination in co-creation with the author.  That takes, I admit, a bit of practice, and for those who did not fall into the world of books as into cool water on a blistering hot day, as I did, a period of apprenticeship may be required. In other words, to learn how to read well, one has to start reading regularly.

I understand it can be difficult to find the time when one is leading a busy life, but oh, my, what rewards there are.  On this subject Annie Dillard says, in The Writing Life,

“There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life.”

I begin my day by reading as I am brushing my teeth.  And yes, My Best Beloved finds this hilarious.  I always have a book or two in the bathroom, as I suspect many people do.  It’s a fine spot for reading snippets and I finish roughly a book a month in the loo.  Flossing is an especially good time, as are baths, of course.  The kind of books best read in bathrooms, however, differs from the sorts of books one might read elsewhere.  Personal essays are terrific, as are books of letters, literary essays are also good, and short stories.  Here, one wants something that can be dipped into, sipped, and nibbled at. Collections of folk and fairy tales can be particularly delightful. It is best to read books here that are not priceless first editions, for water stains and toothpaste drops are inevitable.  Having one’s hands free for the aforementioned flossing and brushing is critical, and so I use a wonderful book weight here, a lovely leather object, which one can purchase from Levenger.  Right now, I’m reading Bookworms, a wonderful collection of essays by writers about reading.

I read during solitary meals at home, of which I have quite a few since I work from home and My Best Beloved only does so occasionally.  Breakfasts and lunches, mostly, and I enjoy them mightily.  I have another book weight in the kitchen so I can use my hands for knife and fork.  My e-reader also comes in handy here. I have spent thousands of lunchtimes — back when I worked in offices — reading in restaurants and at lunch counters, and although it is also pleasurable and useful to do so it does make me feel a little more self conscious about my table manners and reveals what Joseph Epstein calls “a certain ineptitude with lettuce.”

I read almost constantly when I’m working, even if it’s only reading over whatever I wrote yesterday, and deciding it isn’t nearly good enough. What time is not spent reading is spent writing, with breaks to walk the dog.  Such breaks are good.  They are mental palate cleansers.

I also spend a few hours a day in more serious reading, of the kind done with pencil in hand, underlining passages and making notes.  I love to see how fine writers craft their work and learn a great deal from them.  I also, it must be said, learn from writers who try but fail.  One can often see quite clearly why a writer hasn’t met their intentions for a work, and it is good to make note of the problem so as not to repeat it oneself.

I am an eclectic reader, which is possibly the result of being an autodidact.  I’ve never had the benefit of such a thing as a course of study.  I am a magpie.  I let my curiosity lead me — astronomy today, prison reform tomorrow .. . biographies, psychology, theology, Scandinavian murder mysteries, South American magical realists, poetry, Celtic saints and Anglo-Saxon England . . . it just depends on what catches my attention.  The books scattered round my rooms might give the impression of someone with far-reaching interests, or of someone with attention-deficit-disorder.  The only constant thread is literary fiction.  It’s the bread on my reading plate.

Bailey The Rescuepoo and me. He also seems to enjoy a good book.

Reading, although a solitary experience, need not be an isolated one.  Some of the best hours of my life have been spent curled up at one end of the couch with my nose in a book whilst My Best Beloved sits at the other, his nose in his own book.  The dog reposes between us, dreaming no doubt, of finally catching that rabbit he’s been after for months.  This may be the doggie version of reading, although I suspect Bailey, The Rescuepoo, is literary, as one can see from the photo.  A love of literature knows no bounds.

And in the final analysis, perhaps that’s what matters most, that’s what it means to “do it right.”  No matter what you read, no matter where it leads you, read what you love, what feeds you, and keep on reading.

22 Comments

  1. Janet222 on August 2, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    This is a fabulous essay on the love and joys of reading. Well done!! Though I also love reading, you’ve raised a number of points I’d never thought about before How inspiring an experience this is! Many thanks Lauren.

    • Lauren B. Davis on August 2, 2012 at 3:56 pm

      Thanks, Janet. Happy reading.

    • ck eugene on June 26, 2019 at 10:31 am

      Am truly impressed with what i have learnt with the personal life experience shared . i will try out some of the ideas shared to up my game too. thank you Lauren

      • Lauren B. Davis on June 26, 2019 at 10:39 am

        Thank YOU for your comment, CK. Happy reading!

  2. Wendy on August 8, 2012 at 4:28 am

    Great comments about reading, Lauren. I don’t often give it much thought myself as it’s such a part of my days and has been as far back as I can remember.

    Thinking back to my first experience of reading is when I must have been about 3 1/2, tucked in bed in a London house complete with a coal fireplace. I’d be all snug under an eiderdown. My mom or dad would be there before sleep time helping turn the pages as I read out loud from Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories. There is quite a history to these annual books that were published for many years in England and were distributed internationally. I have four small volumes, original from the 1950’s, although not my original copies. Tiny little books easy for small hands to hold. And such great little stories about children with morals to those tales.

    They gave me my absolute lifetime love of reading. Even as a pre-teen, I would lay the daily newspaper out on the floor to read whatever was interesting to me at varying ages. It was helpful for school essays in different subjects.

    I recall summers in my teens, as an only child, spending afternoons in a cool basement recreation room reading the hours away with library books like Diary of Anne Frank, My Brother’s Keeper, Poetry of Rod McKuen, books by Leo Buscaglia, Thor Heyerdahl’s ‘Kon Tiki’ and many condensed Reader’s Digest books and even small Reader’s Digest monthly issues.

    These days, my reading is varied and in recent years have explored new authors much to my delight having found many who are able to entertain me for their imaginative plots. With a few being so productive in volumes, I’ve taken to keeping a diary of authors, books written and read. A great way to avoid not reading a book years later again! Unless I choose to, of course.

    My favourite feeling when beginning a book is the sense of opening a door and entering a world that I’ve never seen before and going down the road with the characters. Like a movie at the same time the story unfolds.

    And there is always another book to read which make me want to live to over 100, in order to read more books in my lifetime!

    • Lauren B. Davis on August 8, 2012 at 8:05 am

      May you live to 100, Wendy!

  3. Leandro on April 20, 2013 at 10:35 am

    I struggle fitting in, it seems I’ve just awakened or something, but people around me all seem to love reading, they approach me (they still have hope I guess) and ask me “have you read this book? … it’s OMG soooo good,” someone else jumps right in (I never have anything to say) and says “oh yeah, I know, it’s a terrific book… you know, that part where [character x] does [this] and [that], that was simply epic.” I can sense passion about stories in the way other people talk about books. I feel like I’m from another planet, I can read, I have good comprehension too, I’m an intelligent adult, but I find all these worlds created by authors so I can enjoy them (supposedly) so unattractive. It’s actually pretty terrible, I can’t empathize with these worlds and characters to the point I cherish them. I wish I’d love immersing myself into the world of books, but it’s too much effort in exchange of no reward. I know, it’s sad. I guess when I was made they forgot to put the passion seed in my heart or something. Take care.

    • Lauren B. Davis on April 20, 2013 at 10:56 am

      Goodness, Leandro, that IS sad. Have you never read a book you enjoyed? Fairy tales as a child even? I wonder if it’s a question of visual response rather than auditory. I have a friend who, simply because of the way her brain works, find audio books far more accessible than the written page. Just a thought. But I do feel enormous sadness at your message. A universe of imagination is denied you, the wonder and adventure and downright joy. If I have any advice at all it would be to try and recall a story, perhaps from your childhood, that you had FUN with, and start there. I can only hope the right book hasn’t found you. Maybe I would also suggest something funny, about this very problem, like “The Uncommon Reader” by Alan Bennett. You can read a review here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/may/29/uncommon-reader-alan-bennett-review It’s downright hilarious and needn’t be taken at all seriously. It’s just FUN. I wonder if that might be an opening for you. I hope you’ll let me know. Thanks so much for your message.

      • Netia on September 17, 2013 at 11:02 am

        I am in the library right now surrounded by books and I am in my glory. I can understand Leandro not reading somewhat because I read approximately three to four books a year but I probably listen to 30 – 40 audio books a year. Reading more than television stretches my imagination. I had the pleasure of taking a three day class with Lauren B. Davis at the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference in June 2013. She is an excellent teacher. If anyone one has the opportunity to sit under her mentoring, you would be wise to turn yourself into a sponge and drink up every drop of living knowledge that flows from her lips. I know I did and I plan to use all of it. When I leave here today hopefully I will have a copy of Our Daily Bread and The Empty Room along with a lot of audio books.

        • Lauren B. Davis on September 17, 2013 at 11:13 am

          Hi Netia — thanks for your comment! And I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed the Philly class. I’m not sure where you are, but unless you’re in Canada you might have trouble finding my books in a library. Sigh. There is an audio version of OUR DAILY BREAD, but again, it’s only available in Canada. Well. . . I hope whatever you find pleases you! Take care and keep writing!

  4. Junior on May 12, 2015 at 7:32 pm

    I adore people who read but I hate reading because it’s boring :). I just hate nothing more than to do too many things that require effort. Why? Because I’m lazy. It’s just that without seeing WHY to do a task, it’s virtually impossible to for me to do. The belief that the task is meaningless is too distracting for the precious part of me that longs to work peacefully.

    • Lauren B. Davis on May 13, 2015 at 11:17 am

      You have my sympathies, Junior. 😉

      • Lauren B. Davis on August 27, 2015 at 8:06 am

        “…classical reading is based on the intellectual taste that’s left in our lips from the very process itself, reading shares some commonities with playing the piano or painting a portait and therefore it seems like an artistic act with its own values and taste.” What a beautiful sentiment. Thanks so much for your comment.

        • bulent on August 27, 2015 at 7:26 pm

          Your welcome dear L.B.Davis, although my comment is just below, if it matters 🙂

          P.S. please forgive me for the so many typos, I weren’t able check them 🙁

          • Lauren B. Davis on August 27, 2015 at 7:43 pm

            Don’t worry about typos. I’m a dreadful typist myself! Thanks again.



  5. bulent on August 26, 2015 at 8:38 pm

    Learning is not boring, most novels are 😉

    Reading, a term, unfortunately, shrinked down to the practice of deciphering printed text of various kinds of novels, became one of the most distinguishing features of the twentieth century intellectual critisim. Do you read books? Do you love reading? How often do you read? How many books do you have? are the typical questions for measuring the poor individual’s intellectual strength.

    All these questions, which’ve been progressively raised in bolder faced fonts over the previous decades, led to the illusion that intellectual, well educated, properly oriented members of the new society must bring a habit of (literature) reading as natural as eating, breeding and breathing which is something I believe actually in benefit of humanity !

    So what is reading? Is it the, dull and obviously tiring process of converting printed text into meaningful statements in our minds ? Albeit the universal importance of this unique ability of human beings, is it itself the main target?

    Why do / should we read? To kill some free time or to learn something new and valuable which will improve ourselves in every possible way ? We read history to enlarge our appreciaition of our present time, or mostly to hate all others based on how it is practically written! We read recipes to become better moms. We read textbooks to learn something real. We read love novels to learn how to become good lovers. We read dramas to practice the condition of such circustances without actually involving in one. And thats a good thing.

    But can not that be achieved without reading at all? Is the big question, which may answer what the true value of reading is. We all know that it is actually “knowing” which counts rather than “reading”. Reading without understanding is a waste of time. And understanding something useless is another. And it is always a good thing to be efficient in doing so.

    If you were given the chance of transmitting all the information in a book directly into your brain, would you still prefer reading it in the traditional sense? A direct No explains why reading is considered to be boring thing in this age of TVs, Computers, Internet and tablets. But the actual answer is interestingly complicated as the surprising revival of classical reading is based on the intellectual taste that’s left in our lips from the very process itself, reading shares some commonities with playing the piano or painting a portait and therefore it seems like an artistic act with its own values and taste.

  6. richard berd on January 2, 2017 at 4:23 pm

    i actually hate reading, it bores the hell out of me, i can never remember what i have just read, it doesnt mean anything its just black letters printed on a page its so crap, reading is crap its for privileged people who have the luxury of not having things to worry about in the real world.

    • Lauren B. Davis on January 2, 2017 at 5:54 pm

      I’m so sorry that’s been your experience, Richard. I do, however, disagree with your theory reading is only for privileged people who have the luxury of not having things to worry about in the real world. My experience during extreme poverty, abuse, and soul-crushing loneliness was that my library card saved my life. If you’re interested, and would like to tell me more about your life, perhaps, just perhaps, I could recommend a book that might speak to you, right where you are. I’d be happy to do so. All best.

  7. Adrian T. on January 10, 2017 at 5:32 am

    A really good post. I’ve enjoyed reading it, in search of the reason why I’m not into reading books anymore.

    This gave me a good perspective on the matter, and has made me realise that some people need books in order to escape reality, even if for just 10 minutes, half an hour, or so.
    But then there are people like me. People who loved reading since they were young – I started reading at 3 1/2 y.o., and writing at 4 – and once I could read entire books, I had trouble closing a book and leaving it on the counter before I finished it. I was amazed. I was there, in the book and among the stars. I went deep under the sea, out in the desert, and found myself in crowded cities, full of lively people. I always found reading to be like walking: easy and enjoyable, and it takes you places. However, once I was 13-14 y.o., books became boring for me. Subjects like drama, love, crime, mystery, biography, war, history, friendship, comedy, western (and some other genres) started feeling utterly useless to me and my personal development, as they brought nothing new and of real value in my life, something that is actually useful to me; something that is not mundane. You can see crime, drama, love, friendship, mystery, comedy, etc. everyday in real life, at every corner, and everyone is doing it. So why would I care how some fictional or non-fictional character goes through a range of emotions? Everyone around us has emotions, goes through phases, it’s all something normal. It’s like reading a book where someone describes the way they breathe, eat, and sleep.
    There are other genres that still interest me, but I don’t need books to find out more about them, as I can find everything online, in either (TED-like) talks, forums or obscure websites, etc.

    I like exploring all kinds of ideas and theories, but I feel that those that are published are also censored, thus being stripped off of important notions and content in order to protect some (or the majority of) normal, average people from getting upset/angry over something that doesn’t fit their beliefs or their ideas, even though it might be the truth or might be something that can help explain the truth around us, the truth about ourselves, our origins, etc.

    For the same reason(s), I find TV shows, movies, etc. to be equally boring and uninteresting, as they are mostly censored and are just a waste of time. That’s why I quit watching TV 8 years ago, and I currently see about 3-5 movies a year, out of which I actually enjoy one or two.

    For me, books, movies, TV, are all the same. It’s just a way to pass time in a more pleasant way than looking at the wall. But then again, I believe I’d be better off looking at an empty wall and letting my imagination take me places I’ve never been to before, creating scenarios that I’ve never heard of before, analysing me and the people around me, analysing the world, thinking of fresh new ideas that could help the world or at least be useful to me, and so on.

    Instead of reading or watching a movie, I always choose listening to some good music. At the moment I still enjoy techno and house music. Up until last year I was listening to more mainstream music, the kind of songs you hear on the radio, the kind of music that everyone likes or at least can listen to it without getting annoyed. But now I listen to songs with no lyrics, as I’ve realised that words don’t turn an average song into a good one just because they transmit a message or an emotion, and also because I stopped listening to lyrics anyway. I’m more interested in the music notes, the way the song flows, the way it makes you feel and move, without paying attention to the song or the way you dance. It’s all natural. But enough about that, as that’s not why I’m writing this comment.

    I’m just kind of irritated when people look at me like I’m wasting my life because I’m not reading books. Looking at me like I’m limited and I don’t know much about life and the world around us, and the way people think, act, and why they do so. Looking at me like I’m some caveman, because I don’t find books useful or entertaining anymore (for me). And I liked reading. Understanding written ideas, places, scenarios was always really easy to me. I have an active imagination.
    But I’m also pissed at the same time, as I remember the way I enjoyed books before, and I can’t get the same feeling anymore, even though I want to get back to reading. Somehow I feel like I’ve grown up. It’s just like I enjoyed playing with lego blocks when I was a child, but if I were to do it now, I wouldn’t be entertained and absorbed by it anymore. I’m 30 y.o. now.

    So what happened? Is there maybe a way that I can start enjoying books once again? I’ve tried different subjects and genres, but nothing seems to catch my attention anymore.

    • Lauren B. Davis on January 10, 2017 at 10:21 am

      Dear Adrian, Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I’m sorry people judge you based on whether you read books or not. And I’m also sorry you seem to have lost the ability to let books enchant you. I love what you say about music. I’ve been listening to a lot of the Icelandic composers these days… Olafur Arnalds and Hildur Gudnadottir, as well as music by Ludovico Einaudi, Anouar Brahem, Hildegard of Bingen, and Dijan Gasparyan. I love reading to music and listen to different kinds of music depending on what I’m reading (or writing).

      But I wonder, Adrian, if you would like to get back into reading, if perhaps some kick ass speculative fiction might interest you? These are, at their best, works designed to make you consider new ways of thinking, new ways of being. Or, perhaps something from another culture completely? Reading a book written by, say, a Nigerian or a Chilean or a Hungarian can take us out of the world at the end of our fingers and into a new culture, with different ways of being. Or perhaps something historical? I get so many insights about what’s going on in the world now by reading (and hopefully learning) about humanity’s past mistakes. Gives one perspective, you know?

      Let me know if you’d like me to recommend some books to you. I’d be happy to.

  8. Logan on May 8, 2019 at 11:14 pm

    I am one of these people who can’t stand reading. When I was younger I loved reading (elementary school) but once I got into 5th grade or so I just stopped, I don’t know why. Every since every book but one has bored me and the one I enjoyed I still couldn’t read for any more than 30 minutes, it was to the point where I would look up the summaries of my chapters for homework instead of read. It’s only fiction, I can pick up a math textbook and read that enjoyably, I just can’t find fiction that isn’t boring. I recently tried reading a book called The Martian for fun during the weekend (so not forced like in school) and I still couldn’t find interest in it, after 8 pages I wanted to stop. I am very capable of reading and actually love fiction movies/television and even manga. Also I love making my own stories, just not reading them, anyone else like this? I have friends who love books and I am the one person who likes math.

    • Lauren B. Davis on May 9, 2019 at 7:23 am

      What’s the name of that one book that didn’t bore you?

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