I miss reading books. I used to read so many books. I read all the time. When I was in the Peace Corps, I frequently had days that looked like this:
Those were great days.
What I fear is that even if I had a day like that now—I day I consciously devoted to setting aside other things in favor of doing nothing but reading—I don't think I could sustain concentration long enough to make it happen. For starters, I'd fall asleep. But even if I were well rested, the way my mind works has changed so much in the past number of years (10? 15?) that I don't think it would work.
John's illness was the first thing that I recall having a significant impact on my ability to sustain concentration over long periods of time. So much of my brain was immediately mobilized (ack, military imagery associated with illness: something I try to avoid, but it is ubiquitous!) to thinking about his illness, his treatment, our life, the future, that little was left for anything else. I craved the escapist aspects of reading, but it was all I could to to make it through an article in People, much less focus and digest an entire novel.
Parenting certainly dealt my concentration another significant blow. When I wasn't thinking about John, I was thinking about Maddie and Riley. And I was just so damn tired all the time. The only reading I did during those early years was for work, and that, too, was a struggle. At the time, I worked as an editor in educational publishing, doing everything from developmental work with authors to line editing and proofreading of colleagues' projects. I apologize to my employer for what was certainly a significant amount of errors that appeared in my publications during that time.
I thought that over time, my concentration would come back, but if anything, I'd say it's gotten worse, at least in regards to reading. I have nothing but gut feelings and anecdotal evidence to back this up, but I think media plays a role in this. Starting with 140 character Tweets, moving through Facebook status updates, passing by generally short blog posts, up to news articles online or in print when you can find them, the writing I encounter in my day to day life is not long. Maybe that was true before, but there's just so much more of it than there was back in the day—and in Peace Corps there was pretty much none of it. In the Peace Corps days, it was a book or nothing. Now it's everything but a book, and I feel like that's changed the way my brain interacts with print.
Does anyone out there know of research that backs this up? Does anyone have similar feelings? Does anyone have tips on how to cultivate that concentration? I'd like to get it back. As a step in that direction, I'm working on being more mindful of the time I spend interacting with social media, especially in the evenings. I already watch very little TV, but I'm also trying to remind myself that I could read for 45 minutes rather than watch another episode of Grey's Anatomy on Netflix (oh, Grey's, I just can't quit you).
I'm also interested in how to encourage that deep, long concentration in Maddie and Riley. They already have it to a certain extent; their capacity for listening to me read aloud is limited only by my ability to keep going, and they love audiobooks. They are making great strides in reading on their own, and I hope that once that truly comes together for them, they will spend hours and hours and hours reading as I did until my late 20s. I look forward to family reading time in the evenings, each with our own book and I certainly plan to keep reading aloud to them until they decide they don't want me to (which research shows might not happen for a long time, if ever).
One last call: book recommendations, for me or for me to read to Maddie and Riley. The kids and I are about to finish up the Harry Potter series, and we have a solid collection of kids' classics, but I'm not well versed on newer chapter books for the younger set. Do tell: what have I been missing?