Making time to read: supply vs. demand

photo-126When I ask people what they’d like to do more of with their time, “read” comes up almost as often as “exercise.” And yet many people — people who have the same 168 hours per week as the rest of us — do manage to read through books at a rapid clip. I’m always amazed at the number of book reviews Modern Mrs. Darcy manages to post, despite other time commitments like, oh, homeschooling four children.

Where does that time come from? With making time to read, I’ve realized that people seem to fall into “supply” or “demand” camps.

Supply sorts always have time available to read. It’s part of their schedules. Val Demings, for instance, the former Orlando Chief of Police, and current candidate for mayor, told me (at MAKERS) that she wakes up and — after working out — reads inspirational tomes. She also reads right before going to bed at night. A stay-at-home dad mentions that he intentionally uses the time his child naps to read (instead of, say, doing chores). For many of these supply-side readers, TV is not a huge part of their lives, and reading takes the place of that structural down time.

Demand sorts read a lot when they have something they want to read. I am definitely in this camp. When I’m getting into a book, I can magically make 10 hours appear on a weekend. I can even make multiple hours appear on a weekday — but these aren’t all the obvious after-the-kids-go-to-bed hours. Time turns out to be highly elastic. The kids get involved in playing Mario Kart — and I start reading my book. I read in a corner somewhere until interrupted. I have 30 minutes after a phone call and before the kids are home for lunch and, hey! It’s time to read.

But when I don’t have something I want to read? These hours wind up going to other things. In the worst case, they go to random puttering. But I also read magazines or watch TV, or work, or declutter the house. I spent some time on that this past weekend, which means I probably need to find some better books.

Are you a supply or demand person when it comes to reading? If you have creative ways of making time to read, I’d love ideas for a piece I’m writing on this, too.

Photo: My daughter’s bookshelves. She’s more a pull-books-off-the-shelf sort of “reader.”



48 Responses to Making time to read: supply vs. demand


  1. Claire says:

    I “read” with my iPod. Many chores take only ½ a brain, or less, leaving the rest of my brain to immerse in a good book. Most recently, I was immersed with MR. PENUMBRA’S BOOKSTORE.
    Walking, weeding are also perfect “read” times.

  2. alissa says:

    I am definitely a supply reader. I don’t watch tv. I bring a book with me everywhere and read while waiting. As a librarian people think I sit around and read all day. I don’t. I listen to audiobooks in the car. Reading is an important bedtime ritual too. I read one chapter of a nonfiction book and then turn to fiction. It does help that I am a fast reader. Reading is my main hobby.

    • Laura says:

      @Alissa- here we see the difference between a habit/supply reader and a demand reader — I don’t think I could switch back and forth between books with that level of discipline!

  3. usha says:

    I have been an avid reader most of my life. I do a bit of both structured and unstructured reading. I do read for a bit in the morning and then late in the night with my husband and daughter are asleep. But beyond that, I simply read whenever I can find time. I carry two kinds of book everywhere I go – fiction and non-fiction. Makes me the butt end of many a joke, but who cares! Right now, I’m reading fiction, non-fiction and academic literature for my dissertation in cognitive neuroscience which I have to submit in a few weeks. I have definitely lost my ability to be lost in books for long hours, so I read in bursts and spurts now.

    • Laura says:

      @usha – this two books approach is intriguing. My style is usually reading only one at a time. If I stop reading one and start reading another, to me that usually means I’ve abandoned the first. Fascinating that this is so different than the way other people read!

    • oil_garlic says:

      I also read 2-3 books at once, but the books have to be very different — usually 1 fiction, 1 nonfiction and maybe 1 essay/short story like Sedaris books, Bossypants or Mindy Kaling “Is everyone hanging out without me?”.. I also go through long periods without reading so when I’m in the mood to read, I read a lot at once!

      • usha says:

        I agree with both of you. There are as many ways to read as there are readers. Fiction and non-fiction are of very different kinds when I’m reading them at the same time. For example, I am re-reading ‘Perfume’ by Patrick Suskind and ‘The Island of the Colour-blind’ by Oliver Sacks. I’m reading the science-based book because I want to stay in the research mindset to help me with my dissertation work.

  4. Nother Barb says:

    Audio books for kids and me for the car on the way home from school, another audio book for around the house or my own car trips (audio book while painting walls makes time fly), my bedtime book, and a book that stays in the car for when I’m waiting at pickup. I’ll even go early or stick around during a lesson/practice instead of running an errand, just to read!

    • Laura says:

      @Nother Barb – I know a lot of people are really into audio books. I had such an utterly awful customer service experience with Audible, though, that I’m not sure what to do. Where do you get your audio books?

      • WG says:

        I am a supply “reader” for audio books – I listen to them on my commute. For actual reading, I’m a demand reader, though parenthood and the e-books have really increased my reading. I can have an e-book and real book going at the same time because the experience is so different.

        I get my books at the library.

      • Nother Barb says:

        We get our audio books in CD and Playaway from the library. Our biggest issue is the reader! Nobody beats Jim Dale who read the entire Harry Potter series to us (give that man a glass of water), so we are a bit spoiled. We’ve given up on books where the book was good but the reader lulled us to sleep, not good on a 10hour drive. I’m sorry you had a bad experience with Audible, was it with your own book?

        For around town, we listen more to books that don’t have a long narrative and complicated plot. So Disappearing Spoon and AJ Jacobs’ “adventures” are good for the daily high school run. Oh, that’s another nice thing. We don’t really read aloud anymore, so Audio books, like music, are a nice way to connect in books. I did listen to some Dickens on my daily 20-minute work commute, had to renew it twice lol!

      • Amy says:

        Another audio book listener here … I have used Audible in the past, but prefer to use the public library. If I don’t care for the reader (as others have mentioned), I’m not bothered by buyer’s remorse.

        Waiting for a title to become available is the downside to using the library. I tend to plan ahead by adding several audiobooks to my hold list. (I’ve been on the waiting list for The Orphan Train for a couple of months now.)

  5. I’m not sure how to categorize myself…I read in bits and pieces here and there most of the time. I almost always have awesome stuff around that I want to read, but it’s rare that I sit down and read for long periods of time.

    Yesterday afternoon I did that, though, and I really did enjoy it. Everyone else was busy doing other things, and Sunday is a day I take off from most of my regular work, so I felt like I had free time and that’s how I chose to spend it.

    • Laura says:

      @The Frugal Girl – that sounds like a lovely way to spend a Sunday!

  6. Cara Marcano says:

    working parenthood has made me more of a demand reader. and reading is one of those breadwinning parent activities that I feel I’v given up…. but for stay-at-home parents I doubt it is easier for them to read as they might like b/c it is hard to read as primary caregiver for young kids..
    Exercise and reading in a more engaged, long-term, not-directly-on the-revenue-line of the job is somethign I would really l like to do. Orange is the New Black is the last books I could not put down. Right now I am reading Anatolian Days & Nights .. the first 40 pages I could not put down then I kind of wanted to watch TV… ! I’m also tying to read this book “OUr America”
    which is this broad history of hispanic history of the US ..
    -technology and our use of email and technology I believe has affected our ability to concentrate on longer-term reading — so this muscle seems to get weak. For me I find this and I believe it is a muscle you can rework with some effort.. as a real adult with kids and job.. I wanted to share this cool thing our public library did for february called – blind date with a book– our library is open nights & weekends and has some kid areas where you can try to read while they play (I am only ever really moderately successful at this with magazines not stuff I want to be more engaged with like books)
    anyway Our public library did the cutest thing for valentine’s day and feb — Blind Date with a Book ! so what they do is wrap in wrapping paper lots of books.. then they put them out wrapped like presents all over the first floor of the library with a one paragraph summary on it but no name title or book marketing… so you pick up one you might like but who the hxxx knows… and then you get to unwrap it .. . I picked up two and gave one to my neighbor -The one I ended u with is called The Tao of Martha by Jen Lancaster… For real adults too the secret may be cutting out on a book when you just don’t want to read it or the whole thing.. I have a lot of trouble doing this b/c I like knowing I finished it lol …. I also think it depends on demanding your job is . for me I have a demanding job that is or could be a lot of hours so whenever I try to say read or shut off work and kids you feel this sense of like wow think of what I am not getting done in this slot… a solution to this is to delegate and hire employees and also as one’s kids get older you get a period god willing before kids are teenagers when they play independently in the house.. for me I have less working mother guilt about telling them go play I am reading a book than telling them go play I am doing work on the weekend.. b/c I think the messages sent different. one says I am a workaholic with no ability to turn off work and another says I love to read go engage yourself and be creative while I do this — it’s also about saying well I’d rather read this than make $ which is also why I think reading b/c harder b/c you have to justify it against other opportunity costs… for me it is easier saying hey I am reading (sometimes I use the word resting as folks are more sympathetic to “mommy needs to lie down than they are to mommy needs to read a book” -so I’m not cooking dinner or cleaning but Im not very good at doing it say when its reading versus doing something with the kids or working..

  7. oldmdgirl says:

    Demand reader here. I don’t like most books enough to get absorbed in them, so even that doesn’t happen a lot of the time. I disagree with the assertion that technology has reduced our patience for books. I find that it far easier to get absorbed in a book when reading it on a kindle than as a paperback. I think it’s because I turn pages more frequently on the kindle and less often find myself reading the same paragraph over and over again.

    • oldmdgirl says:

      Also, I would feel far more guilty about telling my child that I *had* to go read on the weekend than telling her that I had to exercise or do work.

    • Laura says:

      @oldmdgirl- I have a kindle, but I find I still enjoy reading books on paper more. I think it’s partly that I find the note taking function more intuitive on paper (you just underline) and I dog-ear pages, which is harder to do on kindle. Since I usually read things to write about them, this note taking part is key. Also, since I feel like I spend too much time on screens anyway, I like to have non-screen time when I’m reading…

  8. Ana says:

    Definitely a “supply” reader…have been all my life, though I’ve given it up for years at a time for various reasons (first couple of years of college, most of residency, the past 3 years of pregnancy/infancy). I don’t feel like “myself” when I’m not reading, so I’m happy to be back in that mode. I read before I go to bed at night most nights, if I get up before the rest of the house in the morning while having my coffee, and on the weekends when the kids are napping or having screen time. Yesterday I read for a bit while the kids were watching a movie, and then continued while they rough-housed for a while with daddy.
    I would never leave my kids saying I “had to go read”, but if they are otherwise engaged, I have recently started reading while in the same room with them.
    I read paperbacks and Kindle books equally. I have started getting almost all my reading material from the library, so it depends which form is available. The Kindle is easier to read while doing other stuff (i.e. brushing my teeth, petting the dog, cuddling toddlers), since I can hold it and turn pages with one hand.

    • oldmdgirl says:

      Can’t wait until I can do that! We’re at the stage now where my daughter comes over and wants to see what I’m doing when I read. Perhaps if I went back to paperbacks she’d be less interested. Ha.

  9. gwinne says:

    Interesting. I wouldn’t put myself in either category, or perhaps you would say I have elements of both.

    Reading is part of my job. So I have to make time for it; it’s fairly elastic…when I have a novel to read I have more time than if I only need to finish a handful of poems. But because of this, I fall more on the “demand” side of things when it comes to “pleasure” reading (the line between work and pleasure is really fuzzy…) Trying to shift back to reading from TV watching before bed.

  10. David Croome says:

    One method of acquiring sometimes useful, often not, snippets of knowledge:

    I have a stand that holds an open encyclopaedia under a light 3ft from the microwave in the kitchen.

    So, 3 minutes of microwaving is occupied with reading whatever that comes to the glance. Often it leads to lengthier articles, and just as often, to be honest, to trivia best ignored.

    • Laura says:

      @David – it’s reading or doing crunches. Either way makes use of microwave time!

  11. I’m a supply reader, and will always find/make time to read. I read multiple books at a time, which helps me fit the right book to the time available (uninterrupted block of time = books that require more concentration. Reading while supervising kids playing outside = lighter books).

    And while I don’t listen to many audio books currently, I used to, and always got mine from my library. At the time it was all CDs, which worked well while commuting, but they now also offer MP3 downloads via OverDrive which is super easy to use on my phone. Lots of other libraries offer the same service, you often just need to know to look for it.

  12. Elizabeth says:

    I’m definitely a supply reader. I have a HUGE to be read list, and almost every Saturday I go to the library and pick up a stack of the books I want to read. This gives me an incentive to get through them in a reasonable amount of time, since you can only renew books so many times.

    I always have a book with me, and the bulk of my reading is done on public transportation or in other “waiting” situations. I also read before bed, but usually only for a few minutes. When I’m into a book, I find more time to read in the evenings.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Oh, and most of my TV watching is done with my partner as a social/relaxation activity. It’s really rare for me to watch TV on my own, and these days I rarely watch movies.

  13. Johanna says:

    I figured out a couple of years ago that I needed to have several books going at once. That way when my brain was tired and couldn’t focus on one, I always had another type/genre that I could read. As a mom of 4 littles this is the way that works best for me. I generally have about 3 books going at a time. I’m definitely a supply reader and have a habit to read each day and then find moments here and there to pick up a book.

  14. I’m definitely in the demand camp. I generally read books when I find something to read and have the time to do so. It’s unfortunate that I have to have those two pieces in place before I enjoy a book. :(

    One thing that does help, though, is that I’m a member of a book club. So, I have a book a month that I should read (and mostly enjoy reading). Most of the books I “read” are on CD! I have an hour commute each direction and find I can get through books when I’m sitting in my car.

  15. Diana Watters says:

    I am definitely a supply reader. Often two books at a time, but never two fiction or two non-fiction. Always one of each. Whenever someone tells me they don’t have time to read, I always say “Yes, you do. You’re spending it on other things. You should read this book by Laura Vanderkam…”
    I read while I stir spaghetti sauce, while I eat lunch, while waiting for an appointment, and sometimes for an entire day!

    • Laura says:

      @Diana – oh, I know — but you’d be surprised how often I hear from people that they don’t have time to read my book :) I figure it’s a nice way of telling me they don’t want to read it.

  16. Jennifer says:

    When I started your article, I was thinking I was a supply reader, but when I got to the end, I came to the conclusion that I was a demand reader, but I am always on the lookout for books I want to read, so I am rarely without a book I want to read and probably look like a supply reader. On the rare occasions I don’t have a good book though, that time does usually end up with TV viewing or internet browsing.

  17. Leigh Kramer says:

    I am definitely a “supply” reader. I’m usually reading between 4-8 books, of which I most actively read one or two. This allows me to read a variety of books, while giving me time to digest non-fiction, which I read at a slower pace. I always have at least 1 book in my purse, just in case. I read every night before I go to bed for at least half an hour. I might watch a TV show if I’m home but otherwise I’ll be reading. I love when I have a free day with nothing to do but read.

  18. Bev says:

    I started reading a LOT more when I instituted the 50-page rule, where I’m “allowed” to stop reading books I’m not enjoying after the first few pages. (Vs. my previous method of forcing myself to finish everything I start.) I’ll start several books at a time and only continue on the one(s) I really love. So I’m not sure if that makes me a supply or demand reader! I definitely bring home a giant sack of books from the library almost every week.

    • Laura says:

      @Bev- I think this is good advice, particularly for people in the demand camp. After all, if you need to be into a book to make time to read, and you’re not into a book but feel compelled to finish it, it could be weeks (months?) before you wind up reading regularly again.

    • Mary says:

      I don’t even make myself read 50 pages. I say thre are no rules!

      I love looking for books by reading book reviews or suggestions from friends on Goodreads. I probably return three out of four books to the library–and those are books that looked promising to me in the first place. I am a supply reader in that there are always several books available to read. When I find a book I really enjoy, I find the time to read.

      At this stage of my life, I have plenty of time to read.

  19. Arden says:

    I love all the comments here. It truly makes my heart soar to see so many dedicated readers. I don’t know a whole lot of super readers in real life so nice to see so many here.

    I’m a huge reader too with a long to be read list so definitely a supply reader. I always have a pile of library books on hand and usually have a book in my bag for extra time. I’m a one book at a time person though. It’s my hobby and I make the time for it because I’m a grouch if I don’t read daily.

    I think if something is important to you, you find the time for it. Doesn’t mean I don’t watch tv or putter but that kind of “free” time can easily be used to read.

  20. sara says:

    Interesting distinction. I think I’m a demand reader who would like to be more of a supply reader. I read a lot of heavy stuff for work (politics and history), and I’ve found that I like my most of my leisure reading (almost exclusively fiction) to fall into the “classic- or semi-classic-but-not-too-ponderous” category. Though I do manage to read a lot of fiction, it takes quite a bit of research/work to make sure there’s enough of the right sort of thing on hand. If I would stay on top of this, there would probably be fewer West Wing re-runs. :-)

  21. ravena says:

    I used to be more of a supply reader, but now am more of a demand reader. I don’t read as much as I used to but I don’t regret it. I find that if I have too many books going on at once, I’m likely to get distracted and lose interest. I’m also much more likely to just give up on a book if I’m not getting much out of it. I’d rather spend my time reading fewer books that I’m going to remember later, not just plowing through a bunch of books.

  22. Charmaine says:

    I am a demand reader, but am trying to become more of a supply reader. I stopped reading fiction for years because once I start a book, the rest of my life must stop until I finish it! Which of course is not practical! I don’t have the same trouble with non-fiction, though I do love reading it too. But I want fiction back, and have a ton of non-fiction I want to read but often feel too tired to so it’s easier to just mess around online, for example. So I’m trying to become a supply reader, with built-in times to my day, and somehow resist the urge to stay up until 1am reading the latest piece of fiction on my bedside table!

    • Laura says:

      @Charmaine – honestly, I find myself being careful about choosing fiction for just this reason. I need to be able to disengage and live the rest of my life. That may be why I choose a lot of the novels I wind up reading for their great prose, or length (short) rather than anything plot-related!

      • Charmaine says:

        Yay, it’s not just me! :)

        So my effort at managing my time and reading fiction is not going very well so far. Stayed up late the past two nights reading. Opps. I think I’ll stick to non-fiction for a bit once I get finished with this book!

        • Laura says:

          @Charmaine – I really think we may have stumbled upon different personality types here. Like the idea of calmly, rationally, reading one chapter in a novel and then one chapter in a non-fiction book just seems like I’d have a hard time pulling it off.

  23. Carrie says:

    Sometimes I am ashamed to post all the books I read in a month because I’m afraid people will think I neglect my kids or that my house is a mess!

    I don’t have a TV and I read fast and it’s one of my favorite things to do. I’m a demand reader but there are always tons of books I want to read at any given time

  24. Cara Marcano says:

    I think it is weird that women would feel in 2014 that reading books makes you a bad mother. OR frankly reading anything. The idea that say reading or being intellectually engaged could do anything but send a positive message to children to me that says a lot about the level of the room for women in the US today. You are what you model and I do think that if you as a mom model say cleaning up or being too much enslaved to someone else’s idea of domesticity that this is very negative for both our boys and our girls. If you like to cook and it gives you pleasure go for it. IF you like to clean and it gives you pleasure go for it but be careful about judging other women or men for whom this is 110% not part of parenting. Some of the most tiger parents I know actually encourage their children on a weekend to just free play and make a mess and this can be done quite well by mom or dad while one is reading. I would never think a mom is less of a mom for reading around her kids. I actually consider this one of my fundamental responsibilities as a parent to model passion and engagement in things such as books, music and art. As fundamental as say showing interest in exercise etc.

  25. One of my favorite things about having young babies that helps make up for all the lost sleep is that I find myself with a lot of time to read while I nurse.

    It also makes the marathon nursing sessions in the beginning so much easier to sit through.

  26. Amy says:

    Mostly a supply reader, but can sometimes be a demand reader as well. Maybe I should coin my own term – “flexireader” – I’m flexible based on whatever is happening in my life.

    • Laura says:

      @Amy – it’s like an omnivore…for reading…