I began tracking my time continuously in April of 2015. When I tallied up how I spent my first year, I learned that I had devoted 327 hours to reading. That sounds good — almost an hour a day — but I also realized, looking back, how few good books I had read in those hours. Much of the time was devoted to reading magazines and online articles. These were easy and accessible, but they represented an opportunity cost. I’m a swift reader; if I read 50 pages an hour,* I could have read 16,350 pages in that time. Many pretty epic books — War and Peace, Kristin Lavransdatter, 1Q84 — clock in at 1000-1500 pages, depending on edition. I could have read all of these and 50 shorter books too.
This year, I resolved to change that. I wanted to read 100 books this year, with a lot of that being fiction (I read a reasonable number of business and sociology books for work reasons). Once I realized that I would definitely hit that number — with one method of counting, I already have — I decided to nudge myself to read longer books. I tackled Annals of the Former World in June. I read Team of Rivals in July. But those are non-fiction books, and I know I can read those. I wanted to prove to myself that, in my distracted life, I could stay with a story for 1000 pages.
I picked up Kristin Lavransdatter about two weeks ago. This epic about a headstrong woman living in medieval Norway won the Nobel Prize for literature for its author, Sigrid Undset. It was originally published as three books, but in the US market, it’s generally sold as a single volume. It is 1124 pages.
The reviews were glowing, and indeed I quickly got into the story of Kristin and her bad boy husband Erlend, their seven sons, and the interplay between Catholic and pagan forces in this beautiful but harsh country (I have visited Norway twice and love it).
Of course, good story or not, it was still 1124 pages. I realized, as I was 400 pages in and not even at the halfway mark, how impatient I often am with stories. I like the feeling of being done with something. I simply could not be done with an 1124 page book for a long, long time. At 50 pages an hour, that is almost 23 hours.
But here’s the thing: 23 hours is a finite amount of time. If you just stick with something that takes 23 hours, eventually you will be on the other side of those 23 hours. You get through it bit by bit, just as with anything. In my long runs, I have tried to focus on just one mile at a time. I run the mile I am in, trying not to think about the 10 miles left to go. Likewise, I set a goal to read 100 pages of Kristin Lavransdatter a day, often in 25 page chunks. Given that I was reading much of it over vacation, I could use much of the 2-year-old’s nap time to read, and I often did a little more than 100 pages. That’s how I got through it in 9 days.
I am happy I read the book for the story itself. It was a good read and it will stick with me for a while. But reading an 1124 page book did other things for me too. I think it has changed how I view reading. Everything else seems so incredibly doable. I read two 250-ish page books quite quickly after KL. I decided to tackle 1Q84.** I am reading it on the Kindle app, and am 48 percent in. Much of that has just come from reading a little bit at a time. According to Kindle’s predictor, it would take me 16 hours to finish the book. That’s 960 minutes, so reading about 10 minutes means getting another 1 percent in. Yesterday morning, I was up with the 2-year-old for 75 minutes before the others got up, so I let him watch cartoons and I read another 6 percent (which comes out about right; it’s 10 minutes x 6, with accounting for various 2-year-old distractions). Eventually those percentages add up. Since I am enjoying the story so far (with some major caveats BUT I’ll write about that in my Books Read in August post), they’re adding up quicker than I might once have thought.
In other news: Part of devoting serious time to reading is keeping digital distractions under control. I am writing a short piece for Verily on tips for keeping such distractions from derailing your goals. Got any ideas for me? Feel free to post here or email me (lvanderkam at yahoo dot com — and yes, I recognize the irony of asking people I’m interacting with ONLINE about how they avoid digital distractions!)
* My actual page per hour rate varies a lot based on the book. Fifty is probably on the low end, but Kristin Lavransdatter has large pages with a lot of text.
**Fun fact: I really thought this was “IQ84” not “1Q84.” That’s how I had been referring to it ever since I heard about the book. Sarah, my podcast co-host, had to correct me!