We’ve been having our first glimpses of real fall weather around here! The temperatures dropped into the 50s yesterday, and while it’s still rainy, I’m looking forward to crisp autumn days ahead.
That said, on this blog, we’re trying to keep the summer vibe going through the Off the Clock Summer in September challenge. Hopefully over the weekend you did something memorable (if so, what? what about this week?) and did some triaging on your schedule to free up space.
Now…what to do with that space?
In Off the Clock, I have a chapter called “Invest in your happiness.” People in my time diary study with high time perception scores were willing to spend resources to move minutes from the “unhappy” or even “neutral” category to the “happy” category. Money is obviously a resource (though it’s not always about big chunks of money) but so is time. We can elect to give time to things we find meaningful or enjoyable, choosing these activities over other things that are more urgent, or (sometimes) just easier.
In summer, we’re presumed to have more leisure time. Hence the whole phenomenon of summer reading guides. I know that books I’ve tackled over vacations wind up feeling linked in memory to summer for me.
But reading time doesn’t disappear come autumn.
Most people have some chunk of leisure time in the evening before bed (not everyone! But most people). In my time diary study, I found that people who used this time to read felt like they had more time than people who used this time to watch TV or peruse social media.
I am not sure exactly why this is. Certainly not all reading is high brow, and there’s some really good TV out there. But I suspect that reading requires marginally more effort, and is the less-commonly-chosen activity. So people who engage in it feel differently about their leisure time. Their leisure time feels more intentional, and hence feels more spacious.
This is true even if “spacious” doesn’t mean hours. Even 30 minutes/day adds up. Using this time for something intentional can change your perception of time.
So today’s Off the Clock challenge, which is all about keeping the summer vibe going into September, is to use this leisure time to start reading a big book. I leave “big” to your definition, but I mean something you won’t finish in a day or two. Something that demands you invest time in your reading life. Because nothing says “I have all the time in the world” like … tackling a big book. And, curiously enough, acting in certain ways sometimes makes us feel that way.
If you would like to read a big book, I have some suggestions I can vouch for. All move along at a decent clip! (I also enjoyed Moby Dick and Middlemarch but I am NOT going to suggest those because the pace is…like a 19th century horse-drawn carriage). Among them:
War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy). Despite its length, Tolstoy’s epic is incredibly readable. The chapters are short, the characters well-drawn, and people fall in love, feud, and find meaning against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars.
Kristin Lavransdatter (Sigrid Undset). This saga of a headstrong medieval Norwegian woman, her bad boy husband, and their seven sons, is downright enchanting. Lots of action (sex, intrigue, bubonic plague).
Infinite Jest (David Foster Wallace). This interwoven tale of a tennis academy, a drug-and-alcohol recovery house, and a gang of wheelchair assassins on the quest for a dangerously alluring video, manages to be both funny and poignant.
1Q84 (Haruki Murakami). A young man and woman trapped in an alternative version of Tokyo must expose and hide from a strange cult. While a bit too strange in some places, this 1000+ page novel rarely slows.
Team of Rivals (Doris Kearns Goodwin). I will throw a non-fiction pick on here too! This lengthy biography of Abraham Lincoln manages to make the 16th president seem both more real and more heroic at the same time. Because it’s written from the perspective of how he managed his political rivals, there’s lots of human clashing and coming together in addition to the Civil War chronology, making for more of a novel-like pace.
Of course, there are many many more options (particularly if we set “long” as meaning 400 pages or so). If you’re looking to figure out what to read next, why not choose something that will make you feel like a person in charge of her time?
In other news: Speaking of books, I reviewed The Coddling of the American Mind in today’s Wall Street Journal. Link requires subscription.