Off the Clock Summer in September challenge, day 3: Start a big book

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.

8 thoughts on “Off the Clock Summer in September challenge, day 3: Start a big book

  1. Oh I loved Team of Rivals as well! Actually listened to it on Audible, which was great. It impressed me how much personal information the historians actually had on Lincoln.
    This weekend my husband and I did an emergency roof repair together in pouring rain. It was a learning experience, not very fun, but quite memorable.

  2. I have been trying to get through Le Mis for some time now. I have it on audiable and have chosen September to listen more during my commutes. If you know the musical, the song “who am I” has now taken over an hour to describe! Even so, big parts of me are enjoying it. This weekend the plans we made Saturday were rain or shine, so we went to an outdoor event in the rain and had fun playing tag in puddles! Three outfit changes in a day for my 4 year old and that’s ok by me!

  3. This past year has been the year of big books (in the form of a series) for me. I am about to start the 8th of 8 Outlander books–each of them is approximately 450-650 pages.

    I started them when I needed to escape some hard things in our lives and the characters have become like friends to me. I will be sad when the series is over (although there is a 9th book in the works) and have enjoyed savoring the pages each night before bed.

    You are right, 30 minutes/day definitely adds up!

  4. This year I’ve read two (big) books and enjoyed them partly because they were good novels but also because I spend less time thinking about what should I read next (since they take longer to finish!). The Time in Between by María Dueñas and The Big Green Tent by Ludmila Ulitskaya. Both were recommended by Anne Bogel on her list of translated novels to consider.

    1. @Anne – that is a real upside of long books – it removes that question for quite a while! I’m reading a novel now that’s only going to take 2 hours (according to my Kindle) which raises the possibility of needing a new book, like, tomorrow.

  5. Anna Karenina by Tolstoy is also a surprisingly easy read. I feel like he’s very good at keeping the reader on track with all the characters, there’s always context for the smaller recurring ones. So you very rarely have to go “who was that again?”

    1. @Sophie – I enjoyed Anna Karenina too, but it’s been a long time since I read it, so I didn’t put it on the list. Maybe time to pick it up again!

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