Reading Is To The Mind What Exercise Is To The Body*

July 14, 2010

A large, still book is a piece of quietness, succulent and nourishing in a noisy world, which I approach and imbibe with “a sort of greedy enjoyment,” as Marcel Proust said of those rooms of his old home whose air was “saturated with the bouquet of silence.” • Holbrook Jackson

The alarm on my phone will soon be melodically reminding me to shower and get ready for work. I’ve been reading my way into the day. Sometimes this is simply a relaxing time of mindlessness and other times, I nibble at several books at once, taking small bites and chewing on them, doing a bit of writing as well.

The time to read is any time: no apparatus, no appointment of time and place, is necessary. It is the only art which can be practised at any hour of the day or night, whenever the time and inclination comes, that is your time for reading; in joy or sorrow, health or illness. • Holbrook Jackson

These nibblebooks are usually related to Collectory topics I’m interested in, and they are the ones I collect, the ones that line the shelves in every room. They’re mostly non-fiction. Cottoncandy quickread books are mostly fiction and are usually only brief guests in my home. The volumes of fiction that settle in on my shelves are those I want to read and reread because of the lyricism of their language or the connections of their content.

Books are delightful society. If you go into a room and find it full of books – even without taking them from the shelves they seem to speak to you, to bid you welcome. • William Ewart Gladstone

I’m not sure where the myth comes from that says once you begin a book you should always read it from start to finish. Do schools promote this fiction? I seldom do this with non-fiction. I choose a chapter that interests me and begin there. Or I search the index for a particular topic and read all the references to that area of interest first. Or I look in the index for topics I’m not familiar with. Or I just flip through the book, waiting for something to catch my eye. Almost always I’ve finished the entire book before I realize there’s nothing I haven’t read. I just haven’t read it in the order it was written. Instead, I read it in the order of personal interest.

An ordinary man can… surround himself with two thousand books… and thenceforward have at least one place in the world in which it is possible to be happy. • Augustine Birrell

I also quit reading books that don’t interest me. This is particularly true for fiction since I’m aware that with non-fiction, especially books related to something I’m exploring, I may bring different eyes to the task later. Still, once you’re not in school and have no academic or professional reasons for reading something, it’s okay to close the covers and say adieu.

What are your reading patterns?

Books support us in our solitude and keep us from being a burden to ourselves. • Jeremy Collier

* The title quotation is provided by Richard Steele from The Tatler in 1710.



  1. I struggle with the notion that once I start reading a book, I have to finish it. I don’t keep reading because I feel that it is a rule that I need to abide by, but because once I have invested the time in starting a book, I feel like I need to keep reading. I suppose it is better to waste just an hour or two and then quit reading the book rather than suffering through the whole thing for a great deal more hours. I suppose that I think that if I just keep reading for a little bit longer, the book will be interesting and worth the wait. There are only a few books that I have started as an adult and not finished. There was one a few years ago called, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. One of my close friends have told me how wonderful it was and that it was even on the “Oprah’s Book Club” list. I was excited to start it because it was a big book that promised to be a good one. Hour after hour, I suffered. It was awful. I hated to do it but I finally gave up after letting it sit by my bed on the table for weeks. That situation taught me to trust my instincts and put the horrible book down if reading is becoming more of a chore than enjoyment.

  2. I always feel a bit guilty when I stop reading a book, particularly when it’s one that I think I ought to like–but I don’t! I know books don’t have feelings, but somehow, I don’t want to hurt one by rejecting it. Yikes! W-OZ

  3. This is a difficult question for me because most of my reading revolves around teaching and taking graduate classes. I think my reading patterns tend to be in the morning and during the summer months, I rarely get into books during the school year due to so many other projects that keep me busy. I tend to read books that I hear about from friends or co-workers. My favorite time to read is during summer mornings on the patio. I struggle to read if there is alot of background noise. Summer alllows me to clear my mind and absorb the information from the book.
    I prefer to wake up earlier during the school year to read the newspaper or catch something on televsion. It’s imperative for me to have that time in the morning as I tend to be on the go for the rest of the day. I prefer to read books that relates to history, biographies, or sports. I cannot recall the last time I read a fiction book for my own entertainment. I have found that during the winter months when the weather is nasty that reading only serves to put me asleep. I do measure the quality of the book by the amount of time it takes me finish it. I find that even during busy periods of the year, I will make time to complete the book.

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