THE GROUND RULES
I am not an old-timey man of letters with endless hours to spend reading in an ancient leather armchair. So I decided a book, for my purposes, would be in the ballpark of 120 pages. At two minutes a page—the general rule of thumb—that means I’d have to carve out roughly four hours a day to read. The average Australian adult watches well over three hours of TV a day, so this seemed doable; the hours were available. On weekends, I’d try to read some longer books.
The beginning of my experiment was auspicious. On the first day, I had plenty of time to spend alone, reading. The pages flew by; I enjoyed the book and was looking forward to the next one. But keeping pace—spending almost all my free time reading—grew exponentially more difficult as the week went on.
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It seemed that from every angle, there was something trying to get in the way of me reaching that final page. First and foremost was my physical health. My daily routine typically contains a workout—an hour or so, and 30 minutes to get to and from the gym. Knowing there was a book at home, demanding to be read, I found myself either forgoing my workouts or cutting them down drastically.
On top of that, I cooked less and ate more takeaway. To save on time, I’d pick something up to eat at my desk with the book. This was detrimental, both monetarily and physically.
But the biggest problem was sleep. Most of my reading occurred in the mornings and late evenings: I tried to get in an hour at breakfast and then finish the book at the end of the day. I spent significantly less time sleeping, and I often dozed off with an unfinished book resting on my lap. This was disconcerting. There came a point when I wondered if I’d last the week.
Second, there were social pressures. It probably comes as no surprise that during this experiment I was a far cry from a social butterfly. I did make a point of reading in places other than my apartment when I could, like the park or the bus. But even then, I spent most of my time alone. I wasn’t as attentive to my phone, either, because it proved too distracting. There were nights where I wanted to leave my apartment and find something to do, but I had a book to read.
Aside from temporary sacrifices and lifestyle changes, I did learn a fair bit—both experientially and by way of the books I read. I learned about a Swedish entomologist; I learned about the history of birchbark canoes; I learned about religion; I learned about war photography; I read an entire book of poetry. If anything, my experiment served as a reminder that there’s a lot to know about. Reading is the best way to achieve a depth of understanding with one topic, or a loose familiarity with a bunch. It’s definitely not feasible to read a book every day of your life, but it is feasible to make an honest effort to read more.
Even just doing my daily task—a frankly ridiculous task, really—and reading a book every day, I learned about my work habits. I tried to break the books up by chapters, I tried to read them cover to cover without stopping, I tried the Pomodoro Technique—which involves 25 minute intervals. I found I was at my best when I simply put the book down once my interest waned, and picked it back up once I felt a bit more energised. Sometimes it’s best not to overthink things.
Reading a book every day is too drastic a measure for me to recommend. There comes a point when, stretched too thin, reading devolves into staring at a page and turning it without really knowing what it even said. I reached this point many times during the seven days. But it isn’t too drastic to simply read every day—a chapter or two, whatever you can manage. You’ll feel better for doing so. To quote Susan Sontag, “The day has pockets—you can always find time to read.”
This article originally appeared on menshealth.com.