I remember very clearly when I was in middle school, high school, and college, I carried three things with me to every class. This included my textbook(s) for whatever class I was headed to, a planner where I kept track of my assignments, and an “extra” book. This “extra” was pretty much always a work of fiction and something I had chosen to read (rather than being assigned), but regardless of the content, I always had something to read for those rare moments of downtime in my classes. The weight and balance of this stack imprinted itself in my arms, with the textbooks, as the heaviest and largest, on the bottom; my planner, as the smallest and lightest, on the top; and the extra book sandwiched between, almost like a wrapped present. I could tell when I was missing one of these items because the stack didn’t weigh or feel quite right.
I have always loved to read. I remember participating in a reading contest in my school’s library during my elementary years and exasperating the librarians with the frequency of my visits to their desk to get credit for each of my books while they were trying to get their work done. I consumed books as a child and into my early adult years, only pausing briefly for a few years in college when I had less time for books that weren’t assigned. Of course, when my oldest was born in 2010, that also reduced my reading time significantly.
A few things about my reading habits changed when I began to learn more about Charlotte Mason. The first change was that I started reading more than one book at a time. In an article about “Mother Culture” from an 1892 Parents’ Review, the author suggests that everyone should have three books going at a time: “a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel.” I took this advice to heart and have been rotating through several different books (often more than three) at any given time ever since.
The second change was that I began to read books to educate myself on topics I was interested in (i.e., non-fiction). Admittedly, after college, I followed the pattern of so many others in that I felt that I had “finished” my education and shut up my books. I had spent 4+ years reading books that others assigned to me, sometimes on topics that didn’t interest me at all. When I was done, the idea of reading something for educational purposes, and even any kind of work of non-fiction, did not appeal to me on any level. However, when I began reading Ms. Mason’s books and saw the emphasis she put on education as a life, it inspired me to continue my education with topics that interested me at a pace I could handle.
I know it can be challenging to find time to read things for yourself when you’re parenting, especially if you’re a homeschooling parent. So this week, I’m sharing a few habits that I’ve adopted in order to get in more reading.
Read Three Books at a Time
I’ll begin with the advice from the PR article. Before being introduced to Charlotte Mason, I never thought that reading more than one book at the same time was a good idea. I assumed I’d mentally veer off the trail of one story if I started another book before I finished the first one and get everything all mixed up, so I had to finish one book before I started another. However, when I actually adopted this practice, I found that my theory was pretty silly, and I hadn’t given my brain enough credit for being able to keep the stories straight. I think a key to this is that I read at least three different “kinds” of books simultaneously.
So beginning with the original suggestion – one stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel – I insert different kinds of books into those categories:
A Stiff Book
This is the category in which I’m usually reading more than one book. During my morning reading time, I have a theological or philosophical book that I read short parts from every day. To find books for this list, I’ll often look at the bibliographies or reading recommendations for other books I’ve enjoyed in the same genre. For instance, in Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster offers suggestions for further reading at the end of every chapter, and I added all of those to a list on Goodreads so I can read through those as well.
For other options in this category, I have a book about a topic I want to learn more about. I almost see these as a little college course just for me, and right now, this is beekeeping. Sometimes I choose books in this category based on a whim (I have a few falconer books in this to-be-read [TBR] pile now after we went to a birds of prey demonstration last month). And sometimes, I choose books in this category because they’ll provide a tangible benefit to our family (homeopathy and herbalist books have also fallen into this stack).
A Moderately Easy Book
This is nearly always a work of fiction and is usually the category where I insert my book challenge choices, which I’ll discuss more below. I participate in several of these each year, and sometimes the books are not necessarily ones I’d choose to read on my own, which means they can sometimes be more challenging to get through. This especially includes classics, which are something I really only began to read by choice within the last six years.
This is always a work of fiction and something I pick for myself. Sometimes it does happen to be a classic, but usually, it’s a fluffier modern novel (because sometimes our minds are in need of an elbow-chair). If you’re looking for a suggestion in this area, I highly recommend The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde.
Read a Little Bit at a Time
Reading doesn’t need to be a race. I know sometimes it’s tempting to give ourselves an enormous goal of getting through 100, or even 50, books in a year, especially when we see others doing this, but when I’ve given myself goals like this in the past, it has actually just made reading stressful and frantic because I feel like I’m always behind. I do think reading goals are a good idea, but I know I enjoy them more when I keep them practical rather than challenging.
In the last few years, I’ve adopted the practice of reading small chunks of different books every day. Usually, after the kids are in bed for the night, I go through the book stack on my headboard. Generally, I start with whatever book I’m pre-reading for each of the kids and go through one chapter. Then I’ll move on to the book I’m reading to educate myself – again, one chapter (unless I feel like reading more). And then I’ll move on to either my “moderately easy” book or the novel, whichever one appeals to me at that moment (sometimes both). In this way, while I’m not reading a record number of books each year, I do make good progress through the ones I’ve chosen.
I think, in some cases, it’s better to read small chunks at a time rather than trying to speed through a book. This is especially true for the books I include in my morning reading time. I’ve been working on the one I’m currently reading for over a year and am not even at the halfway point yet. However, going through the book at this pace has allowed me to digest what I’m reading, which I have appreciated.
Set Time Aside Just for Reading
In the PR article, she suggests setting aside a half hour each day for your own mother culture. This could be a stretch for some of us, depending on what our days look like, but even just fifteen minutes a day isn’t a bad goal. I usually save the bulk of my reading for nighttime. As I mentioned above, after the kids are in bed, I leave my phone somewhere far away, shut down my computer, and head to the bedroom to go through my book stack. Sometimes I get 5 minutes, and sometimes I get more than an hour, but I always try to get at least some reading in every night.
Fit Reading in When You Can
In some seasons of life, I have been known to keep a book in the kitchen, so I can snatch a few paragraphs while waiting for the oven to pre-heat or water to boil. If something has to bake before I can get it on the table and I have no other meal-related tasks, that’s an excellent time to sit down with a book. When I was still breastfeeding, I always grabbed a book along with the boppy, especially if I knew it would be a marathon nursing session.
Use Different Formats
Another way to squeeze books in at random times is to take advantage of different formats. The main format that allows me to get through a good number of books each year is audiobooks. I got into this habit when my kids were teeny-tiny, and I’d listen to an audiobook in the dark while I nursed them to sleep at night, which was also pretty much the only reading I could do in those early years. Now, generally, I have one audiobook going (usually in the “moderately easy” or novel categories) that I listen to when I’m driving somewhere, when I’m folding laundry, when I’m going for a walk on my own, or any time that I find myself alone but my hands are occupied. An added benefit to this is that in cases where it’s a chore that I don’t particularly enjoy (like cleaning bathrooms), it makes the time go by faster as well.
I know there are mixed opinions on e-readers, and the tactile qualities of books are far more appealing to me than a tablet, but they do come in handy. I have a Kindle paperwhite that I bring to appointments as it’s more convenient than lugging along any number of books. An added benefit to this option is that sometimes there is a waitlist at the library for a book that I really want to read, but the ebook version is available immediately. I not only don’t have to wait for it, but I don’t even need to get in my car to get it.
Participate in Reading Challenges
I began participating in reading challenges in 2016, and they changed how I find books to read. My favorite one since 2017 has been the Back to the Classics Challenge, as prior to that, reading anything published before the last ten years was very rare for me. I’ve also discovered quite a few classic books that I enjoyed but never would’ve read if they hadn’t been part of a reading challenge.
A few other yearly reading challenges I’ve joined are from the Literary Life Podcast and Reshelving Alexandria, and this year I started one of my own for art-related books. I also have a semi-personal reading challenge of getting through all of the books on Susan Wise Bauer’s well-educated mind list. For next year, I’m considering participating in this classics challenge that offers a theme for each month of the year.
If none of these challenges sound interesting to you, check out this very thorough list of other reading challenges for various genres.
Pay Attention to Book Lists
I love book lists, especially from people I know who have similar reading tastes to my own. Anne Bogel has a whole section on her website just for book lists for just about any genre, length, subject, author, or mood you can think of. Elsie, of Tea and Ink Society, also has several book lists that I’ve just recently started to explore. Sarah Mackenzie has fiction suggestions just for moms. And I list all of the books I’ve read recently in my mother culturing posts at the end of each quarter, as well as my reading recap posts at the end of each year.
Another great option is to check out the reading lists of your friends or people you follow on Goodreads. If you click on a specific book page, you can see which of your friends has already read that book and any reviews or ratings they gave it. I use this often when I’m considering reading a new book to see if other people I know have enjoyed it. Also, if you click on a friend’s “read” bookshelf, there’s a button at the top of the screen that says “Compare Books.” This page will tell you how your book ratings match with that person’s ratings overall, and then you can go through the entire book list to see how similar your tastes are for each book.
Get a Book Subscription
If you’re really just not sure what to read and would like someone to pick for you, book subscriptions are a great option. I have tried Book of the Month Club in the past and loved getting book mail once per month. These are generally more modern books, so if you’d prefer classic books, Elsie of Tea and Ink Society offers a seasonal reading box that comes with tea and another accessory (I think this one is going on my Christmas wishlist!). If neither of these sound appealing, Cratejoy has a LOT of other options here.
Join Reading Groups
I have been part of various reading groups over the years, some online and some in person. While I did enjoy the discussion when it came to the fiction books, it was far more fulfilling to be part of them for non-fiction. This was especially true for Charlotte Mason’s books. I was part of a local book group initially when I read through these books, and then later took part in the Idyll Challenge, both of which were so helpful for keeping me accountable and processing everything I read.
These are just a few ways I find time to read. What’s your favorite way to get through your TBR stack?