Time to Ponder Books: giving yourself homework

You’re already scoffing at the title. I can hear you through the interwebs: “I’m a mood reader.” “I don’t want to be forced to read.” “It’s not about how much you read because this isn’t a race.” But I also hear this: “I’m in a slump.” “I haven’t finished a book in ages because I just keep starting new ones.” “I thought I read more, but everyone seems to read faster than me.”

Granted, there are a few things going on here. Some people read garbage books, and that stuff’s easy to vacuum into your brain’s dust bin. Some people read compulsive, predictable young adult novels that make them happy. Some people read giant brick-sized novels that take them forever to finish, but they are reading constantly. Others drive children around to practices and rehearsals and try to spend meaningful time with their spouses.

Let me backtrack: I typically work from 2:00PM to 7:00PM. It’s easy for me to read all morning because my husband’s at work and we don’t have children. But today I worked from 7:00AM to 3:30PM, and after a dinner out at a mediocre chain restaurant, I sat down and watched an episode of Grace and Frankie on Netflix.

Then I watched one more. Then, to prove I wasn’t binge watching, I put on Trigger Warning with Killer Mike on Netflix. I paused it to make some popcorn so I could eat popcorn while I watched Jeopardy! with my husband on regular TV, which does not have a pause button. After Jeopardy! I switched back to Netflix to unpause Killer Mike.

During the show, I found a piece of popcorn on one of my books, accused the popcorn of trying read, laughed so hard I created a Facebook post about what happened, and then I watched one more episode of Grace and Frankie because it’s so damn funny.

Before I knew it, it was almost 9:00PM and I had read only two pages all day (in a Perkins, no less). I know that I am a person who thrives on seeing the product of success. I’ve struggled with music and writing because there’s no “DONE” to it (that didn’t stop me from going to school for it). A song floats away in the air, and the performance could have been better (and can be better if you keep rehearsing after the show). A story may be published, but you’ll still want to edit it, seeing how amateur you were when you wrote the thing. But having a mini reading goal that I meet each day makes me feel like I really DID something that day.

Not to say I didn’t learn anything from Trigger Warning with Killer Mike!

How much do I read per day? Depends! Last week I was doing 75 pages per day on a fantasy novel for #ReadingValdemar. But this week I’m taking on Skagboys by Irvine Welsh, which is neither a light novel nor written in standard English. I was telling Jackie @ Death by Tsundoku about the language. It’s not just that it’s in dialect, but there’s the slang, like “puff” and “spraffin'” and “coupon” (that’s life and talking too much and face) that you have to memorize like you’re going to do a vocab test. So, I chose 50 pages. It’s ambitious, but I’m pushing myself a bit.

What did I really do? I gave myself homework. There was a time about two years ago when I realized that my perception of how long I read did not match how long I really read. What felt like forever was really about 10-15 minutes. And so I created due dates, like this:

I make little due date sticky notes for every 50 pages so I stay the course.

I can feel your face scrunching, you lemon. That’s okay. To get the laundry done, and spend time together I have my husband fold clothes while I read aloud to him. Just a tiny bit (even two pages) each night brings us closer together. But I would love to hear what you did with your time yesterday from when you woke up until bed. Were there times you could have read but watched TV or used your phone instead? How many pages can you read with a spare 5 minutes in the grocery line? Those 30 minutes dinner is baking? Those 10 minutes between the children going to sleep and you passing out? Would you feel better knowing you had met some — any — kind of reading goal?

We don’t look like that. At all. And we have a grown-up bed, not the one you take when you leave your mom’s place. Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash.
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67 comments

  1. Cool idea with the due dates; I think that would work especially well if doing a buddy read or working on a book club pick. I don’t typically set myself specific goals like that though. Reading is a passion and an escape for me, and something I naturally find myself wanting to do. I wouldn’t want it to start feeling like a chore that HAD to be done. Obviously, it’s each to their own though. Whatever works for you! 😊

    • And by “chore,” you mean “homework,” lol. I think your blog is different, Callum. You don’t post a review for every book you read, so it’s possible you don’t feel the same content pressure as other bloggers. Your relaxed style may even be what draws bloggers to you!

      • I started posting full reviews for everything I read on my blog recently, and before that I always posted them over on Goodreads. I suppose I’m lucky that reading is something that comes naturally, in that I reach for a book pretty much everyday without having to think about it.

        As I said though, it’s each to their own. I’m sure lots of readers would benefit from following in your footsteps and setting specific targets, and I’m glad to hear it’s working out for you 😊

  2. I think about this quite a bit, as people often ask me how I read so much. Mostly it’s because I read very fast, but I also read in every spare moment, whereas others seem to prefer settling down for a long spell with a book. In years where I haven’t read as much, it’s definitely due to factors such as you describe.

  3. 😂 Yes I did literally. I enjoyed reading this for several reasons. First, I am a planner, a friend told me that translates into a gold personality on one of those personality test. So I 😂 when I read this because I have several buddy reads/readalongs planned (now through June-yes I’m serious) and I will plan how much we need to read.

    The Count of Monte Cristo is on the calendar for May and June so yesterday I spent time doing the homework of how much we need to read for 8 weeks. I know for some that is probably a bit crazy but over the years I’ve come to love it because I know how much time I need to spend on said book and still have the option to read something else if I want. Or if the book is REALLY good then I just keep reading although I have to make a note to not talk about this because we aren’t discussing that this week.

    I think with life some might feel like reading is a chore especially after a long day of adulting but it does make me feel good to read a bit everyday. But that’s one thing I’ve come to love about audiobooks, I can still do the necessary things and read. I have a funny story about one time I was reading in the grocery store (well maybe 2) but I’ve blabbed a bit now. Really enjoyed this post

    • I think the nice thing about giving yourself homework is you can decide how much homework. If you only want to read 10 pages per day, you’ll likely not even need the sticky notes (counting to 10 isn’t challenging). However, reaching that sticky note gives me a feeling of accomplishment.

      OKAY, GROCERY STORY TIME. GO!

      • OK so I’m usually reading (audio) while I shop. I’m so absorbed in the story a friend of mine sees me and is waving hysterically (I hadn’t noticed) and when I do I wonder what’s wrong with that person….😂 I had to stop reading and tell them I hadn’t seen them there.

        Would you believe me if I told you it happened again. 😂 different friend however 😂

  4. Ahh, I love this idea—I usually just write down “goals” on the notes app of my phone, which I follow through on about half the time, but a physical marker seems really useful.

    You raise a great point: there’s definitely a balance that has to be struck between reading as you please and “forcing” yourself to read, if you want to finish books. I’ve found that when I’m in the midst of sticking to a schedule it doesn’t even feel forced, though it can be hard to start routinely reading when you’re in a slump.

    • Thanks, Michael! If you’re goal oriented, it’s an excellent visual reminder when you throw the lil tab in the trash can. I used to do a list too, as I felt like I was wasting sticky tabs (is that even possible?), but I wouldn’t stick to the list. I don’t think the goals has to be a chore, either. You can read 10 pages per day. If you’re okay not using the sticky tabs, it’s pretty easy to know whether you read 10 pages.

      I find that laying out all the books I’ll read in a year at the beginning keeps me from slumping. I do that start-of-the-month post and just feel excited about my books all over again. 30% of book blogging is being a cheerleader for yourself.

  5. Ahaha this post is fantastic!! I’m still giggling over your comment on the last image. 😂

    I think the only times I’ve ever assigned specific due dates for reading a specific number of pages in order to finish it on time since I’ve graduated school is with buddy reads. I do set more general and flexible goals for review copies, but the rest of my books are picked based on my mood. I’m constantly adjusting my blog schedule based on whether I read one book faster or slower than another.

    Your point about when and how much you usually read also stuck with me. I work from 8:30am to 5:00pm, and I like to read during my lunch hour – it’s my escape for the day. I also use my nearly half hour commute to listen to an audiobook, which helps my brain switch out of work mode at the end of the day. Other than a few random minutes here and there, the rest of my reading happens over the weekend when I have more down time. I enjoy reading and don’t want to push myself to a place where it feels forced!

    • I like to think of the homework less as “forced” and more as staying on task. This is NOT something I would need to do when I read constantly as a pre-teen. I would literally take a duffel bag to the library to carry home all my books — and I would them all! Granted, back then there were 4 TV channels, and to switch them you had to screw around with this rotary thing that attached to the antennae on the roof. It made this sound “RAW RAW RAW RAW RAW.” I can still hear it in my head. It’s not hard to choose books over that. Now, eleventy things are competing for your time.

        • True. I college I mainly focused on history and literature, so there was loads of reading to do. In that case, I would use sticky tabs that 150-page deadlines. Ewwww. I developed some serious neck issues my last year of undergrad.

  6. I completely agree. I’m trying to be more deliberate about how I spent my internet time (not just mindlessly scrolling) and devote at least an hour to reading/writing each night after my kids are in bed and I’m amazed by how much more I’ve already read. Sometimes people are surprised that I still read a lot after having kids but it’s more about how you choose to spend your time, I think.

    • An Australian blogger friend of mine got pregnant and had a baby. Before that, she never read audio books. Wasn’t her thing. I did it occasionally, being very selective about what I’d listen to. After she had her baby, she started listening to books while sitting up with baby at night and was totally sold on it. She still credits me for the idea, which is lovely.

  7. This is something I’ve just begun to think more and more of after having my second kid, which is why I’m now waking up at 6am, one hour before my family wakes up, so I can dedicate that time to reading. Granted, by the time I’ve dragged myself out of bed and brewed my tea, I usually don’t sit down to my book until 6:20 ish, but still, I’m shocked at how much more reading I’m getting done.

    I’ve also given up watching television at all in the evenings once the kids have gone to bed. I typically work on my blog/book stuff while my husband watches a bit, and then we go to bed, where I tend to read a bit more before falling asleep 🙂

    • Nice job, Anne! I know it can be challenging for parents to continue reading with kids, and many will tell me that I don’t understand because I don’t have kids. I was telling someone in another comment that when I was a kid myself I NEVER needed prompting to read. The other option was watch one of four TV channels that all had garbage on them. It wasn’t hard to choose books. Now, so many other entertainment options are eating up our time, and we don’t even realize the collective time it consumes.

  8. Interesting post! I suppose I’m giving myself homework with my Count of Monte Cristo read. 100 pages a week. But it doesn’t feel like homework! It’s just nice to have a goal that’s stated. I feel accomplished! I think after I finish this big book I’ll choose another chunky book and do he same thing. But having time to read other things too is important. Or to watch Netflix if I want.🙂 Good job finding a system that works for you.

  9. I have a internal clock that tells me how long I need to spend on a book. Sometimes it’s four days and other times I let myself have a week. When I don’t get a chance to read and I feel that clock ticking, I will “binge read” my way through it just to get it done. I did a buddy read a couple of weeks ago and we split the book into four parts so we could discuss it without spoiling each other. It actually helped me enjoy the book more because I knew how much I had to get done over the course of a day or two, so I really like your due date idea. I do give myself blogging homework sometimes, like I have to work on these many posts over the weekend. Sometimes I forget though > _ <

    • Oooh, it sounds like you ARE a goal-oriented person. I’ve found that if I get behind on my homework, I will prioritize reading the next day to catch up. This is fine, it just means I’m missing out on the latest Great British Baking Show — and with Netflix, you’re never missing out because it’s just there, waiting. Reaching small goals may help you feel motivated/accomplished. Maybe instead of “write blog post” as a goal, you could “quickly type everything you want to say about this book if you were talking” and then “edit for organization” and then etc.

  10. I have never thought of reading in terms of goals. I do set myself 2 posts per week (not always achieved) but they’re not always book reviews. I admire though you and those commenters who review everything they read. I listen to a couple of hundred audiobooks every year and mostly I’ve forgotten them as soon as the last CD is back in the case.

    • I have books that I don’t review. In fact, the one in the photo with all the book marks I will not review because it’s by Irvine Welsh (a guy). I do love his writing, though, and if I’m not careful I will read too little of it at a time to get it done, especially since it’s all in different Scottish dialects.

  11. I admire your commitment (and that of everyone else commenting!) – for me this would probably reduce the amount of pleasure I take in reading though. I’ve noticed that whenever reading (or blogging) becomes something that I *have* to do, I stop wanting to do it. It’s the same reason I don’t accept books for review – this is meant to be my fun escape from deadlines, after all 🙂

    If I’m really struggling to focus on a book, though, I do sometimes set my timer for ten minutes and read for that set period of time – I am almost always engrossed in my book by the time it goes off, but if I’m not I stop and do whatever else I feel like doing. (I feel no guilt in rewatching episodes of Friends for the 10th time instead of reading!).

    • Ah, yes! I used to do the timer too, and it basically functions the same way. My idea of “homework” is essentially finding a way to hold myself accountable to the things I DO want to do, but end up not doing because I’m distracted. If people only want to read 5 pages per day, that’s fine too.

  12. Definitely food for thought!

    What did I do yesterday? I was still in London as I extended my stay there post my ‘Coaching course’ and spend a few days in the London office to see colleagues I normally don’t see that much. I woke up at 7am, walked to work (for 8am), went to yoga at midday, then back to work again. Finished working by 6pm, went to the train station to catch my train home, the commute was a long one and got home by 9pm. I did homework from the coaching course on my train for the first couple of hours (till about 8ish) then watched Mirror Mirror on Netflix to chill out. Took my dog for a night time walk and was in bed by 10pm. I had time to read but I chose not to. 🙂

    Hmmm… the rebel in me doesn’t like ‘reading homework’ but the pragmatic part of me definitely sees its merit. It’s sensible, especially when having a concrete goal in mind. I have a similar system with my required reading for my psychology essay I’ll start writing shortly. There are about 4 books I need to go through and I have already planned what and how much of what to read when. 🙂

    • It’s true, this same method works for actual school homework, but typically I have to assign myself way more pages than I really want to do with school homework! I think my post is more about feeling good, like you’ve accomplished something, and that’s different for everyone. My friend runs marathons. I feel good when I walk across the street to the coffee place instead of stopping in with my car on my way to work. Same thing with reading. Some folks are going to give themselves 100 pages per day, and others may choose only 10. Another blogger said that she uses a time, which I think achieves the same thing: it’s goal oriented and you can see the reading results when you’re done.

  13. Haha, I enjoyed your story Melanie. You write it so well.

    I use your use-by system – though just mentally, not with stickers – most months for my reading group book. I usually leave reading it to the last minute – so it will be fresh – and so when I start it I have minimal time. I divide the no. of pages in the book by the number of days I have to read, and set that figure as the number of pages to read each day. Often though I don’t quite make it, and have to recalculate it as I go!! Haha. (And now I’d better get to and read the book for next Tuesday’s group – I’m under the gun rather!)

      • Mine is calibrated just right – and we work hard to keep it so. It’s pretty much the most important date on my monthly calendar. We are 31 years old and about 6 of our current 12 are original members. This month’s read was recommended by a past member who left because she left town. I’m in a second hmmm, literary club… A Jane Austen one, and it’s high on my calendar priorities too. There’s nothing, for me anyhow, like sharing reading and books with like-minded people – by which I mean like interests in reading and talking about reading respectfully and thoughtfully, not like minds in terms of reading likes! That would be boring!

  14. “I can feel your face scrunching, you lemon.” You are one of my favoritest people in the world. This. I can 100% hear you saying this in my head.

    Ugh. If I wrote down what I did in my day, I would be… well, honestly, overwhelmed. Today was an a-typical day, so lets go with Monday:
    6-6:30am: Doggo walk and play time in the snow. Listen to digital audiobook.
    6:30-7:30: Gettin’ ready for work, packing lunch, etc. etc. etc.
    7:30-8:00: Commute to work. Listen to physical audiobook, AKA compact discs.
    8:00am–5:45pm: Business, business, business. Numbers.
    5:45-6:15pm: Commute. Listen to physical audiobook.
    6:15:-6:30: Brief doggo walk. digital audiobook.
    6:30-8:00: Cook. Eat.
    8:00-10:00; BLOG.
    10:00-11ish: Read physical book until I fall asleep on it. Husband comes in and removes book from my face. I fight with him about how I’m still reading that book, even though I’m obviously sleeping. He puts the bookmark in the wrong place.

    Yup. I’m overwhelmed. This is why I am always tired! I definitely don’t sleep enough.

    But seriously, my life lacks TV almost entirely. Sometimes. instead of blogging, I’ll hang out with friends or play board games with David or on rare occasions, we’ll watch 2 episodes of Star Trek. And yet, despite my discipline with reading I can never read a book over 450 pages. I think it’s the size? They freak me out!

    I will definitely try your homework theory. Particularly with some of the classics I’ve been avoiding. Laila’s been reading The Count of Monte Cristo and she is getting me excited to read it! Perhaps I will. … … .. Someday.

    • The big book I want to get through some day is The Brothers Karamazov. It sounds to me like you do a whole lot of reading through your audio books. You’re using all the time you have instead of doing something else. I’m giggling that David puts the book mark in the wrong place. I’ve heard he also gives you a toothbrush while you are sleeping 😂

      Do you blog every day for 2 hours? I think about blog hopping more like audio books: I read a post here and there where it fits. Writing posts is more random, but for a long time I would write all my posts on Sundays when we had nothing to do.

      • David has a copy of The Brothers Karamazov sitting on his nightstand. It’s slow going, but it’s going!

        I do a lot of audiobook reading, which is a bit of change in my recent life. I used to spend more time with physical books, but with how challenging work has gotten I just don’t have the mental power for them often at the end of the day. I can read more “challenging” literature when I’m listening to it than when I have to read and absorb the information at the same time. It’s a bit embarassing, honestly. XD

        No, I don’t blog daily for two hours. That was just a one day example. I’ve been struggling to make time for blogging. I need to develop some sort of blog hopping habit. What I have been doing isn’t working any longer– which is having an hour or so a few times a week to spend blog hopping. That’s how I catch up on most of what I missed. Lately, I’ve only had a few minutes here and there, which isn’t great. I’ve barely seen anyone!

        As far as post writing is concerned, it’s a bit random, but mostly done on the weekend. Like I said. I have to work on my habits.

        • I’m actually working on a Time to Ponder Books post about absorbing books. I mean, I can forget what I read if I let 48 hours pass without picking up a book. I’m not sure how Nick does it, but he’ll put the third book in a series down in the middle, pick it up years later, and remember where he is. What is that nonsense?! Maybe I’ll interview him for my post….

          • David does that too! He hasn’t read a book in decades and yet can remember all the essential events in the order they happened. And even remember all the crazy made-up fantasy names! I don’t know how he does it.

            My sister was that way too, but for quotes. I could read her any line for a Harry Potter book and she would tell me what book and the chapter title it came from. Black. Magic.

  15. As usual, I have enjoyed reading this post and all the comments. And as usual, by the time I finished reading the comments I have forgotten what I was going to say.

    I think I do the homework thing with my reading, but more in my head. I totally get it though – I would be disappointed in myself if I didn’t read a certain amount everyday. One of the things taking up my reading time was blogging! I had to learn to do my own reading first before reading about everyone else’s. I find that really hard, because I LOVE reading other blogs. And talking with my bloggy friends.
    Another thing I have had to adjust to the past couple of years is having teens who don’t get put to bed early. I always did my reading after they went to bed! So, now, whenever I can, I read in the morning for an hour or two. And at night I read with sound muffler head phones. It works pretty well, but they hurt my head after a while.
    Also, I go to bed too late every night. 🙂

    • I don’t have kids, so I don’t know, but it seems like it would get easier to read as the teens get older, especially after they can drive! No more dragging them around to plays and practices. Aren’t teens these creatures that want to be left alone and petting only when they feel like it (or am I thinking of cats)?

    • Oh, thank you! I originally had to start because I got hearing aids. To stimulate and basically save the ear follicles you have, you have to practice talking a lot with the hearing aids in. I was really nervous, so I read aloud to Nick every night. Then, after we did that as long as I was supposed to, we realized that we liked reading together, he likes the voices I do, and it’s this great opportunity to spend time together. Since we do I before bed, it’s also something we look forward to.

  16. Since I only work a day or two a week, and am a stay at home Mom the other days, I have a lot of time to dedicate to reading. I listen to audiobooks while I am driving & while doing housework or cooking. I typically read my physical book for about an hour in the afternoon while my daughter gets to watch a TV show, then for an hour or two before bed. I personally don’t watch much TV at all. I’ll watch booktube, but that’s about it. If the TV is on, it is usually my husband or children watching, and I’m blogging on the couch.

      • I got my sub license 🙂 I can sub in grades pre-k through 12th grade. Right now I am only working a day (sometimes two) a week. Next year when my daughter goes to Kindergarten, I am going to work 3 days a week.

        I do have a lot of time to devote to books and I feel very fortunate. I don’t know how some bloggers that work full time & have children and still find time to dedicate to reading & blogging.

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