I sometimes look at reading the way I look at eating. There are meals (novels, nonfiction books), and snacks (articles, essays, short stories). I enjoy snacks (short form reading) as much as the meals. I subscribe to a bunch of magazines and always look forward to reading through the articles in them each month–but rarely manage to do so. This week, I was staring at a pile of these magazines that have accumulated on my desk, wondering if it would ever be possible to get through them.
Like a person trying to eat better, I’ve tried a number of strategies over the years to digest these magazines: pick one day a week to do nothing but magazines reading; or one weekend a month. Read magazines while waiting for other things (standing in lines, sitting in waiting rooms, etc.) None of those have worked.
It occurred to me that I have been approaching the problem the wrong way. One of the things that I enjoy about short form writing is its brevity. You can read something interesting in small bite, rather than a mouthful. With books, I never want to stop reading, which can get tiring. With short pieces, I can read an entire piece in a short period of time and have a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment all rolled up in one. But I have been approaching this snack reading as if it was a complete meal: carve out time to get through an entire issue of Scientific American, or Harper’s in a single sitting. That isn’t the point of this type of reading.
Yesterday, I began a new strategy: read one article every day. I look at this as a snack between meals. The task seems much less daunting that way, and accomplishes nearly the same as it would if I was able to carve out the time I needed to read all of the magazines I get each month.
I did a little math to verify this. I subscribe to Scientific American, Smithsonian, National Geographic, Harper’s, Time, Atlantic Monthly, Outside, Wired, and Down East Magazine. Nine altogether. There are 4-5 feature articles per magazine on average, which makes for a total of about 36 – 45 articles per month or 430 – 540 articles per year. I don’t read every article in every issue of every magazine. But at one article per day, I’d manage to read 365 articles per year, which allows me to read between 68-85% of all of the feature articles I get in a given year. Far more than I’ve managed so far.
I started this yesterday. While at my son’s basketball practice, I read “The Bible Hunters” by Robert Draper in the December 2018 issue of National Geographic. (Very interesting, actually, you should check it out.) Of course, I have to have some way of keeping track of this, and so I started a brand new Field Notes notebook just for jotting down what article I read each day. I chose one of the Lunacy edition notebooks–because maybe my idea is a little loony. After finishing the article I marked it as #1 in the notebook. I think there is just enough room to fit a year’s worth of entries in a single notebook.
This is one of those ideas that I’m excited to try, but only time will tell if it works in practice. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, I’m off to read article #2. The hard part now is choosing which article read next.