Back in February, I confessed my hopeless case of reading overload — anxiety over my inability to keep up with the ceaseless flow of magazines, newspapers, internet articles and books. Never. I will never keep up. Not even if I quit my job, smashed my TV, subsisted on delivery pizza and never lifted my eyes from the page.
Apparently I’m not alone. Many of you wrote to empathize and offer strategies for managing the problem — i.e., focusing. I’ll share those in a moment.
But first, an announcement: I’ve found the miracle cure.
It’s called Preparing Your Home to Sell. First, downsize. Jettison everything you don’t want. Then get a real estate agent’s advice on staging your home for potential buyers.
Downsizing is arduous but satisfying. You tackle a crammed bookcase, boxing up everything you can live without. You stand back and admire how neatly the remaining titles — the ones you cherish — line the shelves.
Then the real estate agent breezes through and tells you to lose the whole bookcase.
Now apply this ruthless system to reading. Know that your Realtor would cast a cold eye not just on that book you’ve already read, but on that one published five years ago to great reviews that you’ve never opened. The Realtor is being, well, Realistic. The truth is, you’re bound to live your life missing books that you’d probably love. Enough to fill many, many bookcases.
Readers, meanwhile, offered great suggestions: Get audiobooks. Use the library. Scan magazines’ table of contents, tear out interesting articles, discard the rest and never look back. Keep the torn-out articles handy for long lines at the DMV. Accept that a full life need not include reading “Moby-Dick” or “Infinite Jest.”
Follow the Rule of Two: Lisa McDonald of Minneapolis subscribes to two daily newspapers. She strives to finish both, “but more important for my sanity is not getting more than two days behind.” After that, out they go.
Or the Rule of Three: Bev Bachel of Minneapolis only reads books recommended by at least three trusted people.
Or the Rule of 100: Subtract your age from 100. The difference, says Violet Fox of St. Cloud, is how many pages you give a book to captivate you. If you’re 53 and not hooked by page 47, guiltlessly cast it aside.
Acquire superpowers, like those evidently held by former English teacher Dorothy L. Johns of Duluth. “Every day I read two hard copy newspapers (Duluth News Tribune and Star Tribune), two online newspapers (New York Times and Washington Post). My magazines are Time, Atlantic Monthly and Yoga Journal. Sometimes the New Yorker. I focus on novels and memoirs and read 3 to 4 per week.”
Adopt strict arbitrary rules, like Ethel Marx of Stanchfield, Minn.: “Only read magazines with birds on the cover.”
For that matter, most of these rules are arbitrary: two days, three recommendations, 47 pages. Maybe the best way to manage your reading is to set ironclad limits, however random. Nothing about meditation. Nothing about insects. Nothing with a number in the title. Sure, you’ll miss some good stuff. But you’ll miss good stuff no matter what.
“I don’t like movies that start with ‘The,’ ” a friend once said, just before watching “The Verdict.” He wound up liking it. It was nominated for five Oscars, including best picture. And my friend almost went through life without ever seeing it. He would have been just fine.
Katy Read is a writer for the Star Tribune.