I don’t know if I have cultural ADD or real ADD – but I know I’m horrible at paying attention to almost anything for more than 15 minutes. I can be watching explosions on a big HD screen, and thinking about lunch. If I don’t take careful notes, I tune out of sermons and lectures. Reading my Bible for an hour at times means “floating in my head for an hour with 15 minutes of Bible reading.”
So, how does a guy like me read fiction?
To be honest, it’s a discipline. And it requires a strict routine. Here’s how I do it:
1. Determine to read for pleasure. I have a difficult time not reading for information, or reading a book for its conclusion. I think C.S. Lewis would whip me solid if I were in his Oxford Literature course. Because the point of reading fiction isn’t to get to the end – it’s to enjoy the process. It’s to exercise the muscles of your imagination, transporting you into a different world. For most beginning readers of fiction, these muscles are weak – so the process isn’t very enjoyable. The best way to strengthen them is to sit down, determined to use your imagination. Not to gather great illustrations, or even (yet) to “understand” the book. Just let yourself in the wardrobe, and you’ll find yourself coming away transformed. Trust the book to work its magic.
2. Set a time. When am I going to read fiction, in particular? This is a crucial question for me. If I don’t set a time, I don’t do it, period. Some weeks it’s just before bed, sometimes it’s half-hour in the morning, and others it’s not until a rainy Saturday afternoon (or, in my case, a bright and sunny Saturday afternoon…).
3. Read one book at a time. ADD works on a macro-scale too, you know. Not only am I easily distracted sentence by sentence, but I’m also distracted book by book. But imagine stopping in the middle of Ecclesiastes, or the book of Judges – you wouldn’t really experience those books, without the ending. The key to avoiding this mistake, for me, is having a hard copy. Kindle books are fine - they’re cheap and scannable. But when I have 100 digital books in front of me, I find it impossible to finish any of them.
4. Get away. If you can, once a week go somewhere magical. I love to read at Barnes and Noble – it smells like books, and it tastes like coffee. There are always interesting character strewn about. I don’t have the distraction of my two boys – trying to read amid chaos is like trying to sculpt in a hurricane. Reading deserves a special place in your life, metaphorically and physically.
5. Try “Immersive Reading”. This is the biggest secret of all – it’s what I wish I’d done from the beginning. And with so much free access, it’s a possibility for all of us. What is it? Immersive reading is when you plug in headphones to the audio version of a text, and read along. It’s that simple. But it’s a complete game changer in how you experience a book. I’ve never lost concentration when immersive reading – it helps me to come under the spell of a book in a new way. Sound expensive? It’s not. Most local libraries these days offer digital audio downloads from Download Destination which you can plug into your i-whatever. I-Tunes offers a plethora of free audiobooks from librivox and iTunes U (If you can get the professional narrator form the library, however, get that). If you have a difficult time enjoying literature, START HERE. And start with something you like. You might just be addicted by the end of Summer.