Not necessarily what we read but how we read
Long gone are the days when someone would ask me what I was reading and the question inherently implied books. And long gone are the days when I would respond with the contents of several piles around my house. A few at my bedside, some on my desk, and another group in the living room. Pretty much all I read were books (with The New Yorker as an exception) and I could read multiple books concurrently. And what I read in bed was certainly different from what I read at my desk and most often different from what I read on the couch. Unfortunately, my book reading has taken a nose-dive in the last few years.
Any time carved out for reading a book feels like a luxury. Curling up with a cup of tea and reading - this is heaven for me. And it has to be with a book, not on a computer or a tablet, and not on my phone. Reading a book is a visceral pleasure: holding the weight in my hands, turning the page, underlining sentences that are poignant. The physicality of reading makes it all that more special for me. But taking the time for this has become a challenge.
These days, sadly, I read maybe one book a month. I subscribe to 29 publications on Substack – and even those often languish in my inbox for weeks. Add to that a few WordPress blogs, the New York Times, and The Local (news from Italy). Also a few magazines, most of which I keep in the bathroom. Even The New Yorker is read in short bursts.
Reading is a home activity, for me at least. Yes, there are libraries and I’ve done my fair share of reading there, but the chairs are never as cozy as I would like. Until recently, I always brought a book with me everywhere because you never know when you’ll have a few free minutes to read. Waiting for a friend to arrive for coffee or lunch, waiting for a movie to start, heck, waiting for anything – I always filled that time reading a book. Even often when I went to the dog park! And most definitely to any kind of medical appointment.
But now every waiting room has a TV and I find it difficult to concentrate when it’s on. The last time I brought my car in for service, I brought a book. I also brought my Bose headphones to cancel out that particular noise. Only problem then was that I didn’t hear when my car was done. The bigger problem, of course, is the phone. Like almost everyone else, my phone is a constant distraction.
The phone is now a place to read. Undoubtedly, a bunch of you are reading this right now on your phone. I have four apps for reading, but honestly, I don’t use them very much. Instead, when I have a few minutes waiting for someone or something, I scroll my email, reading only the short ones necessary for information or those I can quickly delete. I practice my Italian. I check Instagram (which is largely disappointing these days).
Reading takes time. I need to be in the right headspace. I need to concentrate or I end up skimming and missing something of value, something subtle, something important. I know firsthand how much time goes into writing, how much agonizing can go into finding the perfect word or phrasing. When I skim, I miss the craft involved. And yes, I do my fair share of skimming.
It's not just the reading that takes time, it’s the response. The time needed to digest what I’ve read, to really consider it. And then, if I want to respond, well, that takes more time as well.
What about you? How are you reading these days? Have your reading habits changed?
I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately because I’m having a hard time keeping up with my reading. There are days when I delete almost everything from my email in order to catch up and start fresh. But then I struggle with doubt, worried that I missed something important.
I’ve also been thinking about this because there are now 865 of you reading this newsletter. (Welcome to all my new subscribers!) Eight hundred and sixty-five. That’s a lot! I am humbled that you’re here. Your time is valuable. I’m sure you are juggling your reading pretty much like I am. This makes me wonder: am I making it worth your time? Am I adding value to your life in any way? These paragraphs, for example, feel a bit like navel-gazing. Are you bored? Ready to skim? Or can you relate?
I honestly admire each and every one of you reading this. I admire you reading. There are so many popular forums now such as podcasts, chats, YouTube, and Instagram that require much less effort. You can listen while you do something else or, in my case, watch a video while eating dinner on the couch. (Yeah, I do this. I blame it on wanting to be near my pup.)
Conversations take time as well. Real conversations. And every time I read a great Substack, I want to respond. Authentic responses take time. So yes, if I don’t hear from you, I understand.
This is my long way of saying, THANK YOU to all my subscribers! And to the 28 of you who continue to be paying subscribers, I am additionally grateful. Deeply grateful. Writing takes time, even more time than reading. There are so many things I want to write about, pieces I’ve started, interviews I want to do, and more. But then there are the daily costs of living and feeding Mazie so I spend more time on my Census job than on Finding Home. Every time you buy me a cup of coffee or become a paying subscriber, my heart lifts. Thank you!
I am genuinely curious about what draws you to Finding Home, what questions you might have on the topic, and what I can provide to make your experience here more valuable. That’s why all paid subscriptions come with a phone call—provided you give me your number—where we can discuss anything you like. Are you changing homes, looking for a home, contemplating a move or any other life transition? Let’s talk!
Finding Home is a reader-supported publication. If you aren’t already, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Meanwhile, for all of you reading, I hope you will share your reactions and thoughts in the comment section – if you have the time. At least, if you like what you read, please click on the heart. It makes me happy to know when I’ve struck a chord!
I also want to thank all the great writers who are recommending Finding Home. There are too many to list in one sitting, so I’ll start with four and mention more in following posts.
A Considerable Age features a variety of writers appreciating life through decades of hard-won wisdom. Italicus: a writer’s life in Italy follows an American ex-pat who found home in a small Umbrian town. Eaten by a Fish presents Indian literature from the Vedas to the present. And Blue Sunflower is part memoir and part musings by an artist, teacher, and mother to a child with congenital heart disease.
If you’re not familiar with these Substacks, I strongly encourage you to check them out. Maybe your reading list is already full – I understand. But you also might discover something that really resonates, and why miss out on that?
So tell me, how is reading part of your home life? How does it bring you home? How does it make you feel at home?
Jan, I always look forward to reading your posts. I was hooked from the beginning on your home theme since I struggle with my own moves and how it home became a more loaded issue after my profound loss. I also simply enjoy the way you write and how its so relatable. I felt your angst along with you on some of your tougher shares. I loved being on your Italy house journey too. I am invested in you, as a person, and the writer. And yes-I am reading this on my phone. But I am reading a book almost monthly and savor that time, usually in the mornings to George Winston or Miles Davis vinyl records on my portable record player. My cat Sophie sits nearby. I just love a real book too. No kindle for me. But I am happy to read the substack by phone, though I am behind as you are. Its hard to fit it all in! I was so happy to see your shout out to me on my Blue sunflower! Thank you! Thank you from my heart. You reading my posts means a lot to me, and recommending me is-wow! Be well! 🙏
Thanks for being there
Jan, I love your writing - your clarity, thoughtfulness, and authenticity, and the sheer beauty of your prose. When I began reading your newsletter, I was curious. How is it possible to run an entire newsletter on the subject of home, I wondered. So I began reading, and the more I read your writing, the more I loved it. Each new post brings new thoughts, new perspectives, and I enjoy that.
And I identify with much of what you write.
As for reading per se, that’s almost as essential to me as breathing. So this post, in particular, truly resonated with me.
And the best part? I have found a friend in you. ❤️