It's easy to find more time to read: all you have to do is pick up a book you can't put down.
Sounds like I'm kidding, but I'm serious. So how do you find those books you can't put down? Start by picking up books you think you might like, and just start reading. If you don't love it, set it aside and try another.
Pick up enough of these candidate books, and you'll never again have trouble finding the time to read. Unless, of course, you have to work. But at least you'll be dying to get back to your book -- and that's the formula for a well-read life.
Moreover, it's never been easier to find those books you think you'll like. Here are seven practices, including both tried-and-true traditional ways as well as practices newly enabled by technology.
Practice One: Jump on your friend's book. Friends often -- although not always -- love the same kind of books. When you find a friend reading something, read a few pages yourself. Reading books together is one time-tested way to get more from your reading, and from your friendships.
Practice Two: Listen to what wise readers recommend. Down through the centuries, wise young people have asked wise old people what books they have liked. This works as well now as ever, but today it's easier because we have access to a long pantheon of greats. Here, for example, is David McCullough's Jefferson Lecture, in which he tells us what books as a young reader led him to his calling as a historian. They are as great today, he assures us, as they ever were.
Better yet, listen to David read his 38-minute talk, and feel as though you're at the dinner table with him.
Practice Three: Watch the movie first. I call these movies-to-books boovies. Many people think they're cheating if they don't read the book first, but this is mistaking precedent for reason. The truth is, a movie can be a pleasing portal to the longer treatment of a book -- even if the movie is bad.
Consider these facts: Most movies last about two hours and are based on a script of about 100 pages, whereas most novels are 250 to 350 pages and take from eight to 20 hours to read. Plus, while movies excel at action and special effects of the visual kind, books allow readers to experience that unique special effect of mind reading -- when the author conveys what a character is thinking.
Reading the book first can naturally have you expecting to see all the characters and scenes of the book, so it's easy to be disappointed. A screenwriter and director must toss out whole chapters, and even characters, to create movies people want to watch.
So what if you do watch the movie first but leave the theater disappointed?
Mitchell Kaplan, the owner of Books & Books and partner in the film company Mazur-Kaplan, explains why movies often fail despite being based on a great book:
A good movie depends both on an excellent treatment -- the screenplay -- and excellent execution of the movie itself. That's very hard to do, and bear in mind that producers don't get paid unless a movie is made, so sometimes compromises are made.
As for the original book?
"As a matter of course, you can't go wrong choosing a book that has been made into a film," Mitchell says. "There is something attractive in it -- story, mood, texture, a character, or the world it created."
If you actually like the movie, it's almost a sure bet you'll love the book, and be richer for the double experience.
Last year saw big-budget remakes of Les Misérables and Anna Karenina plus debuts of The Hobbit and Life of Pi. This year, we're in store for more luminous popcorn burners:
• Ender's Game, based on the popular science fiction novel by Orson Scott Card, starring Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley.
• The Great Gatsby, another filthy-rich attempt to screen The Great American Novel, this time starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan, with Toby Maguire as one of the most famous narrators in literature. You can watch the trailer now. Think it will out-luster the movie made 39 years ago with Robert Redford, Mia Farrow and Sam Waterston?
• Paranoia, based on the deliciously dark corporate espionage novel by Joseph Finder, starring Liam Hemsworth, Gary Oldman and the very busy Harrison Ford.
What a red-carpeted year in books it promises to be.
Practice Four: Try audiobooks -- again. Some people tell me they don't like audiobooks. When I ask how many and how recently they've tried, I often hear they tried only one or two, and years ago. News Flash: Today's audiobooks rock!
From their sketchy cassette-tape commercial beginnings in the 1970s, audiobooks have blossomed into beautiful art forms that garner their own awards and fan clubs for narrators. Narrators (usually stage actors) are reviewed ceaselessly by listeners, and only the great ones read today.
Audiobooks are, in my experience, best for novels, histories and narrative nonfiction. They are one of the blessings of our age -- an unsurpassed way to get more books in your life. Don't tell me you don't like audiobooks unless you've tried at least three, and recently. One more thing, now that I'm lecturing: They're not just for driving.
Check out AudioFile magazine for award winners and reviews. Let an audiobook change your life.
Practice Five: Browse shamelessly. No bookstore, physical or virtual, will kick you out for browsing. The more books you taste, the more books you'll eat up with gusto. Technology has paved our book streets in gold; we just have to know it.
Practice Six: See your way into books. I loved Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. But don't take my word for it. See her TED video, which 3.5 million introverts have already quietly done.
See or hear the brilliant Steven Pinker explain his masterpiece, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, as he presents his Long Now Foundation SALT talk in San Francisco. After his presentation he's interviewed by Stewart Brand. Wow!
Before spending hours reading Sherry Turkle's rewarding book Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, see her seven-minute interview with Stephen Colbert.
Thinking about reading Warren Buffett's newest? Start with six minutes of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Can you see yourself laughing your way into new books? I can.
Practice Seven: Listen to a podcast. Today it's easy to download podcasts and feel as though you're on an intimate phone call with very interesting people. Here are three of my favorites:
1. Steve Mirsky, a beloved editor at Scientific American, is like a great jazz musician: He's a master at asking just enough of the scientists and authors he interviews, and then stepping out of the way. Listen to him interview David Quammen about his latest nonfiction thriller: Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic.
2. Jeff Kline interviews business leaders on the future of conscious capitalism (a bright future, indeed). Listen to his interview of author Cindy Wigglesworth on her new book about learning spiritual intelligence.
3. Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness -- mild-mannered book salespeople by day, celestial book mavens at night. After listening to their Books on the Nightstand, you'll want a bigger nightstand.
Okay, I'm stopping at seven. And I haven't even mentioned book reviews, blogs, and our treasured librarians.
It may seem counter-intuitive, given that we're trying to find more time to read, to first spend time surveying and sampling books. But remember that chefs who wish to prepare a sumptuous feast rise early and go to the farmer's market.
So let us get our coffee or tea, my friend, and start walking the book aisles, with morning's golden light at our backs.
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