Epictus once said, "If you would be a reader, read; if a writer, write." But in my experience, the best writers read. A ton. And the best designers read a ton, too.
How to do it? There's the rub. We live, we work, we commute, we cook, we take care of children, we see friends. When are we supposed to read?
Scanning while in meetings, glancing over things and speed-reading are not the answer. I can't tell you how many times some nice designer has come up to me and said,
"I just loved your book. I can't really remember what it was about, but I loved it while I was reading it."
Honestly. They say that. Might as well just shoot me. Nothing a writer likes better than becoming part of the confused cultural haze that clouds your head.
So scanning is really not the answer. Reading without concentrating is a waste of time. Luckily for you, however, I have accumulated a pocketful of tricks for getting a lot of reading done. Here they are:
1. Never read anything you do not want to read.
This may seem obvious, but it is amazing how much junk is forced on you that you do not have to read. People with moist eyes press books into your hands.
"It's about living in the moment and it changed my life!" they say.
I say skip it.
Read ONLY what YOU want to read. Be it graphic novel or JC Penney catalog. Because if you only read what you want to read, you will never avoid reading, and it will become as natural to you as breathing in and out in the eternal NOW.
Oops. Forgive me.
2. In future, avoid any book that has the word "Syndrome, Plan, Secret, or "The Story of" in the title. Also avoid any book that describes the protagonist as uncovering, hunting, taking control of, communicating (with dogs), targeting (for death), taking on (a new assignment) or discovering (devastating secrets).
You really just do not have the time.
3. Similarly, avoid books which feature:
a rogue CIA agent
a lethal teenage gang
a vampire summit
a gangster patient
or combinations of the above.
3. Good stuff in, good stuff out.
If you keep your mind clear of craposis, poor writing, rogue agents and lethal gangs, you will be able to concentrate on things which can affect your life for the better. By this I am not saying you should only read profound books, like Siddhartha. ( I just hated Siddhartha. How come the women just got to stand around having mouths like cut figs? That was their entire role! Annoying. But anyway.) I am saying only read books that are written well. What is written well? Pretty much anything that has won the Booker Prize. Anything that has won the Pulitzer. Anything that has been in print for over 50 years.
4. Read abstracts, precis, and introductions to academic works BEFORE reading the works themselves. Then, if you are really interested, read the piece. Read the original writer before reading any sort of commentary on that writer. For instance, Jung is a far better writer than most of the people who comment on him. Just cut to the chase and read Jung and Heidegger and Hegel in the original.
I read all academic works in the tub. That way, if I get bored with the academic prose, I tend to keep reading to the end, because it's more work to get out and dry off than it is to finish the piece.
5. Put loved ones to work.
I remember being terribly jealous years ago when a friend told me that her husband and she took turns reading aloud from Greek literature while the other did the dishes in the evening. How cultured is THAT! My jealousy knew no bounds. But a few years later, this tip in the back of my mind, I was able to steal their technique for getting through epics. I recommend having a well-placed baritone read to you from the Aeneid. This practice over the suds, day in and day out, will get you through the St John's Reading List at a slow, yet valuable, pace.
6. Read happy things on the way to work. I include the design blogs, STEP, PRINT, CA and Metropolis magazine in the happy zone. I feel happy looking at all the bright colors and hearing that soon everything is going to be nice and green and that everyone will soon have attractive lamps and tile.
7. Read the Times at lunch. If lunch is filled with clients and prospecting, read the Times in the morning right when you get in and everyone else is getting in late and talking about what a line there was at Starbucks. It's amazing how long morning office-settling takes, and you can be done with it before they're ready to go.
8. Read anything with the word "Journal," "Newsletter," or "Update" in the title on the way back from work if you travel by public conveyance or shuttle. If you commute by car, stop doing so immediately. Commuting solo by car will have to go if you are going to get your reading done.
9. Have only one book on your bedside table. Read before sleep or if worried. Avoid anything with an exciting plot. I like a nice long mid- eighteenth century novel. Also, the Russians are great for plots that unfold in real time. Tolstoy yes. Lermontov yes. Dostoeyevsky no, because he'll rile you up too much and have you thinking about the damned questions and so forth.
10. I save the French Post-Structuralists for times when I have had red wine or caffeine by accident and it's kept me up. I figure these are similar conditions to those in which they were probably written.