When to Read a Book

By Karl Schudt, Seminar Host

I work in “reader facilitation”–my job is to help our members read more, think more, and have a more glorious experience at onlinegreatbooks.com I also handle cancellation requests. We still do this personally, one by one, contacting everyone who wants to leave us. We would like to know how we can serve you better. How could we have gotten you more value out of the program?

Almost always, I hear some version of the following:

“I need to wait until life calms down.”

The regular schedule of readings, the reminders, the slack announcements are felt as burdensome, as something for which there just isn’t time. We want to read, we want to think, we want to lead the examined life, but we’re just too busy. Surely things will calm down later!

I want to tell you a secret, something I have learned, to my regret, in my near half-century on this planet. Listen closely: Life never calms down!


At the end of your life, in the nursing home, you still won’t have time.

Life is like a gas: its demands expand to fill the available space.

Thought experiment: have you ever gotten to the end of a busy day, slumped into a chair with your beverage of choice, and tried in vain to remember what it is that you accomplished? This is proof that busy-ness and accomplishments are not the same thing.

This thought can free you! You don’t need to wait until things are calm. Things are never calm! Quit desiring impossible things!

Rather, desire good things (like participating at onlinegreatbooks.com) and do them.

8 Practical Techniques to Reading More

If you’ve already signed up for Online Great Books, we hope it will help you to cultivate a habit of deep thought, lead you to the finer things, give you a richer inner life, and generally be the anvil upon which you beat yourself into better intellectual shape, all in the company of friends. Well done!

You’ve gotten your copy of How to Read a Book by Adler, and have learned more about reading than you ever thought there was to know. You can approach a book correctly, you know what questions to ask, how different genres are to be read, and how to evaluate whether what the author says is true or important. Again, well done!

Now, you have The Iliad. It’s time to get into the meat of Online Great Books. You are excited! Finally, you will partake of the great intellectual heritage we all share! Then, a month goes by. It’s time for your seminar, and you haven’t read a thing. Maybe you haven’t even opened the book.

It’s not that you aren’t convinced of the value of reading; after all, you signed up with us. It’s not that you expect time to magically clear up, for your calendar suddenly to be clear. You don’t believe in such fairy tales. You just are having trouble solving the practical problem of when to read. We want to help. We asked our members how they did it. Here’s some successful techniques:

1. The Pomodoro Technique. Set a timer for 25 minutes. Turn off your phone, get away from the computer, get your book and your pencil and just read. Resist the urge to check on anything else. Just read for 25 minutes. When the timer goes off, you can check Facebook again. But you probably shouldn’t. You’ll be surprised at how far you get.

2. Get up early! Even if it’s before the rest of your household wakes up. Alex, who has three kids, wakes up 30 minutes early to have some “me time” that he can spend in the company of great books.

3. Play The Waiting Game.  If you do have kids, it is likely that you are waiting for them a lot. Member John reads while his kids are in Sunday school and chorus practice. I myself get lots of reading done in the lobby of the ballet school. Not a problem for you? Try reading during your lunch breaks. 

4. Carry the books with you everywhere. If the paper copies are too big, an e-reader such as a Kindle can be helpful. Much reading can be done while waiting in line, if you have the book with you.

5. Bookmark Your Goal. Several members use the bookmark technique: get a nice bookmark and move it ahead to the spot you want to reach. Then don’t stop reading until you get there.

6. Map it out! Member Kevin does some planning and math, dividing the number of pages by the number of days he has until the next seminar, and he makes sure to get that many pages each day. The task is less daunting when broken down into chunks.

7. Cut the Noise. Headphones are helpful if you read in busy or loud places. Stan suggests white noise in order to cut down on distractions. 

8. Audiobooks are an option! If you have a commute, use your time wisely. If you take public transportation, bring your book with you. If you drive, consider audiobooks. It’s not ideal, because of the difficulty of taking notes, but having listened to the book in the car is better than not having read it at all.

None of the respondents read at night. This is, in my experience, the worst time to try to get serious reading done. The brain is tired and it’s hard to concentrate. Read your novels before bed (I am partial to space operas), but read Homer in the morning.

These techniques should give you some ideas on how to proceed. If you need help, feel free to contact us. You can find me on our Slack channel or at karl@intellectuallp.com.



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