An Experiment in Multitasking and Reading

Recently I watched a little documentary on Youtube called “BOOKSTORES: How to Read More Books in the Golden Age of Content” in which Max Joseph explores bookstores across Latin America while also investigating how to read more in his everyday life. I enjoyed this documentary for many reasons, so there may be several posts pertaining to it in the near future. For now, I would like to discuss the idea of quantity vs. quality when it comes to reading.

In the documentary, Max Joseph calculates how many more books he could read per year if he managed to carve out just half an hour of reading per day. A key component of this is to make it a habit, to try to pick up a book around the same time every day (such as reading before bed or on your lunch break). By making reading a routine part of your day, it will gradually feel less like a chore and more like just part of your daily routine, like putting on clothes or brushing your teeth. Then Max Joseph went to Howard Berg, the world’s faster reader, and asked him how to read faster. But by the end of the documentary, Max Joseph had reached a different conclusion: it wasn’t about how much you read, but the experience of reading and what you got out of it. 

After watching this documentary I thought about the summer of reading I have in front of me. There are roughly twelve weeks of summer until I start law school. I work an hour away from my house, which means I drive at least ten hours a week. If I listen to an audiobook while driving as well as for 30 minutes every morning while getting ready, that means I would have 12.5 hours of audiobook time each week. Multiply that by twelve weeks, and that’s 150 hours of listening to audiobooks. If the average audiobook is ten hours long, that means I could get through fifteen books this summer on my commute alone. 

Listening to audiobooks is clearly the most efficient way for me to read in terms of getting things done with a busy schedule. What better way to get reading done than while doing other things you would ordinarily do? From cleaning and doing dishes to getting ready in the morning and driving to work, listening to audiobooks allows for so much extra reading time.

So I decided to do a little experiment. To free up my nights after work, I decided to only read by listening to audiobooks as I did other things for a week. In quantity, this experiment was successful: I was able to make it through more than one book just by commuting. Yet even though I was flying through the pages as I drove, I still missed the simple act of physically reading a book. Like Max Joseph, I came to the conclusion that my love of reading cannot be separated from the experience of reading. I missed just focusing on the book I was reading rather than multitasking. I missed the relaxation it brought me, knowing that all I had to do in that moment was read. And I missed having time set aside each night after work just for that special activity that I love so much.

What’s the verdict? Personally–and this is definitely a personal preference–I’m not the kind of reader who can rely on multi-tasking alone to fully enjoy reading. I need that time to fully engage with a text, especially if it’s one that’s more difficult or longer. But this doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop listening to audiobooks; rather, I’m going to try to make more time for reading physical books, even if that is only for twenty minutes each night before bed.

Have you ever seen this documentary? What do you think of my experiment? Are you more of a multi-tasking reader or a single-focus reader? Let me know in the comments section below!