Most of What You’re Reading is Probably a Waste of Time Article

I have a question for you! Recently, this article was posted on I think it boasts some interesting points, but I’m not sure I agree with it entirely. I want to know what you think of it. Read on!


Most of What You’re Reading is Probably a Waste of Time


As an admitted book snob, I can tell you that not all reading is equal in merit or usefulness. We writers read to learn and improve our craft, as well as enrich our understanding of the world and how people think, but not every book, magazine, newspaper, or blog is going to provide these important things. And yet more and more, we find ourselves devoting more time to the reading material that is useless to us than to the reading that could really help us.

How we get pulled into wasteful reading.

It happens like this: in the morning after breakfast I sit down at my computer, intending to check the usual sites and feeds before I get to the day’s work. It’s an important orienting ritual for the day, as old a tradition as the morning newspaper. The problem is that the ritual is getting longer, more random, more distracting, and more dis-orienting than orienting. We find ourselves reading a list of the top ten movies featuring sandwiches, or a collection of photos of other people’s cats with funny captions; we read through fifteen promotional emails for sales and deals and coupons; we click through ten or more links for disappointing articles. If we were to see the promises of these articles in a book, we would turn away without reading; but the particularly tempting nature of the internet means that we can’t resist.

Bad writing is everywhere.

And that’s only the beginning of the day; after wasting more time than we expect in this way, we still have a stack of good old-fashioned books to read that could be equally useless. There’s theflavor-of-the-month book, the one your friends tell you is the best thing they’ve ever read, but is actually trite and over-done. There’s the dry intellectual text you told yourself to read in college that has little connection to the kind of writing you’re doing now. There’s the writing that’s simply bad, and that we continue to read anyway: bad newspapers, bad magazines (truly awful magazines), bad blogs. There are the stories or articles we read because they comfortably confirm our own world views; there are the articles with the pictures we want to see; there are the articles that indulge in our desire for wish-fulfillment or even (let’s face it) physical arousal. All of these forms of writing sate us in one way or another; but they don’t make us better writers, and that’s why I call them a waste of time.

After the jump: how to choose your reading more wisely.


How to choose your reading.

I’m not scolding; after all, we technically “waste” huge chunks of our days in other ways, from eating food we don’t need to watching television we shouldn’t, to sleeping later than we should. This is life; this is normal. But because we only have so much time and brainpower for reading, we should be choosing what we read more wisely. First, I’m taking steps to shorten my morning routine. Instead of moving laboriously through all of my feeds and reading any link that remotely interests me, I’m opening more critically, doing a little anticipation of what the link is likely to hold. Then I’m saving the link to read later, using services like Quiet Read or Safari’s new Reading List feature. It lets me be in greater control over what I read and what I decide is not worth my time.

This critical eye has to go toward traditional books as well. When people ask me, “Have you read the latest so-and-so?” I’m afraid I usually have to say no; but that doesn’t mean I’m at all opposed to contemporary writing. Instead, I can usually tell the person about some great new book that is less-known, but far more rewarding. Just like with great music or movies, finding the best new stuff often means going underground or indie, searching for what is bold, different, and unconventional. These fresh forms of creativity will help stimulate your own creativity; and you won’t find yourself disappointed, yet again, with the pick of the month.



So, what do you think?

This is how I personally felt about it: I totally agree that I spend way too much time wandering aimlessly around the internet looking at article like “Top ten bad celebrity hair-dos of all time”. I am also guilt of reading books without the goal of ‘improving my mind’.

But is this really such a bad thing? All day long we have to focus our minds on things that we would rather not be doing. We work full days and then come home to clean the house, pay bills, do laundry and if we have some spare time, read, cruise the internet or watch TV.

Now, ok, this spare time might not be spent catching up on the most amazing writing to come out of this century, but I think it is still valid.

I think we all need that time where we just let our brains wander and go where ever the heck it wants. It adds a little spontaneity to our otherwise heavily planned out lives.

I’ll admit, when I have some time coming up that I know I’ll have some reading time, like at the cabin in summer, I go to the library and perform my book finding ritual. I walk in, and try to find three books. I pick one based on how funny, tacky or intriguing the title is, I pick one based on how tacky, lame or awesome the cover graphic is, and one based on how lame or impressive the write up on the back of the novel is.  This way, it is an adventure every time I read. I never really have much of a have a planned book list, I don’t pay attention to the New York Times Best Seller List or the current books being pushed by the ‘literati’.

It was through this method that I found “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”. Sounds pretty hokey, right? It’s actually very well researched, surprisingly engaging and is a unique spin on American History. Cool!

The way I find books a lot of the time is like walking around in a dark room looking for a flashlight. But I like it that way, because I don’t know what I’m getting into.

While, I’m not saying that my book picking style is epic and extraordinary, I still think a little spontaneity is valid. No one would have fallen in love with The Lord of the Rings if Frodo had been given the ring and then spent the next couple of months meticulously plotting out the best and most efficient path to Mordor. Nope! Frodo just rolled with the punches. (These said punches were often ring wraiths out to kill him, but you get the idea).

This isn’t to say that I don’t do some planned reading. If I see a book that speaks to me, I will read it. But this isn’t how I plan all of my reading. I may not always set a book down afterwards and feel myself feeling smarter and more fulfilled as a person, but I put the book down feeling more relaxed and at peace with myself.

While I totally believe in using books to expand our mental horizons, I also believe that it is ok to find material that will allow your brain to melt into a little puddle of goo. I think goo can be good for you. Goo helps you relax after a hard day.

But maybe I’m the only one who feels this way.

So what do you think? Let me know!


Lindsey Childs

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4 Responses to “Most of What You’re Reading is Probably a Waste of Time Article”

  1. Hilary says:

    I have to say, the article writer’s use of “we” – and the “you” in the title – really got my back up. I agree with you, Lindsey – there’s no requirement to spend your free time “improving” yourself.

    I feel like the article writer wrapped up some good ole’ self-flagellation in a bit of moralizing and called it a day. While I’ve dealt with the same problem – spending too much time procrastinating on the web – I don’t think every example the writer comes up with IS a waste of time. What’s wrong with articles with “pictures we want to see”, “wish-fulfillment”, or “physical arousal”? Seems to me that great images, imagined futures and yes, even desire, are all part of good writing – hardly a waste of time.

  2. Lindsey Childs says:

    Thank you! I feel much better at my general frowning at this article now.

  3. Colporteur says:

    An application of time management. By defining your reading values, you can make most effective use of time if you only invest in reading that has the most value. This mentality produces the economic ideal of reading doing. Reading is the tumble finishing writers roll around in to shape their writing. I have my reading likes. I realize what I put to paper is smoothed and polished by the holystone of all my reading. I have never been disappointed in the time I have spent reading, just what I have read.

  4. Lindsey Childs says:

    Good! You shouldn’t be disappointed by having spent time reading. Who cares what it is as long as you feel satisfied when you’re done, right?

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