What You Talk About When You Talk About Not Having Time to Read

“In today’s installment, we hear from three MinnPost staffers who have time to read,” From MinnPost’s Book Club Club post.

Nothing sends me through the roof like seeing that phrase “have time to read.” It bothers me more than “it is what it is” and improper use of “begs the question” combined. It bugs me even more that it’s coming from MinnPost, a website that I adore and that, well, asks people to read its articles.

I hate “have time to read” for two reasons. First, it insinuates that the reader does nothing but fritter away his/her time lazing about reading . . . books! Books! Oh, just think of all that lascivious self-indulgence. If only we too had the time to do something so decadent. But no, we are much too busy and important to have time to read books.

You never, ever hear or read about someone insinuating people who watch American Idol (or Glee or Lost or Dr. Who) “have the time.” Nobody ever talks about people who go see a new movie every other week “having the time.” No, time is only of the essence when it comes to reading books.

Sure, I realize reading an entire book is something of a time commitment. But American Idol is on like four hours a week. How much reading could you get done in four hours?

Also, I refuse to believe people don’t “have time to read.” That’s crap. If you have time to watch any TV at all, you have time to read a book. If you fall asleep to the TV in your bedroom, you have time to read a book. If you read three magazines a month, you could spend that time reading a book.

It’s not that you don’t have time to read. It’s that you choose to spend your free time doing something else, which is fine. Just stop being condescending about how other people “have time to read.” You have the same time.

Second, it’s nothing more than a flimsy excuse for not reading books. If you feel bad about it, start reading books.

And yes, I realize you mean you don’t make time to read books when you say you don’t have time. But you know what? Start saying what you mean. Because you know what I hear when you say you don’t have time to read?

I hear, “I’m a self-important windbag who is really busy with all the important things that occupy my very precious (and important) time that I have so very little of that I must spend it doing important things importantly.”

Sometimes I just hear, “I’m not very smart.”

Instead of saying you don’t have time to read, say you don’t make time to read books. That’s okay. I don’t make time for a lot of things I believe I should do — like exercising or cleaning. I never say I don’t have time to do those things, because I do. I just choose books instead.

So let’s stop being condescending pricks, okay? Next time you feel the words don’t have time to read bubbling up from your throat or your keyboard, just stop. Take a deep breath. Don’t make an excuse about not having time. Just say (or write), “I wish I read more.” That’s all it takes. You get to be honest with the extra special bonus of not making someone else feel bad. Everybody wins!

There, that’s your Supergenius Manners lesson of the day. I am off to decadently fritter all my time in a tub while listening to The Feminine Mystique.

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  1. Hypster Mom 02.Jun.10 at 9:35 am

    Awesome. I’m going to read this to my students.

  2. Placemat 02.Jun.10 at 2:28 pm

    I didn’t have time to read the entire post, but I’m sure it was a good one.

  3. LeAnn 02.Jun.10 at 3:40 pm

    I just saved this blog post with my awesomeness tag in Google Reader.

  4. Christa 02.Jun.10 at 11:56 pm

    I love this so much. I’ve had this in my head before, but you said it better.

  5. david 03.Jun.10 at 12:56 pm

    This borders on manifesto. I love it.

  6. miconian 11.Jun.10 at 12:20 pm

    One thing I can’t stand is when people act like listening to books on tape is the same thing as reading. One is passive, the aother is active. Say what you mean.

  7. Jodi 11.Jun.10 at 12:36 pm


    I agree they are different experiences. I listen to books (mostly nonfiction) that I’d never, ever sit down and read in printed form. Somehow nonfiction in ink can’t keep my attention as well as it does when read aloud.

    Also, I think listening to audiobooks requires you to actively listen. It’s not a passive thing. You have to pay attention.

    Anyway, your tone strikes me as snarky and judgmental. Perhaps you should investigate who you’re chastising before you get up on your high horse. I’ve read (as opposed to listened to) nearly thirty books so far this year, so I really did say what I meant.

    Got it?

  8. Vicki Gundrum 11.Jun.10 at 1:06 pm

    When I was growing up to be caught reading meant you were doing nothing and so were assigned a chore. Anyone who interrupted a TV show was scolded–no interruptions for that! But a book meant you were wasting time so had to work.

    I grew up to be a book editor, primarily scholarly and academic texts, which meant I edited subjects such as how to remove cyanide from amaranth or quinoa (I don’t remember which)–but one of these is the third most important crop in tropical countries, right after rice and maize. With work like that I had little time or eyeball energy to read for pleasure, but at least I was reading, at one with my calling. Now I read for pleasure and there is no stopping me. I’m writing too. And, people still denigrate the way I spend my time while they do their important recreations.

  9. Jodi 11.Jun.10 at 1:16 pm


    I hear ya. I guess I was lucky that reading and TV were treated equally in the house I grew up in (. . . doing nothing).

    I wonder how it is that reading fell into this weird waste-of-time-warp.

    Of all the things I do (including work) reading is the best use of my time.

  10. Suejustbooks 12.Jun.10 at 7:25 am

    I’m a bookseller that will now probably smirk every time someone tells me they don’t have time to read, because I know they’re really saying “I’m a self-important windbag who is really busy….doing important things importantly.” I, too, feel that reading is the best use of my time!

  11. Michelle 12.Jun.10 at 7:41 am

    This is fantastic. Captures my feelings on the subject perfectly. I will now share this with the world.

  12. Michelle 12.Jun.10 at 7:43 am

    This is fantastic! It seriously made my morning. Thank you for putting this important difference in semantics out there for the rest of the world to see!

  13. Colleen (Books in the City) 12.Jun.10 at 8:36 am

    great commentary and gives me something to think about – I often say I wish I had more time to read but you are right – I should say “I wish I read more” . . . off to read!

  14. Jackie (Farm Lane Books) 12.Jun.10 at 9:26 am

    LOL! I agree with every word you say. I don’t have much cleaning time either – reading is far more important to me. It is amazing how many people value a dustless house over time spent enjoying whole new story!

  15. Skip 12.Jun.10 at 9:33 am

    Pretty much agree here, though I think the phrasing is more defensive than condescending. If people don’t watch American Idol, they say “I don’t like American Idol.” Saying “I don’t like reading” is culturally gauche, so instead someone’s aversion to reading gets couched in “business.” It’s not that I am a lazy, uninterested, intellectually stagnate gadfly–it’s that I simply don’t have enough time in my busy and important/glamourous life. Had I more time, I would be re-reading Proust for the third time. In French.

  16. Jodi 12.Jun.10 at 9:36 am

    Well put, Skip. And funny.

  17. Daniel Robichaud 12.Jun.10 at 9:51 am

    And why do people interpret my reading a book at the laundromat or the airport to mean, “I am bored, please come pester me with inanity?” *sigh*

  18. palinode 12.Jun.10 at 10:04 am

    Of course, this begs the question of whether it is what it is or not. Because if it’s not what it is, then it’s a whole new playing field.

  19. Diana 13.Jun.10 at 10:54 pm

    “Its not that you dont have time to read. Its that you choose to spend your free time doing something else.”
    THANK YOU, this kind of thing bothers me very much too.

  20. Steven R. McEvoy 14.Jun.10 at 6:26 am

    Loved this piece. I am done over 120 books this year and I get this all the time.

  21. Amy @ My Friend Amy 14.Jun.10 at 9:23 am

    I do think the language is often defensive. I worked in adult literacy for five years and in our preliminary interviews, we always asked whether or not the participant read for pleasure.
    People often think that reading is something they *should* do so instead of saying, “no quite frankly it’s hard and I hate it.” (because in our society that would seem like the same thing as saying, “I’m too stupid to enjoy it.”) They would say they were too busy.

    And for the record, I definitely hear the same language about watching TV. People, including myself, often say they don’t have time to watch TV.

  22. Hannah 14.Jun.10 at 11:29 am

    Love love love it.

  23. Megan Potter 14.Jun.10 at 2:38 pm

    I believe that this part here:

    “You never, ever hear or read about someone insinuating people who watch American Idol (or Glee or Lost or Dr. Who) have the time. ”

    was a stroke of genius. I’m going to now use it on all my friends and clients who whine about not “having time” for a myriad for things. I like the expression about us all having the same 24 hours in a day and we all just choose how to use it.

    I may be a bad choice maker, but at least I’m willing to cop to it!


  24. laura 14.Jun.10 at 4:55 pm

    I admit I have told people I don’t have time to read in the past year, and before this past year, I have judged it much the way you do in your post.

    However, my excuse isn’t that I’m so important or busy; nor do I even own a tv. I’m in grad school, so I DO read–but not fiction for pleasure the way I could before. I miss having time to read books I actually want to curl up with–instead I have to read about 400 pages per week of often technical information. When I say “I don’t have time to read,” I am complaining about it, not judging people who do have time to read.

  25. Melissa W. 14.Jun.10 at 5:31 pm

    I love your post here, I hope you don’t mind my linking back to it when I post my Thursday Thought later this week. As a librarian, my job is to encourage people to read, but so many look at me and say “I don’t have the time.” Like I do? I can’t read on the job–it is FORBIDDEN, despite that everyone thinks all I do all day is sit at a desk and read. I make time for reading, because it is important to me and I enjoy it. Whether that means listening to an audio book in the car on my way to and from work, store, etc…, or actually sitting down and reading instead of watching TV. Thank you for bringing up this important subject!

  26. Amy 14.Jun.10 at 7:43 pm

    Incredible and oh so true!!

  27. Melissa 15.Jun.10 at 10:34 am

    This post rocks my world. Thank you! I’m so sick of being asked how I “have the time” to read. Like I manufactured extra hours in my day so I could read. If I choose to read instead of gardening/cooking/watching TV/shopping or a dozen other things, I’m not wasting my time.

    p.s. And thank you for your comment about listening to audio books. That is NOT a passive activity. It’s a different way to read, but I’ve found I sometimes get more from the book if I have to listen to every single word.

  28. Mish 15.Jun.10 at 4:47 pm

    Sometimes that phrase is a simple defense mechanism. They’d rather give the “no time” reason than say they don’t like reading or that they’re intimidated by books. A friend’s 13 year old had difficulty reading so was frustrated and got bored. Then his class read A Wrinkle in Time and he liked it so much he read another. Now he’s read all of the Harry Potter books. Sometimes it just takes the right book with the right subject matter to get them interested.

  29. Chelle 17.Jun.10 at 11:58 am

    Dito what @Daniel Robichaud said! People are always assuming I read because I’m bored, especially my family. If my parents see me reading they assume I must really just want to take a nap or that I’m bored and would like to do something. I get no reading done when I visit my family. lol. At least my husband knows better and gives me some quiet time.

  30. Jodi 17.Jun.10 at 12:08 pm

    Ha! I never read when I’m bored. It’s funny because now that you mention it, I watch TV when I’m bored and/or lazy.

  31. Becky 17.Jun.10 at 11:31 pm

    Great post. I’ve always hated that phrase too. There is no “time to read”… you siphon time away from the other crap we do and dedicate it to reading. That’s all. 🙂

  32. Vicki 04.Aug.10 at 5:07 pm

    When my grandmother told me that she didn’t have the time to spend it reading, I was dismayed, since it’s so important to me. After her death, I found out that because her family was so poor, she didn’t have a good education. She wanted to be a teacher, but she became a hairdresser instead. I think she may have said she didn’t have time to read because she was embarrassed that her education was lacking and that she found reading difficult.

  33. Elizabeth 24.Oct.10 at 10:02 am

    Aside from the sheer pleasure of reading, it’s often what I do when I’m forced to do nothing by other people. Like waiting in the doctor’s office or traveling by train or plane. I would also never go into a restaurant to eat by myself without a book–sitting and reading while someone brings me food is sheer pleasure (as long as there’s enough light). I also, not to be indelicate, read when I’m in the bathroom and would otherwise just be sitting there. And, of course, the fifteen minutes or so before turning off the light at night are precious reading moments.

  34. Suko 22.Nov.10 at 8:48 pm

    I’m glad I “made the time” to read this terrific post! 🙂

  35. Laura Orsini 21.Feb.11 at 2:12 am

    This is soooooo true! I am reposting on Facebook. Thanks for putting it so well. Laura


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