What is a balanced reading diet?

I should preface this post by admitting that our family probably spends more time reading than many.  Our house is strewn with books, magazines, newspapers, notebooks, odd pieces of paper, and articles open on iPads and computer screens.  All to say, I am a big believer in the value of reading: fiction or non-fiction, relaxing or challenging.  Once a month a group of women from where I worked for so long get together over lunch and share our thoughts about the books we’ve each read over the past month.  It’s a great format, kind of a lazy-women’s Book Club.  If someone hasn’t read anything worth sharing, or hasn’t read anything at all because life got in the way, more often than not she’ll get some good ideas from the others.

At yesterday’s monthly gathering the book selections were as wide-ranging as usual, as was the discussion on reading in general.  I was reminded of a newspaper column about reading I had cut out and put aside several weeks ago, taken from Harvey Schachter’s weekly column called Monday Morning Manager in the Globe and Mail business section.  I always enjoy reading his collection of management tips, especially now that I am retired and don’t have to worry about managing or being managed anymore!  Sometime in July he included a summary of a blog post by Kevin Eikenberry entitled “A Balanced Reading Diet”, which is what I had cut out.  I was intrigued by the concept Mr. Eikenberry put forward: just as we are encouraged to have a balanced diet of food for good health, eating so much of each food group each day or each week, we should have a balanced diet of reading for successful personal development.

Being a committed lifelong reader, I immediately warmed to this idea, until I read it more carefully.  To put his idea in context, Eikenberry’s blog is called Leadership & Learning, so it’s fair to say that this advice is for people looking to bring value to their careers.  That having been said, see what you think.  His recommendation is for people to read on average 10 hours a week, breaking it down into the following categories and time allocations to ensure the balanced diet he advocates.

Goal reading: subject matter that helps you towards a life goal (e.g., history, gardening, car racing, , investing, traveling, etc.)  I think the idea here is to have a topic you focus on over a long term rather than switching subjects continuously.  23% – or 20 minute/day

Inspirational reading: poetry or other thoughtful reading that lifts your mind and spirit.  11-18% – or 10-15 min/day

Professional reading: subject matter that keeps you up to date with your work.  18-23% – or 15-20 mins/day

Current events reading: news, analyses.  11% – or 10 mins/day

Serendipitous reading: reading from a variety of sources that might provide you with new ideas. 10% – or 1 hr/week

Fun reading: reading that provides entertainment.  10% – or 1 hour/week

Light reading: “snack food” material, e.g., celebrity news.  No more than 10% – or 1 hour/week.

My natural inclination was to fully embrace this idea until I got to the categories and the time breakdown.  I fully understand that not everyone devours news the way we do in my house, but for people wanting to advance their careers?  In an election year?  In a time of unprecedented economic, global and social uncertainty?  10 minutes per day??  I was blown away.  Maybe I’m a slow reader.

I do get the underlying concept of developing a fruitful reading habit by carving out 10 hours a week that a busy person may have trouble finding.  And I do get the idea of branching out from maybe just reading one thing, like only news or only sports or only entertainment, to becoming a more well-rounded person, informed by more than one written source.  It’s true that 10 hours a week for reading can seem insurmountable if it isn’t part of who you are and your life is overflowing with competing demands already.  So I fully support Mr. Eikenberry’s concept in principle.  But his categories and their recommended distribution remain something of a mystery to me.

Let’s tweak the categories a bit and see if that helps.  For starters, how about ensuring that every week we have the following objectives in mind:

Read to learn something new

Read to make us think

Read to be entertained

Read to be inspired

Read to keep up to date with current events

Read to keep up to date with our profession

These categories aren’t so different from the original ones, but for me they do a better job of getting to the heart of why we read.  One good book could easily fulfill most of these objectives in a week.  We don’t need to calculate what percentage of time we spent on being inspired or entertained.  We can just ask ourselves: what did I get out of that book/article/blog?  Did I learn something new?  Did it inspire me in some way?  Am I still thinking about part of it?  If a person is never able to say that what she is reading makes her think, then she (or he) probably should change up her reading mix (or his), just like I should eat some fruit if I haven’t had any for a few days!

In thinking about this concept of developing a reading habit, one with a balanced diet, I wondered how this might apply to children’s reading.  Certainly children read – or are read to – for nearly all the same reasons listed above, except for the last two (although a case could probably be made for both of them by the time the children are reading on their own).  To answer this question, I’ve just started a survey of what kids believe they get out of reading, which I hope to report back on when it is complete.  So far I just have a partial survey result from my first participant, my 6 year old granddaughter.  Interestingly, her favourite book at the moment is Johanna Spyri’s Heidi, written in 1880.  Anyone who has ever read this classic knows that it fills the bill in spades in all the top 4 categories above.  Children rarely let you down with their insights.

Happy reading, everyone!

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7 Responses to What is a balanced reading diet?

  1. Pingback: Any dog can be thankful: Today we say thank you to our readers | onewildword

  2. Pingback: What do kids read? Everything! | Robby Robin's Journey

  3. Christina Taylor says:

    Hi Jane,

    Loving you’re blog and keeping up with what you’re doing. I wholeheartedly agree with the concept of a balanced reading diet, but the specifics of his suggested implementation I don’t think are practical and would only cause stress. Like work/life balance, looking at it over the time period of a day, a week, or even a month is too short. Just as spending 24/7 with your sick kid one week or working a ton of overtime another week to meet a deadline is balanced if you look at the big picture and not the microscope of a single week, I think the same thing applies to reading. When I’m on vacation, I completely check out – no work reading, no current events, etc. ONLY fun reading — give the mind a real break — and when I’ve got a good page-turner going I really don’t want to switch to something else. Now fall is back, I’m studying for a new certification, and spending at least 10 hours a week just reading that, and reading the new Einstein biography. I’ll skip any other reading (other than current events) until these are done. So it looks out of whack for the month, but over the year (and definitely over the lifetime), is in perfect balance.

    Christina

  4. read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read, read…what problem?

    Be encouraged!…and read!

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