Riot Headline 10 Exciting Books to Read this Summer
Our Reading Lives

Readathon for One: On Carving Out Time

Rachel Manwill

Staff Writer

Rachel Manwill is an editor, writer, and professional nomad. Twice a year, she runs the #24in48 readathon, during which she does almost no reading. She's always looking for an excuse to recommend a book, whether you ask her for one or not. When she's not ranting about comma usage for her day job as a corporate editor, she's usually got an audiobook in her ears and a puppy in her lap. Blog: A Home Between Pages Twitter: @rachelmanwill

A few weeks ago, I hosted a readathon on my own blog called “24 in 48.” The intent was to read for 24 hours within a 48-hour timespan – midnight Friday until midnight Sunday. I was hoping that it would be an excellent alternative to what is likely the most well-known Readathon in the online book world, Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-thon. That’s exactly what it sounds like: 24 hours straight of reading. I’ve participated many times in that twice-yearly event, but I’ll be honest–the older I get, the harder it is to stay awake past midnight to read. And usually I take an accidental nap sometime mid-afternoon.

But that doesn’t mean the readathon is a bust. My average is usually about 18 hours of reading, but it is hard. And I sometimes feel like, with that kind of marathon event, I’m missing the point. It becomes more about powering through the late night than blocking out a chunk of time dedicated just to reading. I know everyone feels this time crunch of a busy life, but so rarely do I get to spend a day reading nonstop. It’s an amazing luxury.

And setting aside a whole weekend? That’s almost unheard of! But I did it, during the 24 in 48, with plenty of time to sleep, and brunch on Sunday. I didn’t quite hit my full 24 hours, but I spent a huge chunk of time reading. A few other readers joined me (zeteticat dubbed it the readathon for #readerswithlives) and we carried on our merry way. Some did better than others, but I think in general the feeling was positive.

Here’s a secret: if no one else had joined me, I still would’ve blocked out the weekend to spend with my books. I’m working full-time and in graduate school full-time, year-round, and I wanted to spend my limited time off from school doing something that too often takes a backseat during the semester.

I will still most likely take part in the next 24-hour Read-a-thon in October, but having done the last four events and now after hosting my own, I’m figuring out how to spend my time most efficiently and how to fit in more of my own solo readathons.

Because really, any large block of time you can take can be a readathon. For example, I am writing this post on a nine-hour train trip from DC to Boston. As soon as I’m done writing, I’m breaking out the books and turning this into my very own Readathon for One. And I’ll be doing the very same thing on the return trip.

Want to do the same? Here are some tips for both doing your own Readathon for One and for participating in a big group readathon:

  • Block the time out in your calendar and don’t schedule anything at the same time. This sounds obvious, but if you’ve actually written it down, it’s much harder to ignore. And if you go out and do something else (like brunch with bottomless mimosas – whoops!) it’ll be really hard to return to the mindset of readathon-ing.
  • While its great to have a list of books you want to read during the ‘thon, don’t feel hemmed in by that list. Sometimes you just won’t be in the mood for a particular book on that particular day.
  • Speaking of which, don’t hesitate to put aside a book that isn’t working for you. I know a lot of people abhor the thought of not finishing a book, but this is not a time for principled reading. You can come back to a book that’s not working another time, but not every book works well for a long reading session.
  • Read multiple books. No one said that readathon = one-sitting books. If you’re reading Great Expectations, commit to reading a few chapters or a certain number of pages at once, and if you want to keep going because you’re really into it, great. But you shouldn’t feel like you have to keep reading something you’re in the middle of, just because you’re normally a one-book-at-a-time reader.
  • Start easy. I like to start every readathon with a YA novel that I know will only take me a couple of hours to get through. It’s totally a mind game I play with myself, but finishing your first book early does wonders for your motivation.
  • Similarly, sprinkle your reading with some short books or short stories or children’s books so your brain gets a bit of a break, especially if you’re tackling some heavier or longer tomes for the bulk of your ‘thon.
  • Prepare all the supplementaries beforehand. Unless you’re super skilled (like me) and can cook and read at the same time, prep something in advance that you can just warm up when you need to actually eat a meal. Or, if you have one, a slow cooker is especially handy for this. (I like to make chili or stew during the October Read-a-thon and then I can just eat from it for the whole day.)
  • You will want snacks. Go shopping in advance.
  • Don’t cut yourself off from technology – but be cautious. The tendency, particularly for solo readathons, is to turn off your phone or stay off of Twitter entirely, but I’m one of those “if you tell me I can’t have it, I want it even more” people. (Only child :-/). But I also know that it’s easy to get sucked in and lose track of the hours. So I limit my twitter/blog checking/non-reading online time to 10 minutes an hour. It’s also good for giving yourself a break from reading a book once in awhile to do something else, even for 10 minutes.
  • Audio is your friend. Most of us don’t have a day or two to spend not doing anything productive. Here is where audio books can be a lifesaver. Errands to run? Dishes and laundry to do? Vacuuming? Put on an audio book and keep on going. (If you’re not already on Audible for cheap audio books, you should be.)
  • Don’t be afraid to nap – or to go to bed – when you need to. A 30-minute power nap is going to make you way more energized to keep reading and will help you fight the sleepies. And when you’ve reached your breaking point for the night, wave the white flag and just go to bed. Even if you don’t make a time goal, you still spent all day reading! That is a victory any day of the week.