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Carla DeSantis

Reading on a Deadline

Reading on a deadline

I still yearn for my Summer of Reading. It was the summer after grade 8 — that awkward age when you are too young for a job, too old for some camps — and I had the now-longed-for luxury of time. I consumed a large number of books — some classics, some popular YA choices. I remember lying on my bed reading V.C. Andrews’s creepy Flowers in the Attic and afterwards racing to the store with my friend to get the second book in the trilogy to quench our thirst for more. Lounging in my screened-in porch, I dug into S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders and devoured To Kill a Mockingbird while sitting under a tree. It was glorious.

Reading on a deadline
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Time to read

Recently, when recalling that care-free time of life, I realized that for most of my adult life I have been reading on a deadline. Many years spent in university and graduate school left little time for reading beyond assigned texts and research material. In fact, when I finished my doctorate, my brother’s gift to me was a paperback of E.M. Forster’s Where Angels Fear to Tread. Implying a distinction between required reading and reading for pleasure, his note said, “Now you will have time to read.”

I have been part of a book club for the past 17 years, and although the reading certainly is for pleasure, there is still the looming deadline of the monthly book-club meeting. Over the past nine years, I have developed my career as a professional editor, a job that allows me to read — happily! — for a living. But of course, such editorial work is deadline driven, based on clients’ needs and my own project management.

All of this makes me wonder: What does reading on a deadline mean for reading practices? Does it change how we read?

Mandatory reading?

A 2016 article in The Atlantic discusses the effects of mandatory reading logs on kids, in this age when recreational reading is on the decline, in competition with screen time. The results of the study examined? Reading logs diminished the children’s interest in reading.

As an adult, I have to say that regularly reading on a deadline has not diminished my thirst for recreational reading. After long hours spent editing and reading text, I still turn to my book at the end of the night for relaxation — for my time. I have to read for pleasure to make my day complete. More specifically, I have to read fiction to counter the nonfiction reading that I do all day long. Does this need go back to my unfettered recreational reading as a child? Although television certainly was a powerful lure and favourite activity for me back then, perhaps it did not vie with my leisure reading in the way that the pervasive and ubiquitous screens and other media do for the attention of today’s youth.

I don’t have complete answers yet to the questions posed above. But maybe the key is that reading on a deadline helps to make you an efficient reader. And reading on a deadline makes you read — which is always a good thing.

Then the time spent in reading what you want, when you want, for how long you want becomes that much more delicious.

What does reading on a deadline mean for you? Does it affect your reading habits?


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19 Comments on “Reading on a Deadline”

  • Carla,
    You speak to my heart! I, too, have found that no matter how many hours I spend reading for work, I must have some time to read for myself – even when I have stayed up too late watching a movie or TV, I still pick up my book when I get into bed.

    As with any muscle you exercise, reading on a deadline does make us more efficient readers or at least it makes us more efficient editors. Sometimes it is difficult to turn the editor in me off and seeing grammar, spelling, or (heaven forbid) content errors often diminishes my enjoyment of my fun reading. Does the need go back to unfettered reading as a child? Definitely.

    When we read unfettered, I believe, our imaginations take flight so much easier and that gives us a richer and more rewarding experience, especially with fiction. With non-fiction, such openness can feed the creative juices that spawn innovation. Either way, it is one of my greatest joys in life. Thank you for your insightful piece – it really made me think.

    • Thanks for your response, Linda! I like the notion of a “reading muscle” that we are exercising.

  • Anita Jenkins


    Yes, when I worked as an editor, I also turned to reading for relaxation and pleasure after spending the day, well, reading. Talk about uni-dimensional. Many of the civil servants I knew liked DIY projects around the house after a day of what some of us rudely call “pushing paper.” That sounds pretty sane – having a balance in your life. But if you are a word person, it is like an addiction.

    • So true, Anita. I think the key also is that what I read in the evening is very different from what I edit during the day – variety is good!

  • Rachel Small


    Great post! I was worried when I started my career as an editor that it would affect how much I loved to read for pleasure, but happily it didn’t!

    • Thank you, Rachel! I agree.

  • Since I most often edit fiction, and mostly books by some of my favorite authors, I find I do very little other reading. I’m perpetually behind in my editing, so reading a book for myself when there is reading to be done for which I am actually getting paid feels unconscionable. There is also the fact that we don’t live in isolation, and family often wants to watch Netflix, rather read together silently, so I end up marathoning shows like everybody else.

    On the other hand, I do listen to a lot of audiobooks. I do my household chores with headphones on and it completely changes my attitude towards cleaning or sweeping out the garage or whatever. Whereas I used to do chores muttering under my breath about the fate that should befall whoever left the banana peel between the couch cushions, I now look forward to cleaning because I am looking forward to chapter 14 of whatever book I’m listening to. It’s a good way to keep up with my ‘reading’ without taking time away from other stuff I should be doing.

    • Listening to audiobooks during chores is a great idea, Robert. I have to admit that I listen to The Editing Podcast while I do chores – make every moment count, right?

  • I loved this post :). Oddly, for me, deadlines can sometimes make reading feel like a chore, but I still find them more motivating than not. The 3-week loan period for library books helps me read borrowed books a lot more quickly than books I own, and I end up getting through more books that way.

    Also, I confess I also read Flowers in the Attic (and a shamefully large number of the other VC Andrews books) as a tween. Not sure what my editor brain would make of those books now…

    • Thanks for your response, Maya. Perhaps I was being too honest in admitting to Flowers in the Attic, but that was THE book that summer! Couldn’t put those books down. I’m sure that we would both have different opinions of it now. 🙂

  • Frances Peck


    What a delightful post!

    When I was young, I read books (including the three titles you mention) in exactly the joyous, unconstrained way you describe. It seemed only natural, when the time came, to do a master’s in English literature. That year and a half nearly killed my love of reading. I mainly studied novels, and the course lists were punishing. (Can you say “Clarissa”?) I vowed that post-degree, I would never again read what I was required to read—only what I wanted to read.

    Then I became an editor. Oops.

    Still, I’ve kept my vow when it comes to off-duty reading. I read whatever I feel like reading, whether it’s the latest CanLit or Stephen King or Joan Didion, and it’s never on a deadline. That’s the main reason I’ve resisted joining a book club: I’m certain that if I have to read a particular title, I will perversely not enjoy it…simply because I’m being forced to read it.

    • Thanks so much, Frances! I have to say that one of the joys of book club is that it encourages me to read books that I might not naturally gravitate towards but then end up loving or learning a lot from. The key is to have members whose taste you can trust. 🙂 And I love the comradery.

  • Anita Jenkins


    Frances Peck, you got that right about joining a book club. A ferocious and lifelong reader like you does not need to be told to read something that somebody else has picked for you. Someone I know read Fifty Shades of Grey and Eat, Pray, Love because a fellow club member had chosen those titles. Yikes!

    • You have to know where to draw the line in book club! haha

  • Anne Brennan


    Like everyone else who has posted, I too read for pleasure when my work day is done. I can’t go to sleep without reading something first–though it’s better for me if it’s nonfiction, because that’s (usually) easier to put down when I think it’s time to go to sleep!

    I can’t turn off my inner editor, either. I always notice typos and other errors, and they irritate me. That’s why I don’t read self-published books or ebooks–too many of those I’ve seen are unedited (or, worse, edited by someone who wasn’t qualified to do so). If I’ve worked hard all day to find and illuminate the meaning in a manuscript, I want to relax with a piece of writing that someone else has clarified and polished for me.

    Great post!

    • Yes! Thank you other editors!!

    • Thanks for your response, Anne!

  • Brenda Jorgensen


    This was a lovely post, thank you. I also enjoyed reading the comments it prompted. I, too, recall a glorious summer at the lake reading The Chronicles of Narnia, a gift from my sister for my 11th birthday. While “covinating” this spring, I listened to the Audible version, read by British actors including Kenneth Brannagh, Derek Jacobi, and Patrick Stewart. Listening to these performances, I felt as though I was discovering the series for the first time.

    Although I no longer edit professionally due to a pesky pituitary tumour, when I was working, I also found solace in a book before bed. And I heartily agree with Frances Peck’s method of choosing reading material, as well as her take on book clubs. My forays there haven’t been satisfying.

    Even now, on leave from work, reading is still my favourite activity, and I still read a good deal of nonfiction. I can’t imagine a day without reading. For me, and probably all of you as well, it’s akin to breathing.

    • A day without reading is like … a day without sunshine! Thanks so much for your comments, Brenda, and every good wish for your health.

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