I’ve written before about how I have found it harder in recent years to read for any extended stretch of time. This one is especially sad to me, because I have always loved to read. When I was a kid, my grandmother (my dad’s mom) always made reading sound like the most amazing adventure of all time. I can’t say I remember a great deal of my life before I started reading, but I distinctly remember my Grandma telling me on many different occasions that if you could read, you could go anywhere in the world you wanted. All you had to do was pick up a book and use your imagination.

This was obviously an extremely powerful image for me, and I remember being excited about starting school because it meant I would learn to read. My mom still likes to tell the story of how I came home from my first day of kindergarten and told her that I wasn’t going back because they weren’t teaching me how to read. Thus began my long career of working against the establishment.

But I digress.

My point here is that for most of my life, I have loved to read. My Grandma’s take on it was obviously a little simplistic (hey, I was 4), but it’s always stuck with me and I still think it’s true. And I still love reading, but I’ve just gotten out of the habit of spending more than a few minutes doing any single task.

I’m telling you all of this to tell you that I recently signed up for a service called Send Me A Story. The concept is pretty simple. You give them your email address, and once per week they send you an email with a long form non-fiction story. It’s usually a great piece of journalism, sometimes new but sometimes very old. This week, it wasn’t journalism at all, but an essay from E.B White called “Death Of A Pig”. All of the things they email you come from longform.org, an online repository of sorts for long pieces of non-fiction. All of this is connected with Instapaper, which I also can’t recommend enough. Instapaper lets you look through all of these long articles (or articles anywhere on the web) and click a button to “Read Later.” Instapaper saves it for you so you can find it again when you have a chunk of time to devote to the article.

There are so many things I like about this setup. First, I get one article per week to read, even if I take no further action. I don’t have to waste a ton of unfocused time browsing around the internet looking for interesting things to read. Second, if what I receive doesn’t interest me or I’ve read it already (that was the case this week), I can head over to longform.org and quickly sort through the articles there to find something I do like. In the email they send, they also link a few other articles as well, so it’s often really easy to find one that does appeal to you. Finally, I really love the “Read Later” button. I realize this is a great way to create yet another queue of items I’ll never get through (see: Netflix), but it also takes away the pressure to read something as soon as you’ve found it. I often see articles that I’d like to read when more pressing matters are calling for my attention. Rather than cursorily glance through them while performing my other task poorly (or just forgetting about it entirely), I can now save it for later and read it when I have spare time.

All of these things are really secondary though. The main thing is that I’m reading something longer than a Facebook status update or witty blog post. My hope is that this will translate to actual books as well, and I have been doing a bit better about consistently reading the books I start. If I can get back to a place where I can read for hours without feeling a pressing need to check my email or turn on the TV, I’ll be a happy camper.

And my Grandma would be proud.