Listening to music while reading: Can you? Should you?

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image source: picjumbo.com

I’m a wannabe multitasker. I know I shouldn’t, and I’ve made great strides in breaking the habit over the years, since I know I feel way more effective when I’m doing only one thing at a time. But some things are harder to do one at a time than others, and reading is one of them.

Maybe it’s that reading is a quiet task in a loud and busy world, or maybe it’s that I’m so used to using music to tune out my surroundings while writing that I’ve tricked my brain into thinking reading is the same way. It’s not, though. Good music can get me in the headspace to write a difficult essay or short story, but it definitely interrupts the things I love most about reading: its solitude, its focus, its ability to transport me far away from my real life.

And yet, time and time again, I catch myself picking out a Spotify playlist when I sit down to read, which I usually have to turn it off after a few minutes. Sometimes I’ll get so absorbed in picking out music that I end up giving up on reading!

It’s true that some music is so near and dear to me that I don’t find it distracting: I’m particularly fond of Dessa‘s Castor the Twin and Cécile McLorin Salvant‘s Womanchild when I need to put something on to distract me from my downstairs neighbor’s crying baby or noisy road construction. But a peaceful afternoon of reading is definitely not a great time to enjoy a brand-new artist or album, and that’s usually what I catch myself trying to do.

So I’d like to throw this out there to other bookworms. When you carve out reading time, does music help or hinder your mood and ability to focus? If it does, what do you listen to? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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