Cathy Chester | An Empowered Spirit

What Rod Serling, The Dude and Russell Baker Taught Me About Making Time To Read


“Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers.  A bookish little man whose passion is the printed page.  But it was conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world full of tongue cluckers and the unrelenting hand of a clock.” ~Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone (Time Enough at Last)

I often wonder how I’ll find enough time to keep up with the countless articles, newspapers, emails, texts, journals, magazines and books that constantly glare at me from my tremendous, messy pile in the corner of my desk. That pile haunts me.  I actually harbor guilt over my inability to tackle it.   How do I create a balance between my reading list and the daily responsibilities of my work and family life?

Sometimes I see myself as Henry Bemis, Rod Serling’s masterful character who was brilliantly portrayed by Burgess Meredith in The Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough At Last.” Mr. Bemis is a simple, nearsighted bank clerk whose greatest wish is to have time enough to quietly read all the great classics in literature. His passion becomes endlessly annoying to his employer, his wife and the customers at the bank.  He is desperate to find a quiet place to read without being interrupted.  One day he grabs a book and a newspaper, enters the empty bank vault and shuts the heavy door behind him.

After finishing his book, he turns to his newspaper and reads the headline, “H Bomb Capable of Total Destruction”.  You guessed it.  While in the vault the world is destroyed, and he is its only survivor.

After walking among the ruins of his town, his first reaction is to commit suicide.  What was he going to do for the rest of his life with all the time he had on his hands?  His grief instantly turns to joy after stumbling on to the contents of the town’s public library.  He loudly proclaims, “And the very best thing of all is there’s time now.  There’s all the time I need.  And all the time I want.”

Okay, so I’m not exactly like Henry Bemis (except being very nearsighted) but you get my point.

On my nightstand I have three books I’ve wanted to read for some time now.  One is a selection from my book club (The Paris Wife) – a meeting that occurred last week and I couldn’t attend.  I haven’t finished the book and was too busy for the meeting.  The second is a book of American religious poems that my beloved uncle sent me (I read a little at a time).  The other is Jeff Bridges new book “The Dude and the Zen Master.” I love The Dude and I love books on spirituality.  Hopefully my love of “The Big Lebowski” will rid me of my guilt over not yet starting the book.

On my desk are approximately 30 newsletters, magazines and articles (AARP newsletters, MORE magazine, dozens of health-related newsletters, an MS quarterly) that I thought would prove helpful while writing various articles and blog posts.

In my Google inbox are thousands of emails I never deleted.  Why? When I quickly scan the title I think to myself, “That sounds interesting” or, “This is something that may enhance my blog.” “Measuring Social Media: How to Determine Your SOI” or “Best Apps for Taking, Editing and Organizing Photos” and “Buddhism: Are You Limiting Yourself?” are just some of what is stuffing my inbox and slowing down my computer.

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” ~Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!  

As a writer I know the best gift I can give myself is to constantly read, read, read.  Writers write about what they know and what they learn.  Their minds are always actively pursuing the next brilliant article, the next perfect post.  Ideas and story lines consume our consciousness like a dress rehearsal for a one-act play, tweaking and rewriting stories until we are ready to write.

I grew up the product of two parents who are voracious readers.  They read everything from the classics to world history to modern fiction.  My father can quote from Shakespeare; my mother loves British literature.  When they ask me what I am currently reading I sheepishly explain “WordPress for Dummies” and defend myself by adding, “But I’m still reading my daily New York Times.”  Their incredulous look says it all.

I once read an article about Russell Baker, the famous columnist who, when watching a baseball game, noticed a pre-game interview of an author who had recently published a 300 page novel.  The interviewer asked how people would be able to read her long book since they are so pressed for time.  Mr. Baker found this amusing, considering viewers were about to watch a 3-hour baseball game.

Well, Mr. Baker, you certainly were right.  So here’s my list of ways to conquer my reading list in 2013:

  1. Schedule a daily reading time.
  2. Organize what I want to read (journals, newsletters, emails) and make deadlines for when I want to be finished.  (I won’t give myself deadlines for books I’m reading for pleasure.)
  3. Set up a reading area where there are no distractions.
  4. Know when to give up on a book, article or newsletter.  If I’m not interested, or an email has been in my inbox for months, or it won’t benefit my professional needs, get rid of it.
  5. Define my “time wasters” and get rid of them.  Limit my time on social media (we all know how hard that is).  Journal how I spend my time in one day.  This will help me to discover how to make better use of my time.  (Journaling can be useful for many areas of our life, and this is no exception.)
  6. Breathe.  Life is about the journey, and enjoying what I read is as important (actually it’s more important) as what I read. 
  7. Don’t take this all too seriously (and stop the guilt!) or I’ll miss the whole point of reading.  It should first and foremost be pleasurable, always educational and endlessly rewarding.

Getting back to Henry Bemis, as he grabs his first book to begin his long journey of uninterrupted reading, his glasses fall to the ground, shattering the lenses.  He is unable to read and begins to cry.  “This is not fair. This is not fair at all.”  No Henry, it isn’t fair.  But, as Rod Serling surmises, Henry is “just a fragment of what Man has deeded to himself.” Aye, there’s the rub.

Let’s take a lesson from Henry and give ourselves the gift of time to enjoy what we read, cherish the journey, and appreciate the lives we live with our loved ones – both real and fictional.


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20 thoughts on “What Rod Serling, The Dude and Russell Baker Taught Me About Making Time To Read

  1. Walker Thornton

    Oh my… I see myself in you. I finally gave up my subscription to The New Yorker because I couldn’t keep up. I have stacks everywhere.
    Love your idea of developing structure for reading.. will have to adapt that for my own use.

    1. Cathy Chester Post author


      I think a lot of us are seeing ourselves in each other, eh? I gave up all my magazine subscriptions, purchasing them separately if I am VERY interested in one of their articles (mainly at the airport.)

      Thanks for the comment. It is greatly appreciated!


  2. Pat

    Absolutely LOVED this, Cathy. It was so self validating! You sound just like me so I am not crazy after all, just a writer who loves to read, read, read. I have a whole library under my bed!

    1. Cathy Chester Post author


      I know what you mean! I kid my husband that soon we’ll have to get an extra house just to store all our reading materials.

      If you’re crazy then I am too. Let’s be endlessly crazy together about our love of reading.

      Cheers, and thanks for the comment,

    1. Cathy Chester Post author

      Yes, Lois, how did you know I was thinking of you?

      If I could do a cartwheel (which I never could do) your comment would energize me enough to do one. As a writer, you know how it feels when someone remarks that your words resonated with them. So a hearty and heartfelt THANK YOU.

      Have a wonderful weekend,

  3. Brenda @ MyMidlifeProject

    While I was reading it, I thought you wrote it for ME… until I reached the Comments section and realized it was written for some of the other GenFabers. I’ve allowed my magazine subscriptions to dwindle to just one. I’ve stopped (well, almost, anyway) buying print books because they’ve taken over my house. I have approximately 600 books (maybe 700 by now) in my Kindle library. I’ve recently begun blocking out an hour before bed to read, and I’m considering adding an entire afternoon once a week. Thank you for writing this and sharing!

    1. Cathy Chester Post author

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your life that mirrors my own!

      We GenFabbers love to write and read. I guess that’s another “club” we have in common. No membership required, only to learn how to manage our time and where to store all our stuff!

      Good for you, Brenda, that you’re taking the initiative to find some “me” time to read here and there. I read somewhere how one person reads at doctors appointments, in the car at a stop light, etc. I need complete peace and quiet (thus Henry Bemis!) So I’ll take your lead of an hour here and an hour there. Great idea.


    1. Cathy Chester Post author


      Glad to hear you’re going to give the plan a whirl. Let me know how it goes!


  4. Alexis

    I concur with this post in that it is critical important to keep reading but in an organized fashion that which is interesting, fun, expands our minds and has relation to what we work on. My Mother was a scholar and would be horrified at my largeTBR pile as its cozy mysteries for now to de stress. I carved out one hour in the late afternoon with my favorite chair, tea and current books to enhance my life last year. I also read at night before sleep. Social networking I do not do by choice as it does not add value to my life and I lived an entire lifetime without it’s infrigement on my time. To me it is childish and not necessary in life. I would rather read books. I organize my in box by subject and only read that which is necessary. For instance my digital photography hobby emails are organized by subject and date for a time when I can review them, not to be seen during a busy day. As for your desk you just need some good organization and decision making such as “Throw it Out” and “shred” pile first. Those are good places to start. I never keep more then a weeks worth of paper on my desk, then it goes to shred, file or thrown out. I made a home binder organization system that was simple and took care of paper Good Luck!

    1. Cathy Chester Post author


      You are much more organized than I am. Good for you! I think one day at a time for me as far as tackling some of the things you commented on. Thanks for the ideas.

      As far as social networking it serves its purpose for my personal and professional life. I enjoy the people I meet in my groups, but I do need more balance between it and my offline life.

      Thanks for your comments. They are very helpful.


  5. Helene Bludman

    This resonated with me too, Cathy. So many books, so little time … I must say that the time suck that is social media has taken much of my book reading time away, and I really want to change that.

    1. Cathy Chester Post author

      I know what you mean, Helene. Social media is difficult to stay away from yet necessary for us as well. Somehow we must find a balance for ourselves to do what we need, including reading books AND keeping up with our peers. I am working on making the change, too.

      Thanks for your comments.


  6. Ergonoid

    Just the title containing “What Rod Serling . . . taught me about making time to read” conveyed the whole thought! Helene is right: plus the e-world removes a lot of the impact of reading from a page you can actually touch.

    1. Cathy Chester Post author

      So true. Social media takes a lot of our time away from reading. We are distracted by so much more than when we grew up. We must make time for our beloved books!

      Thanks for leaving your comment.


  7. Amy G.

    Hi Cathy,
    Mea culpa! The title of this post caught my eye and instead of placing it in the file of good intensions I opened it to be an immediate read. Of course the Twilight Zone clip drew me in as well. So aptly placed! I have often wondered if everyone, like me has a metaphoric junk mail pile in their said email programs. It’s a pathetic little denial to convince oneself that you are actually going to take a moment to read all that you intend to. As a non-profiteer I wonder if my messages are read or if they are filtered to go straight in to the to-do-file of destruction! While I’m writing these messages (and all messages) I remind myself to minimize and keep it simple. No easy task for such a verbose woman. And coming from a long gene pool of hesitancy and not causing a stink I’ve had to temper each and every outreach. Have I rattled on? 😉

    I enjoyed reading this post and the many others you write-and when I’m inspired… I read (and watch!) every word.

    Thanks for your ongoing commitment Cathy.
    You rock loud enough to make it to the top of my to-read list!

    1. Cathy Chester Post author


      You rock in many ways, so of course when you said I do – I blush!

      Thanks for the less than verbose (I wouldn’t exactly expect one sentence from you!) response. It was marvelous.

      Thanks for putting me at the TOP of your large to-read list!


  8. Virginia Sullivan

    I loved this- and I guess that’s just part of still being active at persuing life and wanting to know all there is to know. It does feel a little like information overload- but I have met so many wonderful writiers it’s like I just can’t stop reading all the wonderful things I come across. Good post! V

    1. Cathy Chester Post author

      Absolutely, Virginia! Information overload is the perfect way to phrase it. We all experience that, yet we need to somehow find a balance to enable us to read all of the wonderful blogs we want to read, while attending to our jobs, home life – and love of books!

      Thanks for sharing your comments. It’s greatly appreciated.


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