Read for a living?
July 21, 2005 9:16 AM   Subscribe

Is it possible to make any kind of living primarily by reading? I ask because the way-smart twentysomething daughter of my friend has announced she has considered all of the options, and intends to read as her primary occupation from here forward, world without end, amen.

She has two degrees--one in poli sci, one in econmics. She seems very smart, very able, quite socially adept. She reads eight to ten hours a day, and has announced that's what she intends to do for the rest of her life. Her parents are worried they will support their daughter for the rest of her life. (Although as micro-serfs, they envy her choice.) They have tried to interest her in teaching, but she has no interest whatsoever. Any ideas on what a smart young lady who intends to read ALL of the Great Books--forever--can do to make some dough along the way?
posted by lustra to Work & Money (41 answers total)
She could review them. She could edit them. She could be a private chauffeur (which, according to the movie Sabrina, allows one for plenty of time for boooks).
posted by o2b at 9:21 AM on July 21, 2005

academia. But that requires writing and talking as well.

Work by definition must be useful to someone other than the person doing it. No one is going to pay her to do something that they don't benefit from. She can either find a job that is dead easy, allowing her to spend much of the time on the job reading, or she can find a job that takes very little time (either continuously, or from which one could retire early), allowing her to have enough spare time to read, or she can find a job which incorporates reading, but this will require using it to the benefit of others - teaching other people, editing / reviewing new books (so not necessarily the most brilliant books), etc.
posted by mdn at 9:26 AM on July 21, 2005

If she has a good speaking voice there's always the books on tape or audio books for the blind. Both presumably involve some person reading books for pay, but I'd bet that a celebrity or author would have an easier time breaking into the game.
posted by caution live frogs at 9:29 AM on July 21, 2005

How about being a reader for the entertainment industry?
posted by sexymofo at 9:29 AM on July 21, 2005

Well, with a resume like that, she could easily land a job as an editor of academic or scholarly books or journals. However, the amount of actual reading she might do in that capacity will vary. She could be a copyeditor, but if my experience is representative at all, she'll get mighty bored mighty quick.

Perhaps she should be encouraged to write books for others to read.
posted by scratch at 9:36 AM on July 21, 2005

FWIW, Hollywood readers make about $50 to $100 a script, and are expected to read two scripts a day. Of course, you do more than read the script, you come up with justifications for the studio executive to pass on the material as well.

I've known several people who have worked as readers in Los Angeles. All say that it's a pretty tedious job and sucks the will to write right out of you...
posted by herc at 9:41 AM on July 21, 2005

The closest you can get: she should look into becoming an acquisitions editor for a publisher, perhaps an academic publisher with strength in a field she is interested in. This might entail heading to grad school, where one can gain the perspective and make the contacts necessary to pursue this.
posted by realcountrymusic at 9:48 AM on July 21, 2005

I agree with Marky. If she's already got two degrees why are her parents even involved in her career plans or finances? She's a grown up, give her three months to get a job and her own place and let her figure out what she wants to be when she grows up.
posted by octothorpe at 9:55 AM on July 21, 2005

What about library science?

Does involve non-reading activities (dealing with bureaucracy, planning programs, helping patrons) as well as going back to grad school, but a major component of the jobs of public librarians is reading. Librarians need to be able to direct patrons to related books that might interest them, keep on top of trends in literature, determine how funds should be allocated (x copies of y book), etc.
posted by fuzzbean at 10:09 AM on July 21, 2005

On the slush pile at a publishers would seem ideal for the shiftless wonder.
posted by bonaldi at 10:11 AM on July 21, 2005

Marky, you win my award today for hilarity. I love it!

Seriously though, I read more than almost anyone else I know. I read a complete paperback every two or three days, meaning I go through quite a stack in a month. I have an entire closet in my spare bedroom full of books. I just can't seem to part with them.

Back when I was in college and later, in grad school, all I did was read textbooks and technical papers. I missed my fiction. Ever since then, I've been on a tear. One of life's great pleasures, reading is, but I still limit myself to an hour or two in bed every night.

You know why? Reading isn't exactly a social activity. I question the social skills of someone who wants to read all day. Do you ever talk to anyone else? Cheese and rice that sounds like a boring life.

Another aspect of this that strikes me is the lack of brainpower required. For most of us, or at least some of us, our days are spent overcoming challenges. What challenge does reading present? I realize you can think about what you're reading, but I'll tell you, actively solving problems with deadlines makes you think faster and harder than pondering Kierkegaard (sorry about butchering that).

I suppose to answer the original question though, what job requires reading all day? I know of only two. Both are researcher type positions, and neither requires reading "books". Both deal with finding information in law books/cases or newspaper articles. However, both do require reading all day, looking for facts and details. Incredibly boring if you ask me, but hey, I guess you didn't.

On further thought, get a job.
posted by kungfujoe at 10:12 AM on July 21, 2005

I love to nap and watch tv, but bills gotta get paid. Her parents should nudge her to the curb. If she's as smart and able as you say, she'll work things out. I don't know about others, but my job doesn't correlate to my likes or dislikes, but it does give me the time and resources to pursue them.

Economics and political science degrees? That's what we in grad school call marketable. She should have not problem finding a good job. If she plans and saves right, she can quit after a year and do nothing but read for the next three.

I'd say she should become a teacher. Since she sounds disinterested in the idea, she won't feel bad for not investing any of her out-of-class time into her classes or students and can devote herself to reading.
posted by gaelenh at 10:13 AM on July 21, 2005

Not all familys "need" to have their children work, there are plenty of wealthy families out there that just want their kids to contribute to the world... maybe this is one of those...

I would suggest that if she loves to read and read everything she get a job from a research institute where she could read till her hearts content and help to organize information in the process.
posted by crewshell at 10:13 AM on July 21, 2005

I'm not sure library science would be the way to go...Public librarians may do a lot of reading but I bet they don't do it during their actual work hours and most of what they do during their work hours probably involves reading reports rather than books/magazines or whatever. And of course most people who do library science probably end up in jobs where they get to do even less pleasurable reading than a public librarian.

To address the question directly, something like being a book editor or literary agent would probably require lots of reading. However, it would require lots of other work as well. Just reading and keeping what you've read in your head and using it for nothing is useful to no one, as has already been suggested.

Even if she finds a job where she gets to read 8 hours a day, the chance that she'll have free choice of reading material is virtually 0. She's going to have to read what she's told to read. How pleasant is she going to find that for 8 hours a day?

Oh...and I know someone who reads for the blind. It's not just books, they need people to read newspapers and magazines too, and that's done daily and pretty mundane so it's not done by actors. However, it is done by volunteers. You don't get paid for it. (The book on tape people do, but as already pointed out, they tend to be actors and such)
posted by duck at 10:17 AM on July 21, 2005

I wonder if she'd still enjoy reading as much if she'd have to do it, all day long, five days a week, not choosing her own books to read... If she gets a job as a script reader or editor, there'll be a lot of 'noise', and very few real gems, or even just 'nice' books to read.

And although I think fuzzbean is probably right about the things a librarian should know and do, I wonder if they actually get to read a lot of books while they work...
posted by Narnia at 10:17 AM on July 21, 2005

yeah. what duck said (hmm.. this life preview does have its down side...)
posted by Narnia at 10:18 AM on July 21, 2005

Oops. That should be 'live'. Life preview might be quite nice too, though. On the other hand, maybe not.
posted by Narnia at 10:20 AM on July 21, 2005

Working for the National Park Service at a remote location leaves plenty of time for reading, a good wage, and a swell retirment plan. Perfect for a spoiled brat with no ambition.
posted by Cassford at 10:29 AM on July 21, 2005

The problem with the jobs that require a lot of reading is that you don't get to pick what you read. I'm guessing that reading dreadful manuscripts or copyediting will be "not what she meant." (I once expressed pretty much the same desire and looked into jobs. The above is what I said after a little research.)

Reading what she wants to read/using what she reads. This all assumes a basic willingness to get off her butt and work.
* She could be a research assistant at a university, but that position is typically filled by grad students. She could go back to graduate school for lit., of course.
* Library science. Also may require more graduate school.
* Tutor. Generally a volunteer gig.
* Teach. She will likely have to get an education certificate, but with her advanced degrees that shouldn't be a problem.
* Reader for the blind. Again, volunteer.

* Non-profit admin. She should look into the non-profit organizations in her area. It sounds as if she would be well-qualified to work in programs supporting education and community development.
posted by desuetude at 10:32 AM on July 21, 2005

My mother worked for a while as a young adult librarian (and we were friends with all of the librarians at the nearby library, and I worked for a while as a library page). Reading was a non-insignificant portion of their time, but yes, a lot of it (the majority) was devoted to shelving books, finding books, organizing books, ordering books...but sitting and reading (while on the clock) while there were no books to be shelved or patrons to be helped was certainly acceptable. So it might be an option.

I should have clarified that this lovely state of affairs certainly doesn't hold for ALL library science graduates; public librarianship can be fun (I've thought about it myself) but the vast majority go work for chemical companies or law offices or the like and do very dry, very dull research.
posted by fuzzbean at 10:42 AM on July 21, 2005

On the slush pile at a publishers would seem ideal for the shiftless wonder.

AFAIK there is no such animal anymore. (I mean no one is paid to read the slush pile--there sure as hell is a slush pile.)
posted by scratch at 10:44 AM on July 21, 2005

I think her best bet is to find a position as a companion to an elderly widow. She was likely born 150 years too late for such work, but with a bit of industry (which she may not have), she might be able to earn pin money by reading to shut-ins who have intelligence and money but few friends.
posted by anapestic at 10:52 AM on July 21, 2005

All these ideas are definite possibilities -- I just want to add that you might have to go so far as to kick her out of the house to make her do any of them.
posted by JanetLand at 11:08 AM on July 21, 2005

Sorry, I meant her parents might have to kick her out.
posted by JanetLand at 11:10 AM on July 21, 2005

I second the think tank ("research institute"). Particularly for someone with her degrees. There are job descriptions that consist pretty much of reviewing the periodical literature in a given field, region, or policy area, and summarizing the contents in report form for the analysts.
posted by Miko at 11:11 AM on July 21, 2005

Nobody has a passion simply for reading. Reading is merely looking at words on a page -- in which case, she could very happily get a job as a typesetter.

What she needs to do depends on what, exactly, she gets out of throwing herself into books. Is it escapism? Is it the revelatory act of learning? Is it that, in books, she finds things about which she is more passionate than in real life? Therein lies the answer.

In the meantime, I'm of the "kick her out and let her deal with it like a grownup" school of thought.
posted by junkbox at 11:14 AM on July 21, 2005

academia. But that requires writing and talking as well.

I see you haven't met any of my professors. ;)
posted by Yellowbeard at 11:37 AM on July 21, 2005

If she wants to read for pleasure and not work (ie wants to read Shakespeare, not scripts or unpublished books or newspapers or obscure Victorian sensibility novels), I second jobs like Park Service or someone's dedicated driver. Also, librarian at a small high school or college. If someone paid solely for reading for pleasure, it would be the most coveted job ever.
posted by muddgirl at 12:52 PM on July 21, 2005

Without knowing a whole lot of detail, and missing Marky's original comment, I have to agree with octothorpe. I kind of think this is a situation you want to stay away from. I'm going to venture a guess that this young woman has not yet held any kind of real, career-path job. Having two degrees, yet being supported by your parents post-college is a red flag, and when she up and declares that her life path is to entail something so inherently unbeneficial to anyone but her, it's a sign that you should not get involved. This is a path to disaster.

Even the generally wise suggestion of being an editor is probably going to make her unhappy because, as others have pointed out, she won't get to choose what she reads. At all. Your young friend is in for an unpleasant revelation. She needs to be steered toward a productive career, not the life of a dilletante.
posted by mkultra at 12:54 PM on July 21, 2005

It's seems like there are lots of jobs out there which require you to sit somewhere and not do much. House-sitter, lighthouse keeper, bouncer at a club on slow nights, clerk/owner at a business with few visitors, etc.
posted by callmejay at 1:22 PM on July 21, 2005

callmejay wrote: clerk/owner at a business with few visitors, etc., say, a used bookstore. She could sit in her chair reading, surrounded by books, and now and then ring up a sale.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 2:20 PM on July 21, 2005

I dunno, callmejay. I'd add motel clerk to your list, but I don't really know the details of any of these jobs, but I bet good ones are hard to find -- my impression is those 'workers' aquired their gigs via some family connection.
posted by Rash at 2:31 PM on July 21, 2005

And lighthouses are always automated, now.
posted by Rash at 2:32 PM on July 21, 2005

If the 'great books' part of the question is actually true, then she should go to graduate school in English literature. That's what I'm doing, and, although I do write and speak, I spend the vast majority of my time reading the great books. This summer, for example, that's all I've done, and that's all I intend to do for all of next year, except for some teaching, which amounts to talking about books with people. If you're an English professor, a fair quantity of the value you provide is based, very simply, upon the fact that you have read and continue to read far more books than most people.

It's great, I recommend it.
posted by josh at 3:38 PM on July 21, 2005

And I'll add: one nice thing about working with literature is that you can read a lot in every discipline: history, philosophy, anthropology, the hard sciences, theology--you can really read anything you want.
posted by josh at 3:41 PM on July 21, 2005

I have something pretty close to this job--I'm the fiction buyer for a large public library system.
I spend a lot of time reading book reviews, though not usually whole books. I do get lots of free advance copies that I can read in my spare time.

However, there aren't many jobs like mine available--most librarians spend very little on-the-job time reading.

If she really wants to spend all day reading whatever she wants, (and good for her) I would go with the suggestions of some job where you just have to be there but not do anything.
Like Jack Nicholson's job in The Shining. That turned out well, as we all know.

Actually, she might want to look at places like Alaska or northern Canada, something where you get snowed in all winter and just have to occasionally go and check some gauges or something.
Weather observatory?
posted by exceptinsects at 3:43 PM on July 21, 2005

She should move to China (or maybe Eastern Europe, although that's not quite as convenient) and teach English. The cost of living is so low that it'll be easy for an American (particularly a college educated American) to make what she needs to live. Then she'll have lots of free time to devote to reading great books.

It's the best way that I know of to delay (or avoid entirely) the "rat race".
posted by gd779 at 6:13 PM on July 21, 2005

She could consider being a researcher or factchecker at a magazine. These jobs involve reading articles and then reading books/webpages/blogs/other magazines where the information originated. The only thing to note about these jobs is that they also involve calling sources to confirm quotes. But, mostly, the job is read, read, read.
posted by ebeeb at 10:23 PM on July 21, 2005

Many years ago I worked during part of a summer as a security guard. Low pay, terrible hours (10 p.m. to 6 a.m., or so), but a great chance to read, because the job entailed sitting in a factory or warehouse (sort of a "human alarm", in case anything happened). I did need to circle the premises once every half hour or so, but since I could run the route (typically) in 7 or 8 minutes, that left about 75% of my time to read. So I thought it was a fair bargain, even if it wasn't a living wage (I was still in college, staying with my parents during the summer).
posted by WestCoaster at 11:16 AM on July 22, 2005

Fuzzbean wrote;

a major component of the jobs of public librarians is reading. Librarians need to be able to direct patrons to related books that might interest them, keep on top of trends in literature, determine how funds should be allocated (x copies of y book), etc.

When I was a public library librarian, I was too busy working 60 hours a week to read much. I directed patrons to books by lumping genre readers together (Mrs. Foo and Ms. Baz both like similar books, so cross-refer them), I determined how funds should be allocated by looking at circ stats on a computer screen and kept on top of trends in lit by scanning brief reviews in Publisher's Weekly.

And I hated it when people said I had such an easy job, sitting around reading all day.

So, no, librarianship is not the way to go for this young lady. However, when I was a minimum wage security guard, I did manage to do a good bit of reading during my 90 hours (you can't live on 40 hours a week of minimum wage) at work.
posted by QIbHom at 12:35 PM on July 23, 2005

Graduate school. They MAKE you read for more than 8 hours a day. But they do give you scholarships for it. (If they don't, don't go.)

She should major in whatever she likes reading most. Sounds like literature - PhDs in literature just read. Then write. Then read. It's hell. She will have to read criticism as well, though.
posted by jb at 10:22 PM on August 13, 2005

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