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Best Sports To Read To, Ranked

Photo: Matthew Lewis (Getty Images)

The thing about reading a book is that it is absolutely, undeniably a sport. Not only does reading a book require endurance, concentration, and a good amount of practice, it is also occasionally competitive. For sure, working so hard to get AR points for reading The Golden Compass or some long doorstop of a book were a sport.

But sometimes it is nice to do two sports together, like reading your book and putting another sport on the television in the background. When you want to do two sports (one of which is the sport of reading) it is important to choose a second sport that will allow you to do both at peak performance. This can be complicated. You want the second sport to be engaging enough to provide a nice relief and break from your book when you need it, but not so engaging that it takes over. Remember that your primary goal in this imaginary scenario is to focus on the first sport at hand—reading the book.

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Years of trial and error have led us to create a very scientific list of sports to watch when you just want to look up from your book from for one second and then return to reading. Ranked from worst to best:

13. Pro wrestling

If you find yourself watching a wrestling match and are not entertained by wet men smashing bodies and screaming, then I think you should leave the wrestling match. If the match is boring enough to make you want to pick up a book, then you should also leave. If you’re watching wrestling on TV, though, and want very badly to find out what’s in ’Arry Potter’s chamber of secrets, turn off the TV. There’s too much action! Wrestling is all action. The fractured brain can only do one thing, and in this instance, it’s the sports entertainment.

12. Dog show

Dog shows are a sport that requires every inch of attention you have in your brain. There are dogs, most of whom are very adorable, and they are attended by humans, whose dedication to their charges is endearing. If you read during a dog show, you’re going to miss out on almost everything that makes a dog show worth watching: the joy in a Bernese mountain dog’s gambol; the humble pug’s trot. Pay attention to this, it is worth every moment of your time, and put the book down, ma’am.

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11. Hockey

Listen, hockey is a good sport, but not only do the announcers feel the need to name every single person touching the puck at every moment in time, they also have giant vocabularies. You do not need someone who is going to use 15 synonyms for “pass” distracting you from the good book you need to read to learn those words yourself.

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10. Tennis

Tennis requires the undivided attention of its viewers because that little neon ball is always doing something! Flying over the net; going out of the box; being hit very hard with a racket. Follow that ball, because you will have no idea what is going on if you don’t—a lesson learned the hard way after trying to read while watching Serena Williams fall to Bianca Andreescu in the U.S. Open. Look away for five minutes, and boom, something has happened. Love? Ace! No book for you.

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9. Volleyball

Like tennis, volleyball is rhythmic. There is a nice consistent thumping sound of the ball going up and down and sometimes (if you’re lucky) even a squeaky sound. Just like basketball and tennis, though, there is too much scoring in volleyball. Even if you are watching Olympic-level athletes, the actual volley part never lasts more than a minute, and then people are jumping around and you gotta look up from your nice book to find out what is happening. Better than tennis, but still no good.

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8. Competitive eating

Can’t imagine why anyone would want to read during the most exhilarating sport of our modern times, but if the idea of watching someone eat 50 hot dogs in a row without stopping makes you feel ill, then by all means, pick up Moby Dick and have at it.

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7. Basketball

Basketball can be good for reading only if you believe that the last five minutes of a game are the only part that matters. But for everyone else, basketball is no good. Something is constantly happening in a basketball game. At every moment someone is shooting a three, or someone is dunking, or someone is getting fouled and Rihanna is on the sideline chugging a beer. This is a wonderful sport, but a very bad sport for focusing on your very good book. The bouncy ball does make a nice metronomic thumping for your background reading, but refs are always messing it up with whistles.

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6. Soccer

Soccer moves faster than really should; much like basketball, volleyball, and tennis, it requires your utmost attention. Getting really into the juicy middle section of A Little Life during the middle of a match where players are constantly almost scoring a goal, or at least getting the announcers all excited about them almost scoring a goal, is bad for enjoying both the sport of reading and the sport of soccer, where if you look away at the wrong time you could miss the only action in the entire game.

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5. Skiing

Downhill skiing is fun because it happens in the blink of an eye! The people start at the top of the mountain, and then, in roughly 30 seconds, they are at the bottom. If everyone’s lucky, no one crashes into anything and everyone’s skis stay on their feet. Reading during televised skiing competitions can be nice because the whoosh-whoosh of the skis cutting through the gnar pow-pow is soothing, but if you really want to see what’s happening, you must use your eyes. Save the book for commercials!

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4. Golf

You might think that golf would be number one on this list, but then you would be a very naive person who is maybe illiterate. The thing about golf is that it is too boring to watch while you read. If it is a nice evening and you’re all cuddled up on your couch with your book and there is golf on TV, you aren’t reading. You’re sleeping!

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3. NASCAR

NASCAR could in theory be a good reading sport, but it is not the best. The problem with is two-fold. 1) Everyone is too noisy and too excited every damn time a tire has to be changed, which is somehow constantly, and 2) The rest of the time it is too quiet like golf. Too much variation in volume is distracting. So bad for reading.

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2. Football

Truly there is no better sport for reading a large novel than America’s favorite sport. The beauty of football is that you can pay attention if you want, but also, you truly don’t have to. Announcers yell when something important is happening, or going to happen, so if you’re listening, you can look up when your boyfriend Gardner Minshew actually does something other than look very good in a mustache. The ambient noise of football feels like fall, the true reading season. Summer enthusiasts will scream about reading at the beach and by the pool and on top of an anthill at a park, maybe. But great reading happens when your reverie is interrupted only by Cleatus’s mechanical grunts, indicating clearly that a commercial is about to begin—the perfect time to get up, find some water, make tea, and return to your big book, your blanket, and the ambient noise of CTE.

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1. Baseball

Ah, America’s pastime: Nine innings of one person throwing a ball, another person occasionally swinging at it and often missing. Baseball is the perfect sport to read to. Not only are there 162 games a year, meaning that it doesn’t really matter who wins most of the games you watch, every game is 4–12 hours long. This is perfect because if you’re getting sleepy, you can convince yourself to stay up late with your book to “see the end of the game,” and read an extra 50 pages. Need to read a book for work that is dull as hell? Baseball will be there for you every time you look up. Have a great book you’re immersed in? Baseball moves slowly enough that you will only be distracted when you want to be. Use your time “watching” baseball to actually slow down. It’s not quite doing nothing, but it’s close enough.

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