Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Reading time

Do you consider yourself a slow or a fast reader? I'd call myself a slow one. Obviously, such things are relative, but I've found that the Hobgoblin not only reads more books over the course of a year than I do, but that he seems to be able to get to the bottom of the page faster during those few times we've shared a magazine or newspaper. And I read book bloggers who seem to get through books awfully quickly, posting book reviews with admirable frequency. I think I'm slow in terms of the speed with which I process words and sentences, and if I read a decent number of books a year -- this year I'll probably read between 50 and 60 -- it's because I have a lot of time for reading, or, rather, I make a lot of time. The Hobgoblin and I just had a conversation about the things we could do if we didn't read so much -- things like keeping the house clean, the lawn neat, the pool free from algae (or, better yet, we'd have time to get rid of the stupid thing and do something better with the yard) -- a list which is not particularly inspiring. We'll continue to opt for the reading time.

I'm in awe of those who can regularly read a book in a day or two, who can sit down for a couple of hours and get through hundreds of pages. I must have read a book in a day at some point in my life, but I can't remember when, and the book must have been quite short. I can read things fast if I make myself -- student papers are one example of reading material I'll rip through, eager to get to the end -- but generally I'm happy to linger over words and sentences, re-read things, pause frequently and look up to consider a point, and let my mind wander.

Even more significant for me, though, is that I can't seem to take in that much of a story in one sitting before I begin to get a bit anxious, feeling like I need a break. I need a lot of time to process what I'm reading, I think. If I read too much of a novel in one day, say more than 70-80 pages, or even less, depending on the novel, I feel as though I'm not really appreciating it, not really absorbing it. It's like I can only comprehend a certain amount of action or information, or a certain number of plot events or character revelations before I begin to feel overloaded. And with nonfiction, it's even worse -- if I'm reading something full of facts and ideas I'd like to remember, I need even more time to process it -- to think about it and make sense of it before I go on to the next thing.

Reading multiple books helps me with this problem -- if it is a problem; if I feel like I've read enough of Proust, I can turn to my biography of Colette, or my book of poetry, or whatever else, and I won't feel overwhelmed. I think this has less to do with the total number of hours of reading in a day than with the amount of any one book I can take in at a time, although I can't hop from book to book for all that terribly long either -- I'll get restless.

So -- while I'd love to be able to read more books than I do, I'd really, really love it, I'm not sure I could, even if I had more hours available in the day. I'd lose something by trying to cram too much in. I think that if I tried to read more than, say, 60 books a year, I'd have to force myself to read less well. I love the idea of days and weeks with not much else to do but read (and ride my bike), but the reality is that I'd be unhappy. So I'm just going to have to pretend that I will have an unlimited number of years to read what I want to read, and therefore that my slow pace doesn't matter.