Monday, January 12, 2009

How do you read so many books?

Soon after I posted my first reading challenge post, I got this question from a friend. Since then it has been repeated many times. So I started thinking about it and came up with an answer. Or several answers.

Reading is my default activity. If I'm not actively doing something else I'm reading. I read while I'm waiting, whether it's for a train, an appointment, or on hold with an insurance company. I read on the treadmill or recumbent bike. I read while I dry my hair. I read while I cook--although that is more likely to be a magazine--and I have been known to read while I vacuum.

I read while I eat, unless we're all sitting down for supper together. I read while I "watch" TV or a movie unless it's really, really good. (House, Lost, 24, or The Office.) I read before I fall asleep, sometimes for far longer than I should.

I also read fairly quickly. I found out when I was about 12 that there were people who paid to take classes to read like I do. Unless I'm doing genealogical research I read in "chunks" not words. When I look at a page I see sentences or phrases as wholes.

Like many other things, I think that reading improves with practice. Exposure to a wide vocabulary and range of writing styles makes reading easier. Working through a difficult book exercises the muscles of literacy that make the next one go faster. This is why I read my kids a large variety of books when they were small. I wanted them--from the beginning--to hear many different ways words could be put together: the rhythms of Seuss, the vocabulary of Beatrix Potter, the stories of a host of authors too numerous to mention, but many of which enriched my own childhood.

And if you still wonder how I read so much, come and see my house. I would far rather read, scrapbook, write, cook, search for dead relatives...than clean my house.

Oh, by the way, here are a couple more people who read a lot of books.


Elephantschild said...

I've also learned that the Book Police aren't going to come and knock on my door if I decide, 3 chapters in, that the book isn't worth finishing. Life is too short to read bad books!

Sometimes in non-fiction it's possible to spot where an author's headed and synthesize what you need without reading the entire tome, or without reading every chapter in-depth. I've also occasionally tossed a non-fiction book that was written so badly I couldn't stand it. Or, the author's political views kept getting in the way and it was too annoying.

(For example, if you're writing a book on, say, human behavior in traffic, snide comments about the Bush administration are off-topic and make you look stupid. Get an editor that knows what they're doing!)

Susan said...

I've been realizing recently that I read more than I thought. I seldom read books that look like books, except to the kids. I've been spending my reading-time on the computer, with emails or blogs, because those are short. I got so tired of getting into a book and not being able to follow through or finish. But the online reading --though definitely less satisfying in many ways-- fits with my schedule of being able to read in only tiny little segments, and also not knowing when I'll get to the next reading time-slot. And then there are the books that I've been reading, red pen in hand, that I read as individual sheets of paper, prior to publication when it finally looks like a book. And for some stupid reason I don't consider that to be "reading a book" either.

I never could find enjoyment in speed reading. I use it for gathering information, like when Jenny told me to read the book about home decorating, or when I read about "healthy houses." But when I want a story, I want to be pokey and slow and savor it, word by word. Now if only I could drag myself away from the computer to read those stories aloud to Maggie...

Mrs. C. said...

And don't forget our family's favorite place to catch up on a little reading, the bathroom!

Talk about finding a way to multi-task an under-utilized time!

Why not? Light's great, big comfy chair, relative expectation of quiet and privacy, and heck, you're sitting down anyway (at least the girls are, 100% of the time), why not make the most of it?

Jane said...

EC--Yes. I used to think that I HAD to finish any book I started. Life is WAY too short to waste it on bad books!

Susan-I've cut back on my online reading because I've felt my brain starting to get mushy around the edges. :) For me, "speed-reading" is the default, because it's just how I've always read. I didn't even know it was anything different until my mom bought a book on speed reading and I saw that I was weird. :)

Mrs. C.--Well. yeah!! :)