The Book I Read
October 13, 2009 1:04 AM   Subscribe

Nina Sankovitch is about to finish reading a book a day for a year. She not only reads them, she reviews them too. "You can’t go from ‘Little Bee,’ by Chris Cleave, which is about this young woman who witnesses torture and herself is a victim of abuse in Nigeria — a really great book, but you’re just crying or your stomach is clenched — to another book like it the next day,” she said. “If I read a book like that every day, I would have collapsed a long time ago.” Other 365 day projects have included this, this, and this.
posted by Xurando (133 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Twitter updates here.
posted by Xurando at 1:07 AM on October 13, 2009


Holy Christ I'm a slow reader. Even if I focus on it it takes me days to read a book, weeks if I try to hold down a job or do anything else. (I do read technical manuals as fast as anything else, though, so I'm thankful for the balance)
posted by poe at 1:19 AM on October 13, 2009


Mmm. I've been reading books every day for as long as I can remember. And making notes. It was only when I started a booklog, on January 1st 2005, it turned out that I finish 300 books a year on average [and don't finish at least a 100 more]. That number has been higher. When I was a university student. Though how much higher I don't know exactly.

I am no freak. I have a normal job, a partner, a decent social life, even though I post on MetaFilter avidly, and normally my reading habits are not something I brag about. Since I don't really get how other people make sense of the world they're living in, without curiosity, and without alleviating that curiosity through constant reading.

Reading a book a day is not in any way remarkable. What is remarkable is the amount of attention that woman gets from illiterate journalists.
posted by ijsbrand at 1:29 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've woken up every day for the last 38 years. Does that count?
posted by rhymer at 1:32 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


On a more serious note, I'm pretty much with ijsbrand. I probably read about 120 books a year and love reading. But so what? Reading's good in the sense that it gives your brain a work out cleverizes you in a way that TV just doesn't but I don't want a medal for being well-read. It's just something unremarkable I happen to do. And doing something unremarkable in a very repetitive doesn't really it remarkable. In the meantime, how about a blog about watching 6 hours TV a day. That would have a much wider appeal.
posted by rhymer at 1:42 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have a friend who spent a year reading nothing but the Iliad and the Odyssey. Nothing but – only those two books – and at the end he said that his regret was that he hadn't just chosen one and gone with that instead of trying to cram so much in. In one of the best classes I've ever taken, we read the whole of Aristotle's On The Soul, 150 pages in all, in the space of a semester, three months, with absolutely no commentaries and no side-texts; seven pages per class period, and we were rushing through as fast as we possibly could.

When people say they're reading a book every single day, or even every single week, it means one of two things: either their reading badly, or they're reading shit books.

I have a strong feeling that it's usually the latter.
posted by koeselitz at 1:50 AM on October 13, 2009 [20 favorites]


... and I should say that while I was doing that fantastic class I was also in a class with a professor of the type that assigned us between seven and ten books per week. Sheer torture. The first few weeks I really managed to limp through them, but every time I mentioned the amount of pain this was giving me not being able to actually take in an author's opinion and consider the implications of what they were saying someone else in the class would say: "what the hell are you doing? You're not actually supposed to read books like that. You assimilate the introduction rapidly and then go over the chapter headings, looking over the more important paragraphs as you come to them." And all along I knew that was what I was supposed to do, but it was just painful to do such injustice to the texts.

I have a feeling there are probably about five or six hundred books worth reading. Nobody knows what they are, but it's possible to get some idea and to choose carefully. If you do it right, in your life you have enough time to read about twenty of those well - going over them carefully, reading no more than a few pages a day, considering the words the author uses and the implication of everything that's said. I think it's a shame to waste that time gliding through another few dozen books that won't mean a damned thing to you a year from now. I've read Moby Dick through five times now, and more than that if you count the going back and pondering; was that a waste? And yet I get new things from it every time! I met a man once who had read Don Quijote (in Spanish, as he was a native speaker) every year during the month of his birthday since the year he'd turned 20; he was nearing 50 when I met him, and eagerly looking forward to taking up the book again. He said that the last five years had brought out new things that he'd never dreamed of finding in those pages, things which he'd somehow missed all the years before; he said that he felt as though he was finally getting a feeling for what Cervantes meant by his character.

I think that's a lot more noble than having read a thousand bestsellers, frankly. People think that reading is fantastic because it's better than television; well, that's not really saying much, actually. I love books, spend my life with them, but they're not ideal; they're a way of getting around the problem of mortality and simulating in a very limited way the essential act of dialogue with other human beings. If I could spend all day in contemplation and in discussion with really intelligent people, I think I might not need to read ever again.
posted by koeselitz at 2:02 AM on October 13, 2009 [25 favorites]


I would have been more impressed if she'd read a book in a year.
posted by koeselitz at 2:06 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


As they say, reading too many novels makes you go blind.
posted by rhymer at 2:15 AM on October 13, 2009


Yeesh. I'm looking over her list, and while lots of things here are really only worth a day or less (Jack Handey? Chuck Klosterman?) some stuff is just appalling. I'm sure Joseph Conrad or Thomas Pynchon would be delighted to know that they spent many years of their lives pouring their souls into their novels so that she could glide through The Crying of Lot 49 or A Smile Of Fortune in a single afternoon. Does she really think she's reading?
posted by koeselitz at 2:17 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm traipsing through Philip Roth's Sabbath's Theater at the moment. I've never read Roth before so it's taking me a while to come to terms with his style. I guess I'm about 100 pages in and I've been at it maybe a week. It's more to do with only being able to take snatches out of my day to actually read, rather than the book itself being so profound and densely-layered. It's actually not very good but I'm trying to be patient. My main problem is I don't have a nice reading chair, and if I'm in bed I tend to just nod off.

Next up is Gene Wolfe's The Book Of The New Sun, so I'll get back to you in...a year or so.

For people who want to read about reading, incidentally, you'll likely be told that How To Read A Book by Adler and van Doren is the bible of such things. And it's totally excellent, yes, but my personal pick would be Harry Maddox's Books And Learning - A Psychology Of Reading. Very hard to find (Maddox is mostly known for his How To Study), but wonderful.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:27 AM on October 13, 2009 [7 favorites]


A book used to take me about two to three weeks. But after a while I found that if I read the same book two years later, I'd have almost no recollection of what it was about, beyond a vague recognition of one or two of the most vivid characters.

So far this year I'm up to three books, and the difference is remarkable. I think there's a pressure to consume written information in the same way we consume TV or film, and that's quite detrimental. There's also something quite wonderful about listening to a good audio book over a period of several weeks; having something read to you in a well-paced, expressive manner can really bring a book to life.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:28 AM on October 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


I prefer to read fiction over time. Good fiction is, I'd argue, much more rewarding this way. I remember reading The Golden Bowl over a month of 1/2 hour commutes one summer and it really made everything a little bit better.

But Fiction that is principally about plot (and I like this also) sure, read it in an afternoon - all you're doing is finding out how it ends anyway, right?
posted by From Bklyn at 2:34 AM on October 13, 2009


Other 365 day projects have included

And this.
posted by ...possums at 2:51 AM on October 13, 2009


Is 'Little Bee' what's known in the UK as 'The Other Hand'? If not, I have a book to hunt out. Incendiary by Chris Cleave was great.
posted by mippy at 2:55 AM on October 13, 2009


When people say they're reading a book every single day, or even every single week, it means one of two things: either their reading badly, or they're reading shit books.

That's bollocks. Before I got brain ills, I was easily reading three books a week - during a month off, that was two or three a day. I read very, very quickly, though I struggle with fiction since going on sodium valproate.

Oh, I tried to read Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs recently, and even I couldn't finish it. And I will read the Daily Mail.
posted by mippy at 2:57 AM on October 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


Stewart Lee once said that if he had read every book published, he would be more stupid, not cleverer. Compare The Shield, say, with, um, Katie Price's Sapphire. Or this effort.

Everyone at work is obsessed with Twilight - I'd rather watch a good film to relax than read that to relax.
posted by mippy at 3:00 AM on October 13, 2009


me: When people say they're reading a book every single day, or even every single week, it means one of two things: either their reading badly, or they're reading shit books.

mippy: That's bollocks. Before I got brain ills, I was easily reading three books a week - during a month off, that was two or three a day. I read very, very quickly, though I struggle with fiction since going on sodium valproate.

What in god's name were you reading, then? It may not be Twilight, but I have a feeling you weren't cramming The Brothers Karamazov, Ulysses and Malone Dies into a single week, were you?
posted by koeselitz at 3:16 AM on October 13, 2009


mippy: Compare The Shield, say, with, um, Katie Price's Sapphire. Or [The Mistress by Katie McCutcheon.]

How can anyone have the patience to read any of those books?
posted by koeselitz at 3:23 AM on October 13, 2009


koeselitz - can't remember now, but I remember reading Rebecca, Stupid White Men and Joan Bakewell's autobiography within a week. I'm not claiming to be hacking my way through the great Russian novels back then, but I read pretty well.

As for Sapphire - search me. I see people on the tube with them, though, so I guess it's switching the brain off at the end of a long day. I watch some pretty poor TV at times in the same way.
posted by mippy at 3:30 AM on October 13, 2009


I stand firmly by my thesis: people would be better off if they read a single book in a year, or at least in a month. The Red and The Black and The Charterhouse Of Parma (just to take two really great romance novels as an example) are each really and truly worth a thousand Sapphires and The Mistresses, and if a person set aside all those cheap thrills and really settled into those few characters, they would find themselves much more enriched and contented. And I'm not saying that to be posh or pretentious, either; Stendhal isn't either of those things, and I think people would be pleasantly amazed and delighted that a guy writing in the 1840s could be so engaging, so entertaining, and, well, so goddamned fun.

That's another thing: when people read a lot of books, it's invariably modern fiction. With all due respect, it's pretty provincial to stick to the last few years in one's reading habits. People were writing books before then, right? And they didn't have some sort of literary leprosy, right? So what's stopping us from reading books fifty, a hundred, even a thousand years old? Are we just afraid that people in the books will be different from us?
posted by koeselitz at 3:32 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Some people like to eat their meals fast, others slowly. Others at different paces for particular meals. There's not right way or wrong way; it's just a preference. No one says, "I can eat a slice of lasagne in three minutes" like it's something to be proud of, and likewise no one brags about taking an hour.

I feel the same way about people's reading habits as I do about their sexual habits: If it makes them happy I'm cool with it, and it's not really something I think there's a lot of value in discussing publicly. I'm more interested in what they have to say about a book, than themselves.
posted by smoke at 3:34 AM on October 13, 2009 [12 favorites]


mippy: koeselitz - can't remember now, but I remember reading Rebecca, Stupid White Men and Joan Bakewell's autobiography within a week. I'm not claiming to be hacking my way through the great Russian novels back then, but I read pretty well.

Okay, I'm sure you did – and I'm no literary saint either, I haven't read everything in the world of any value. Frankly, I feel a bit limited here. But did you ever get the urge to go back and reread? To read something again and again and again? It seems like that's an essential part of it, and the books I've read once mean almost nothing to me; it's the books I've read half a dozen times that really rank in my mind.

There are probably about thirty books that are really, really important to me; and I have a feeling that all of those will be important to me until the day I die. When I find a new book that might join that list, I look at it; I glance over it; finally, I might get around to sitting down and reading it through. If it's somewhat good, I might get partway through it and put it down; if it's even better, I might read through it in a week and then go back to it from time to time. But if it's really, really great, I'll spend months going through it, reading over every chapter a few times, getting the feel for how all the characters are moving through the pages, trying to riddle out the meaning behind it; I'll read any other books by that author that I can get my hands on, and either I'll discover that the first was inferior to another or that the first was really and truly the best. If I find a better one, I'll still keep coming back to that first book, because that's my reference, my initiation into a new, greater book.

Doesn't it make sense to spend more time on something that's better, something that means more?
posted by koeselitz at 3:39 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


The nice thing about getting older is I only need one book. I pick it up every day and by the time I'm through familiarizing myself with it again, it's time to do something else.

(And while I can see what koeselitz is saying, and even nod in appreciation, there is something to be said for picking up a volume of your favorite "low brow" author and cruising through it in an afternoon. I'd rather do that than watch the tube.)
posted by maxwelton at 3:40 AM on October 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


Kostelitz, I don't disagree. I find it very hard to read fiction from pre-1900, no idea why. Perhaps because literary styles have changed so much? Then again, there are those who read the classics and dismiss anything published in the past ten years - including some English degree courses, where 'modern fiction' stops somewhere around 1840.

The target audience for The Mistress or Sapphire will be someone who likes the celebrity author, likes romance and glamour, and likes the mentions of brands familiar from glossy magazines or SATC, and wants an easy read for the beach. It will be very hard to get this audience into The Scarlet Letter or Madame Bovary. Sometimes people want steak tartare, sometimes they just want a tube of Pringles. It's not for any of us to say what someone's literary diet ought to be.
posted by mippy at 3:43 AM on October 13, 2009


kosteliz - I've read the Adrian Mole books several times (first time at nine - I can quote entries from memory), as I have The Children of Dynmouth, H2G2, Molesworth, Alice in Wonderland - there are probably others, and there will be others when I get more time to catch up with my reading (I swore off reading the evening commuter papers to do just this, as I miss being able to get through novels - it takes me at least a week now.)
posted by mippy at 3:45 AM on October 13, 2009


smoke: Some people like to eat their meals fast, others slowly. Others at different paces for particular meals. There's not right way or wrong way; it's just a preference. No one says, "I can eat a slice of lasagne in three minutes" like it's something to be proud of...

But people do act proud of eating slices of lasagne in three minutes. And while you can roughly say that "it's a matter of preference," the way you phrase your answer makes it quite clear that you're aware that it's unhealthy to eat, say, an entire lasagne in a minute flat. More to the point, it's not merely a matter of preference; there is one particular way to eat that is best suited to each aim. If your aim is making yourself healthier, there are various foods that are better or worse in moving toward that aim. If your aim is enjoying yourself and eating satisfying food, there are various foods which are better or worse for that, and that set of foods may or may not overlap with the healthier set of foods in any given case.

Reading fast is fine for those who are in it for the entertainment. It's also useful if your goal is to, say, be apprised of the state of current fiction, or to be up to date on the best minds of society today or something like that. And there's nothing wrong with any of those goals. All I mean to say is that, for those of us who are aiming toward the serious understanding of really great books and of the people who wrote them, there is only one way to read: very slowly.
posted by koeselitz at 3:48 AM on October 13, 2009


maxwelton: (And while I can see what koeselitz is saying, and even nod in appreciation, there is something to be said for picking up a volume of your favorite "low brow" author and cruising through it in an afternoon. I'd rather do that than watch the tube.)

Agreed. I don't think of Raymond Chandler as being particularly 'top shelf' (I guess some people might) but my current pleasure is his Farewell, My Lovely. I don't even read that very fast, though; part of it is just that I have to read slowly, being so very ADD, I guess. So I wouldn't want to enshrine my own reading habits just because I happen to be slower than everybody else!
posted by koeselitz at 3:51 AM on October 13, 2009


If you're writing a dissertation on a novel, yes, reading very slowly is the only way. Otherwise, you are being exceptionally prescriptive on how people Ought To Read. Some people read slowly. Some people read quickly. Some people have differing views on what constitutes 'really great books', and you may be surprised to find that for some, this means what you seemingly dismiss as 'the state of current fiction'.
posted by mippy at 3:58 AM on October 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


mippy: The target audience for The Mistress or Sapphire will be someone who likes the celebrity author, likes romance and glamour, and likes the mentions of brands familiar from glossy magazines or SATC, and wants an easy read for the beach. It will be very hard to get this audience into The Scarlet Letter or Madame Bovary. Sometimes people want steak tartare, sometimes they just want a tube of Pringles. It's not for any of us to say what someone's literary diet ought to be.

I guess I don't want to be harping, which is kind of what I'm doing, but – if there's anything that bugs me about the sheer volume of books that our society produces, it's that I don't agree that it would be hard to get most people to like things like The Red and The Black. I was lucky enough to go to a school where that was required reading; there were plenty of SATC-loving, Twilight-watching folks there, but so many of them couldn't help but love Stendhal. I think that the idea that people in general can't be convinced to read or enjoy classic fiction is a myth put across by an industry hell-bent on getting us to shove their new book into our faces every week or so. But there's no pretentious ability that readers of great fiction have acquired that most people lack; people just have a fear of these "big books" that are supposed to be so far beyond them.

If there's anything I'd want people to understand, it's that books are never 'beyond them' in the sense that they can't pick them up and read them. There are some that are simply too difficult to read, but those books are actually ridiculously rare; the amazing fact that anybody can discover for themselves if they like is that books like Moby-Dick and Don Quijote aren't just readable, they're fun, and anybody can have a blast reading them.
posted by koeselitz at 3:59 AM on October 13, 2009


mippy: If you're writing a dissertation on a novel, yes, reading very slowly is the only way. Otherwise, you are being exceptionally prescriptive on how people Ought To Read. Some people read slowly. Some people read quickly. Some people have differing views on what constitutes 'really great books', and you may be surprised to find that for some, this means what you seemingly dismiss as 'the state of current fiction'.

I agree completely - sorry. I think I was being strident because I always detect a hint of "gee, EVERYBODY ought to READ MORE LIKE ME" when I hear of these folks who are doing things like reading a book every day and blogging about it and getting it put in the NY Times. But she never says that, and I shouldn't try to tell people how to read, either.

I think what also bothered me is that, whenever these stories get told, I can sense that a lot of people sit at home reading them and saying, "gee, I couldn't possibly read that much. Other people must be so much smarter than me." It just seems as though it's really not worth mentioning how many books you read; it's immodest, and it could lead to discouraging exactly the people who ought to be encouraged to read.
posted by koeselitz at 4:03 AM on October 13, 2009


It's not that smart, though, to pick up a book and read it. I mean, I've been doing it since I were two. People just think it is. I think a lot of chick lit (note: not all) is bloody awful, and I can't get on with fantasy fiction at all, but I'd rather people were reading something on the tube home rather than staring into space. (There are a lot of public transport readers in London - it's interesting to see what people are reading, and whom, and any trends.)

I didn't do literature for my degree, so read a lot outside of class to satisfy my fiction bent. I finished White Noise over the summer, then met a girl who'd just taken an exam on 'the Great American Novel'. Feeling a little awkward that my education had not primed me for the canon, I asked if this was Steinbeck and Fitzgerald. 'Oh no, it's stuff you've never heard of, like White Noise.' If you only read what you need for exams, everything seems obscure.
posted by mippy at 4:09 AM on October 13, 2009


Why does this remind me of the summarize proust competition?
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:36 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I spent a year doing a seven hour (that's 3.5 hours each way) commute. I read quickly. I was reading two to three books a day Monday through Friday.

I bought myself a subscription to the university library where I did my PhD and read extensively in their fiction collection, supplementing it through books found in the NYTimes book review (their notable books in paperback is a great resource), Seminary Coop front table, Globe Corner bookstore's recommendations, caught up on author's I'd always wanted to read, browsed heavily for anything with a promising first couple of paragraphs, and chipped away at the Booker Prize long lists.

I get a great deal of pleasure out of reading. I just happen to read quickly. I know I'm unusual but I wanted to provide one more data point in the column entitled "people who read a lot and quickly."

I've since moved to the city to which I was commuting and read much less. I haven't taken advantage of the public libraries here and the library of the university where I work is sadly inadequate.
posted by sciencegeek at 4:42 AM on October 13, 2009


Similar to sciencegeek on a smaller scale, I used to commute on a bus an hour each way and got a lot of reading done. Now that I moved back to the city, I walk to work and don't get any reading done. Generally my fiction reading now consists of lying in bed, reading two pages and then falling asleep. The next night, I read the same two pages since I was half asleep when I read them the first time and don't remember them. Rinse and repeat.
posted by octothorpe at 5:00 AM on October 13, 2009


Relevant? quote from Woody Allen:
"I took a speed reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes.
It's about Russia."
posted by hexatron at 5:07 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I already know that koeselitz is going to disagree, so I'll just get that out in the open, but I'm always, always glad to see people reading anything. Anything. Anything that gets people into a book - and not a magazine or watching television - is awesome in, well, my book.

My reasoning: people need entertainment without advertising. Twilight might be the intellectual equivalent of eating nothing but Pixi Stix, but there is not a big colorful ad on page 76 trying to get you to buy something that they don't need (except maybe the next book in the series). I know that more and more advertising is being slipped into books - via spin-offs, movies, etc, and it's frankly deplorable, but anything - ANYTHING that gets somebody to read something is awesome to me.

I had an argument with someone who was depressed that her mom read romance novels and said that in her opinion, it would be better for her to watch soap operas because the quality of the writing would rot her mind. Maybe if we're watching on Hulu or TiVo... but really, I think the greatest evil of television isn't the programming, but the commercials. The greatest value of reading as pure entertainment to me is that it is as free of marketing as any mass-entertainment can be. Consumerism makes me ill, and I really feel like anything we can do to distance ourselves from it is, as that paragon of marketing Martha Stewart would say, a Good Thing.

As for myself: I read on average 3 books per week, but of course, it depends on the book. I can't only read one book at the time. I've never been able to. And no matter what my fourth grade teacher might say, I do not mix up the books in my head. Right now, I'm going through Infinite Jest a second time, which I started for Infinite Summer, but ended up going too slowly to finish "on time." I can only read that one when I have my whole energy to devote to reading, which isn't all that often. So, yeah, there's a lot of "fun" reading supplemented in there as well.

I have the luxury of having a bit of reading time at work when the kids nap, and I tend to read a lot of less "serious" stuff then. Though I do also read some "quick" things like Rabbit, Run which I then go back to later. So yeah, I go through about 3 books per week. And I have no guilt about enjoying "fluff" like the Bourne series, life is too short to feel guilty about what I think is fun. I vary my reading diet: Bourne and DFW and everything in between. Just like my eating diet: Doritos and lobster thermidore (ok, not really the lobster but I can't think of a better opposite of Doritos) in small quantities and most of my diet falls in between.

(Of course, in my family, reading is a disease. Just like my father, I will read anything with words on it if you leave it in front of me.)

(Also: Her reading choices aside, I think her efforts to actually blog this regularly are admirable. I tried to blog every book I read this year and started failing this summer and had to admit that I just don't have time to write reviews for each book about a month ago. I spend a lot of time after reading digesting a book, so I can't necessarily come up with a cogent review right away. And then, by the time I have something to say, I don't necessarily have time to blog.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:25 AM on October 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


While I can't help but agree with koeselitz in theory, I have to qualify it a bit: A good book I can take a long time to read, but there are also a lot of "junk food" books that I can blow through in an afternoon.

And sometimes I'll read through a good book in an afternoon - not because I'm skimming, but because re-reading it is enjoyable to refresh my memory on why I liked it the first time. Last time I sat down with Fahrenheit 451 I didn't put it down until I hit the last page, for example. But that's a short book: I wouldn't be able to do that with some longer novels.

Well, the above used to describe me, I suppose; these days not so much. Ever since the kid arrived I'm lucky if I get in a chapter a night before falling asleep...
posted by caution live frogs at 5:28 AM on October 13, 2009


"And I have no guilt about enjoying "fluff" like the Bourne series, life is too short to feel guilty about what I think is fun."

grapefruitmoon: I'm with you there. The shelf upstairs might be filled with Steinbeck and Hemingway and Dumas and Melville, but there's also a shelf downstairs loaded with a metric ton of Louis L'amour westerns and science fiction / fantasy novels. But really: If you can find time for Kipling, but can't find room on your shelf for Terry Pratchett, I have to feel a bit sorry for you. To follow your food analogy, you might be healthy eating nothing but whole bran but a cookie now and then makes you happy.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:35 AM on October 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


You know what, I;ve not read Twilight nor a Dan Brown novel - save some extracts of the latter to 'prove' what a bad writer he is (he;s clumsy, but no more so than other thriller writers I've come across). Can someone who has tell me whether I should bother? Life is short, books are long.
posted by mippy at 5:36 AM on October 13, 2009


My dad was a clever man who could complete crosswords quickly and loved Lord of The Rings - but all I saw him read were pulp westerns and bad thrillers. No female novelists, because 'I don't like books by women as much'.
posted by mippy at 5:38 AM on October 13, 2009


When I find a new book that might join that list, I look at it; I glance over it; finally, I might get around to sitting down and reading it through. If it's somewhat good, I might get partway through it and put it down; if it's even better, I might read through it in a week and then go back to it from time to time. But if it's really, really great, I'll spend months going through it, reading over every chapter a few times, getting the feel for how all the characters are moving through the pages, trying to riddle out the meaning behind it; I'll read any other books by that author that I can get my hands on, and either I'll discover that the first was inferior to another or that the first was really and truly the best. If I find a better one, I'll still keep coming back to that first book, because that's my reference, my initiation into a new, greater book.

Other than studying a book for a thesis, this sounds like absolute hell to me. I think that the world of readers can be somewhat bifurcated into people who read more like you describe, and people who read more like myself -- fast, eclectic, picking up and putting down books left and right. At this very moment around the house, I have five books and two magazines in the process of being read (plus some stuff at work, but that's work, not for fun), and that's the way I love it. I might read a book in one sitting, or in three page nibbles over several months, all while concurrently reading other things.

I'm reading differently than you are, but I don't think that the pleasure is automatically less because it's different. Is slow sex automatically better than fast sex? Or do you win by doing it the way you enjoy, period?

That said, I find all these one-a-day or X-for-a-year projects to be super hokey. Don't tell me about reading a book a day -- tell me about reading. But for some reason the very artificiality and hokiness of these projects seems to really captivate people in a way that the underlying activity never would.
posted by Forktine at 5:49 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


I;ve not read Twilight nor a Dan Brown novel [...] Can someone who has tell me whether I should bother?

I read through The DaVinci Code in an afternoon or two. It's a page-turner. It is also infuriatingly stupid; sometimes I kept reading because I wanted to see just how stupid the smartest-man-alive could be on the next page. I think Brown's talent--not having read any of his other novels--is in pacing. When each chapter is six or eight pages, it's very easy to say "one more chapter" until you realize you've finished the book.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:15 AM on October 13, 2009


Yeah, I'm kinda with you grapefruitmoon, but the thing with Twilight and Harry Potter is that they don't actually get people to "read" - at least, they don't get them to read anything more than the next Twilight or Harry Potter book. It's like somebody owning every Foo Fighters album and nothing else and everyone's like "Well, at least they're listening to music!"

I try not to be a literary snob but when literally every second person is reading Twilight or talking about Twilight I'm not thinking "Hey, it's great to see people engaging so passionately with the written word!" Instead, I'm thinking "Don't you have a personality?" Also I'm thinking "Vampires don't glow." And if it's a good-looking girl I'm thinking "Yeah, I'm gonna sit in your windowsill at midnight and stare at you while you sleep and we'll discover together just how hot you really think that is." Then I get thirsty or something, or my bus arrives.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:17 AM on October 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


Reading a book a day is not in any way remarkable. What is remarkable is the amount of attention that woman gets from illiterate journalists.

On average, I think the normal person does not read a book a day. I'd say on average, a normal person may not even read a book a week. Reading a book a day is remarkable, and I'm as impressed of you folks claiming to do the same amount of reading as the lady in the article.
posted by Atreides at 6:42 AM on October 13, 2009


Do comic books count? No? Dammit.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:02 AM on October 13, 2009


Any book worth reading is worth rereading. I am of the opinion that it is better to know a handful of books very well than know hundreds of books barely at all.
posted by milarepa at 7:07 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm old with a lifetime of devouring books so I feel like I should have something insightful to add to this conversation, yet I'm struggling to find meaning in my reading habits. There were years of reading a book a day-- which is easily done when you don't watch TV or have much of a social life-- but for the most part these were easily read, easily forgotten books. My tastes were all over the map: classics, SF, romances, thrillers and even Westerns. These days I know myself better and read far less genre fiction; fewer thrillers, for example, because the promise of a thrill is seldom fulfilled, and no romances at all because my own romance is far superior to any fictional account. Instead I read about 3 times as much nonfiction as fiction and I always read the forward-- something that as a young woman was anathema to me. Perhaps I have learned that the journey is more important than the destination, and a good Forward can prepare you for that journey.

There is a list of perhaps 100 books which I have read more than three times; they are old friends that I can rely on to do their job: Tortilla Flats both amuses me and makes me appreciate my standard of living, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich reminds me of how most people must struggle just to survive, Empire Falls dazzles me with Russo's storytelling abilities. Of course the reigning Queen and King of multiple readings is Austen and Dickens; they set the bar pretty high.

Perhaps if I had only read one book a month those few books would be far more memorable, but by reading so much in such a short time I was able to discover what I liked and what I didn't like more quickly. I am much better now at judging whether something will hold my interest and enrich my life. I can also predict pretty accurately the plot twists of most movie, TV shows, and popular novels-- which means I don't have to bother with them.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 7:14 AM on October 13, 2009


I agree that the hard thing is the logging and reviewing rather than the reading. I started to try to blog only some of what I read and have got stuck (partly because of a backlog of books I want to say a lot about). I also re-read a lot and find books that are really important to me (Trollope, Austen, Pratchett, Innes) I feel like I re-read in my mind. I also read fast (about five to seven books a week) but some books take much longer - I often have a "slow" and "fast" book on the go at the same time.

koeselitz, I'd be interested to know what the thirty that are important to you are.
posted by paduasoy at 7:20 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Any book worth reading is worth rereading.

The problem with this idea is that you have to read something first before you know whether it's worth reading. I've read quite a few things I thought were crap that got rave reviews, both from professionals and friends.

I read about three books a week, and the idea that people who don't spend a month on a book are somehow not serious readers makes zero sense to me. There are times when I'll spend a couple of weeks on something particularly dense, but you can't convince me Margaret Atwood and Michael Chabon and Jane Austen and Kazuo Ishiguro and Michael Cunningham and Nick Hornby aren't worth reading because their books only take me three days.
posted by something something at 7:22 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm sure the authors who agonize over a sentence for an afternoon are thrilled to hear that readers are devoting about five seconds to read them.
posted by digsrus at 7:36 AM on October 13, 2009


Damn, it's a crying shame that we didn't have blogs and AdSense when I was little — I could have made a fortune writing about my every-summer ritual of going through the entire Trixie Belden series in a week.
posted by adipocere at 7:36 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I find it very hard to read fiction from pre-1900, no idea why.

It gets easier with practice. It's a foreign culture one has to spend time there to become familiar with it.
posted by stbalbach at 7:38 AM on October 13, 2009


... and I should say that while I was doing that fantastic class I was also in a class with a professor of the type that assigned us between seven and ten books per week. Sheer torture. The first few weeks I really managed to limp through them, but every time I mentioned the amount of pain this was giving me not being able to actually take in an author's opinion and consider the implications of what they were saying someone else in the class would say: "what the hell are you doing? You're not actually supposed to read books like that. You assimilate the introduction rapidly and then go over the chapter headings, looking over the more important paragraphs as you come to them." And all along I knew that was what I was supposed to do, but it was just painful to do such injustice to the texts.

AHHHH GET OUT OF MY HEAD

Going to graduate school has killed a lot of my ability to read fiction for pleasure, because of that training to read the introduction and search-read for important points. I do a lot of skimming, even when I want to go slow and savour the book.

And I don't see how it's remarkable to read a lot of pop fiction in a year. I can blow through one of those thousand page fantasy novel dealies at the gym on the bike in two hours. It's not like you're paying attention to the author's careful use of metaphor and subtle characterization.

On the other hand, I have read Pride and Prejudice countless times, and every time I find something new. I re-read The Man of Property the other day and it blew me away with all the things I had missed on previous readings.

I've found, though, that a good book makes you want to take the time to read it carefully. I find myself re-reading a section, paging back through to a previous incident which bears on it, thinking about how they connect. A good book makes a good reader engage. There are people who can pass through great books unmoved and mechanical; it seems to me from my perspective as if it's a lack of critical interest to read something great as quickly as something cheap. And I say that as a very fast reader, myself. But everyone doesn't read for the same reasons, or with the same aims.

Sometimes you want steak and a salad, and sometimes you take a handful of chips. But a steady diet of steak and salad is better for you than living on chips.
posted by winna at 7:40 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I'm kinda with you grapefruitmoon, but the thing with Twilight and Harry Potter is that they don't actually get people to "read" - at least, they don't get them to read anything more than the next Twilight or Harry Potter book. It's like somebody owning every Foo Fighters album and nothing else and everyone's like "Well, at least they're listening to music!"

Nope, I'm still firmly in the "at least they're reading" camp. And if someone wants to listen to nothing but Foo Fighters (or, heaven forfend, Coldplay) - hey, at least they're listening to music.

People should consume whatever media makes them happy. And I think books are better than TV for the reasons I mentioned above. So, if that just means they read the next Twilight book, then so be it. That's another book they've read and another x hours that they've spent enjoying themselves in a way that doesn't involve marketing, advertising, or mindless consumerism. (Yes, I know, Twlight and Harry Potter are way on the fringe in that the book themselves are over-marketed, but I'm sticking with the "Books are better than being bombarded by advertisments!" rationale until someone starts putting ads in the books.)

And hey, if they read books, they have some books to talk about and maybe someone will recommend them a book and they'll read more... I'm ever hopeful.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:41 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


But a steady diet of steak and salad is better for you than living on chips.

True that. But you start where you are. If you're at chips, it's better to add a few veggies in gradually rather than trying to just go for the steak. Ease in. And hey, if you're living off chips and you're happy, that's way better than eating steak and being miserable and dreaming of chips - in my POV at least. Life's too short to be joyless because you feel like you should be doing something better for you.

(Of course, the food analogy breaks down here because yeah, a lifetime of chips will cause actual health problems which negates the sheer joy of eating chips - but a lifetime of silly books that make you momentarily happy aren't going to make a net loss or be detrimental to your physical health in any way. If you want to argue that they have negative mental effects, that's cool, but I'm going to just pre-emptively disagree and leave it at that.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:45 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I admit that, when my mom sent me the complete set of Kay Scarpetta medical mystery novels, I was easily blowing through one per day, until I reached one that was so infuriating I threw it across the room and couldn't continue.

But it took my 5 years to read Gravity's Rainbow.

It doesn't have to be an either-or proposition. There's no way anyone can read, say, David McCullough's biography of John Adams in one day. On the other hand, I appreciate a good pulpy genre novel but I'm not gonna spend a lot of hours on it.
posted by muddgirl at 7:49 AM on October 13, 2009


The problem, I think, is that we seal a whole bunch of great books off and call them LITERATURE. People would really enjoy a lot of books that they're afraid to tackle because of that label.

I read War and Peace last year and reviewed each chapter as I went along. I had a friend tell me how amazing it was that I didn't kowtow to the LITERATURE status of the book when I was talking about how much I hated Natasha and thought it was plain Tolstoy had a crush on her character. Sure, it's a book the size of a Buick Roadmaster, but at heart it's a story about family. The worst part of reading it is remembering all the names.

But very few people will try to read it, because they're scared to assert themselves in the face of Tolstoy's status. That's how it came across to me when I told people what I was doing - my friends weren't intimidated by the size of the book, but by its status in the canon. Which is silly and counterproductive.
posted by winna at 7:52 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Rivets In Ecclesiastes

I was, of course, reading Ecclesiastes at night in a very old Bible that had heavy pages. At first I read it over and over again every night, and then I read it once every night, and then I began reading just a few verses every night, and now I was just looking at the punctuation marks.

Actually I was counting them, a chapter every night. I was putting the number of punctuation marks down in a notebook, in neat columns. I called the notebook 'The Punctuation Marks in Ecclesiastes.' I thought it was a nice title. I was doing it as a kind of study in engineering.

Certianly before they build a ship they kno whow many rivets it takes to hold a ship together and the various sizes of those rivets. I was curious about the number of rivets and the sizes of those rivets in Ecclesiastes, a dark and beautiful ship sailing on our waters.

Richard Brautigan - A Confederate General From Big Sur

(A Confederate General From Big Sur can also be read in about an hour, if you're so inclined)
posted by dng at 8:03 AM on October 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


There are books I really want to read (history, current events, politics, biographies, music/movies) and have little difficulty becoming involved in, and then there are books I want to read but have a much harder time diving into (most fiction, for example). I recently finished To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time. I was very methodical about it. The first third of the book was (to me) so tedious that I almost gave up on it. I kept at it and finally got involved enough to finish it, and I was glad I did.

These book-a-day-for-a-year projects are great -- I'm for anything that encourages people to pick up a book -- but, to my way of thinking, they leave little room for nuances like what I'm describing with Mockingbird.

Also, the whole "forced march" aspect of struggling with the project just to say you did it seems unappealing at best. Even the subject of the article in the post said at the end of the article, in effect, that she'd never do it again.
posted by blucevalo at 8:11 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'm kinda with you grapefruitmoon, but the thing with Twilight and Harry Potter is that they don't actually get people to "read" - at least, they don't get them to read anything more than the next Twilight or Harry Potter book. It's like somebody owning every Foo Fighters album and nothing else and everyone's like "Well, at least they're listening to music!"

You know, people always say this, but I don't think it's actually true, even if you take the aesthetic judgment out of the equation--because, you know, sorry, but reading Twilight and Harry Potter does count as reading. No, really, it does. When I was 12, I loved LJ Smith, whose books were pretty similar to the Twilight novels but had better covers. I was obsessed with Pern fandom in the days before Harry Potter. And I went on to get a graduate English degree and read all sorts of pretentious stuff, Ulysses, even!

These days I read about sixty books a year, and there's "trash" in there usually--heck, I've been rereading LJ Smith's stuff this year--and plenty of children's literature and also some stuff like James Joyce and Murakami and lots of other "literary" writers and plenty of poetry thrown in here and there and lots of non-fiction, too. I blog what I read these days mostly so that I can remember what I think of a book, but also because I find the idea of keeping a running tally appealing. After all, that's how I realized that, not only is my current pace of reading comfortable, it's also more-or-less unavoidable. I read the same amount, it seems, whether in graduate classes or not, whether I'm writing a thesis or not, whether I'm employed, or not.

I say, read what you want, and read it at whatever speed makes you happy.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:21 AM on October 13, 2009 [7 favorites]


I say, read what you want, and read it at whatever speed makes you happy.

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.
posted by blucevalo at 8:24 AM on October 13, 2009


winna, I love your story about reading War and Peace. I thought the worst part of reading it was the chapters on Tolstoy's philosophy of history - I ended up skipping nearly all of those.

I'm sure the authors who agonize over a sentence for an afternoon are thrilled to hear that readers are devoting about five seconds to read them.

I think there are authors who would be happy that the sentences they slaved over for weeks flow seamlessly into one another in the service of the story they're trying to tell. I admire writers whose sentences are subtly beautiful, who don't strike me as impressed with their own craft. In narrative fiction, at least, I prefer not to be hit over the head with the beauty or cleverness of the writing, as I find it takes me out of the story. This is partly why I enjoy Margaret Atwood, Ann Patchett, Octavia Butler and Michael Chabon so much - I find their writing beautiful, but often I don't consciously notice just how beautiful it is until I'm reading one of their books for the second or third time. Whereas The Corrections, for example, was frustrating to me because I felt like I could hardly go a page without Franzen throwing in a sentence that, while erudite and well-crafted, felt like it was shouting at me: "HEY YOU GUYS! LOOK AT ME! I'M A WRITER!" and distracting me from the story. Although that's better than being continually jerked out of a story by painfully clunky writing, which leads me to ...

I've not read Twilight nor a Dan Brown novel ... Can someone who has tell me whether I should bother?

I can't speak to Twilight, but the hours (probably about 4-5) I spent reading The Da Vinci Code is time I want back, dammit, even if I only use it to sleep. uncleozzy is right about it being well-paced, but that's about the only compliment I could pay it.
posted by EvaDestruction at 8:33 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I admit that, when my mom sent me the complete set of Kay Scarpetta medical mystery novels, I was easily blowing through one per day, until I reached one that was so infuriating I threw it across the room and couldn't continue.

Yeah, I read half of the new Dexter novel yesterday (after a previous installment that damn near stopped me from reading the rest of the series; this one is pretty good, though, thus far), and I can't imagine I'd have gained much from reading it any slower. It really depends.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:54 AM on October 13, 2009


When people say they're reading a book every single day, or even every single week, it means one of two things: either their [sic] reading badly, or they're reading shit books.

I read fast. Really fast. Faster than anyone I know. And every goddamn time someone watches me read a book they're incredulous and they ask me to answer questions about plot or character or details like oh was Lord Higgenbottom's signature compared to a black-toed caterpillar or a brown-backed caterpillar, fucking testing me, because surely if someone reads that quickly they can't actually be processing all that data. I read your comment in under three seconds, koeselitz, and was able to understand everything you wanted to communicate as well as note your spelling error and the logical flaws in your argument.

I enjoy reading just as much as you. I get just as much out of it as you. I remember just as much as you. I don't stand over your shoulder and say TURN THE GODDAMN PAGE ALREADY GOOD CHRIST ARE YOU WAITING FOR PROTONS TO DECAY OR WHAT HERE

I don't care much for this woman's reading list, but to act like a whole class of readers is somehow inferior because we don't have to fucking move our mouths along with the words is insulting; I thought better of you.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:01 AM on October 13, 2009 [10 favorites]


the thing with Twilight and Harry Potter is that they don't actually get people to "read" - at least, they don't get them to read anything more than the next Twilight or Harry Potter book.

I really don't think this statement is true. I know plenty of youth who read harry potter, and then immediately go to the library to seek another similar book (I was one of them). And even if it's not all of them, a smaller percent of the huge group of people reading these books will pursue more books because of their experience in reading them - there is absolutely no negative from reading this type of popular fiction.

as for your reading speed, I'm all for being happy with reading at your own pace. It's a little disconcerting when someone brags about the volume of their reading versus the quality of their interpretations
posted by Think_Long at 9:02 AM on October 13, 2009


I say, read what you want, and read it at whatever speed makes you happy.

Like what you like, enjoy what you enjoy, and don't take crap from anybody.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:08 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh Optimus Chyme, we are siblings in reading. Thank Christ I never had to share books in class.
posted by mippy at 9:16 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


That's another thing: when people read a lot of books, it's invariably modern fiction.

As a data point, I've been reading mostly out-of-copyright works since getting an electronic reader (or, as I've become fond of calling it, the flatbook). I like to take my time with each book, too, but I don't know how I'd actually spread a book out over a whole year. I just literally don't know what you'd do with all the time - write an essay for each chapter?
posted by odinsdream at 9:22 AM on October 13, 2009


I spent three whole months at the beginning of this year reading 2666. It's a long book, but what really slowed me down was the brutal middle section. Sometimes I couldn't handle reading more than a page a night, but I read every single word and I'm glad I did. It was beautiful and elegant and it challenged my ideas of what fiction can do. Maybe I could have gotten more out of reading a different book every one of those 90 or so days, but I kind of doubt it.

Also, reading Twilight sounds like a tremendous waste of a day.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:24 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


digsrus: I'm sure the authors who agonize over a sentence for an afternoon are thrilled to hear that readers are devoting about five seconds to read them.

This has come up a couple of times, and I wonder if the people who are saying this are themselves writers. What is the reason that an author will labor over a single sentence? What drives that kind of meticulous craftsmanship? Paul Auster, I know, is one of those writers who can take all day to get a single sentence right, yet his sentences are clear and brisk and simple. His novels are worth revisiting, surely, but the prose itself reads very quickly. David Foster Wallace, on the other hand, wrote very quickly, but some sentences require dedication to read. Then there are people like Sandra Cisneros, whose Caramello took me forever to get through simply because her imagery is so dense and compact, yet I have no idea whether she writes quickly or slowly.

All of which is to say that I don't think every writer, even every great writer, wants it to take you a long time to read her writing. Some people spend a very long time writing sentences because they want them to read quickly.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:25 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Optimus Chyme and Mippy: one more sibling here.
posted by sciencegeek at 9:35 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I read really fast. I read about three to five books a week on average, depending, of course, on the week and on the book. I've actually slowed down: when I was in sixth grade I read Watership Down - the whole book - every single day for a month. (I can still quote whole passages, too! But fortunately not anywhere as much as I could and did in sixth grade.) Some of the books I read are dreck. Some of them are wonderful. I will read more or less anything that's put in front of me and I have long since stopped apologizing for my fondness for genre fiction. Genre fiction, like it or not, contains Iain M. Banks, Neal Stephenson and, gasp, parts of Doris Lessing. Is their work hurting my brain? I kind of doubt it. I also kind of resent being told that because I read fast I am wasting my time and the author's words. Yes, I've read the classics and most of the 19th century canon - not Stendhal, though, I confess - most of them by the time I was twenty. I remember them pretty clearly. My personal test for a classic is if I a) remember it after two years and b) still want to read it again. Who's in my personal canon? Among others, Kipling, Faulkner, Walker Percy, Fitzgerald - and John Crowley, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling and Margaret Atwood.

Like Optimus Chyme, nobody believes I read that fast. Then they don't believe I get anything out of my reading; they are very wrong. I find myself trying to hide it, though, like a drug addict. I borrowed the Sookie Stackhouse books from a friend last week and I'm lying through my teeth to her about how long it's taken me (roughly two - three hours per; they're pretty bad but entertaining) to read each one. Sometimes I wish I could read slower; it would save me tons of money plus I wouldn't end up telling weird white lies to my friends so they won't think I'm even more of a freak than I am. Oh well, reading is my major addiction and my favorite drug; I have no intention of stopping any time soon.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:39 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


digsrus: I'm sure the authors who agonize over a sentence for an afternoon are thrilled to hear that readers are devoting about five seconds to read them.

Good writing shouldn't appear to have taken hours to craft, no? Your computer runs on software that takes decades to develop - should you not get impatient if something takes twenty seconds rather than five? Does any of this matter, really?

I think it depends on style. Poetry, I read very slowly, as though I'm sucking all the meat from the bones. Prose gets gobbled down.
posted by mippy at 9:40 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Do comic books count? No? Dammit.

I'd say it depends: are you reading an issue a day? Or a bound volume? Some comics are the equivalent of pulp novels, but others take a while to digest, reading not only the dialogue but also the composition of the scenes.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:41 AM on October 13, 2009


Also, reading Twilight sounds like a tremendous waste of a day.

Dunno. Maybe it depends what you like? Looking back on my Goodreads, there was only one book whose reading time I wish I could have taken back--Sputnik Sweetheart, which I promptly threw across the room after finishing. From the reviews, it seems like plenty of people enjoyed it, though.

All of which is to say that I don't think every writer, even every great writer, wants it to take you a long time to read her writing. Some people spend a very long time writing sentences because they want them to read quickly.

Definitely. And a poorly constructed sentence can be much more difficult to read. One thing people don't tend to acknowledge is that some popular commercial writers--I think immediately of J. K. Rowling and Stephen King--are popular in part because their writing is quite clean and efficient on the sentence-level. The prose is neither ornate* nor clumsy. Readers don't linger on the writing because they don't have to.

* I like ornate, poetic prose, too. Usually, though, I'm never a fan of the clumsy.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:42 AM on October 13, 2009



I admit that, when my mom sent me the complete set of Kay Scarpetta medical mystery novels, I was easily blowing through one per day, until I reached one that was so infuriating I threw it across the room and couldn't continue.


I had the same experience with her books.

And a poorly constructed sentence can be much more difficult to read.

Yes! I cannot read Patterson and it boggles the mind that not only can some people in my family read him, they continue to recommend his books. Tolstoy, on the other hand, is dead easy.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:54 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sometimes I wish I could read slower; it would save me tons of money

OH, WORD.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:11 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


(And yeah, I have a library card. Still, biblioholism eventually requires that I buy books.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:11 AM on October 13, 2009


I'm a fast reader, too, and I find it hard to afford books (and the local library in my rural area is terrible).

One solution is audiobooks. You might think it would be frustrating not to be able to adjust the pace, but I don't find that to be so. The best audiobooks are a thoroughly engrossing performance of the work.
posted by ErikaB at 10:23 AM on October 13, 2009


On a good day, I read a box of cereal. A bad day can be read in my face.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:31 AM on October 13, 2009


Reading a book a day: fine, good for you, better than watching TV. There's no point getting into the eternal argument about quality versus quantity, since everybody's opinion about quality will differ. I've tried to read supposedly good books and couldn't finish them, and in my opinion those books are not good. Why argue about it? Your favorite book sucks.

I think you need to account for people's needs - conscious or not - when evaluating what kind of books they read. Sometimes I read for information but mostly I read as a form of escapism. I want to forget my problems for a few hours so I prefer books that carry me away into another time and place. Some of these are fairly highbrow, like Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series, and some are so lowbrow I won't admit to them here, but all of them transport me into a different world.

A lot of the heavy classics don't do this for me because I trip over the mechanics - the 19th Century is often an unfamiliar culture as stbalbach said and I stop short, puzzled by some topical reference or obsolete phrase or custom. Russian literature has too many names for each character and I get confused. When I bang into too many obstacles I can't enter the world the author is trying to portray, the book fails to satisfy my desire for escape, and it goes back to the library.

People also want to see wrongs righted (detective novels, superhero comics), love blossom and endure (romances), friendships formed, tested, and survive (chick lit), and all the other ways in which fiction can be so much better than reality. Real life can be pretty sucky at times and I don't begrudge someone their comic book or trashy romance if it helps them regain a bit of hope.
posted by Quietgal at 10:32 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm a Reader. I read voraciously, and when I find an author I enjoy--Terry Pratchett, for example--I will hunt down every one of his works and gorge on them ravenously until I've had my fill.

I can quote from Shakespeare; I have Service and Tennyson side-by-side on my shelves. I cut my eyeteeth on pulp fiction: dime-store copies of Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan, John Carter of Mars), frequently with Frazetta covers that drew me in. I dined on Asimov and Bradbury, but also on Tolkein. I breezed through Zelazny's world of Amber, cursed through Stephen R. Donaldson's Covenant series (until joyfully discovering A Man Rides Through), loved Cryptonomicron and Snow Crash but couldn't finish even the second installment in the, to me, deadly dull Baroque Series.

In short, I'm not a book snob. I read quickly, as Optimus Chyme, mippy and grapefruitmoon do, and I've had friends share books with me. I've also kept them much longer than I needed to so that they would accept that, yes, I did indeed read the books.

One of my oldest memories is checking out a book as a child and being greatly annoyed because the librarian said something along the lines of, "Oh, look, she's pretending to read just like her older sister!" when I returned it the same day, having read it through twice already. I was four.

I'd agree that some books are worth savoring, but who am I, and who is anyone really, to say how long it should take to enjoy a novel?

I also love to re-read my favorites, but Moby Dick isn't among them, though Pratchett's Small Gods is, and I'm okay with that.

In a literary buffet, I'm not opting only for the caviar and truffles.

Sometimes, you just want a cheeseburger.
posted by misha at 11:01 AM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


When people say they're reading a book every single day, or even every single week, it means one of two things: either their reading badly, or they're reading shit books.

Yeah, come on. I easily read a book a day - if not more - except when I'm traveling, when maybe it drops to half the pace - and that's primarily so I don't have to carry a lot of books around. This year I've read books in English, Serbo-Croatian, Hungarian, German, French and Romanian. I haven't read anything you'd call a "shit" book in a longer time than you can imagine. I can quote whole passages from many authors from memory. I read quickly and I read well. I suppose I am another of Optimus Chyme's siblings in reading, and I scoff at the assertion above. Just because reading a book a day well seems improbable to koeselitz, doesn't mean people don't do it.

I was a little surprised at the original post, as for me (and many people I know), reading a book a day hardly seems newsworthy or challenging in any way. But maybe it will encourage more people to devote more time to reading.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 11:24 AM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was a little surprised at the original post, as for me (and many people I know), reading a book a day hardly seems newsworthy or challenging in any way

Birds of a feather must flock together. No one I know reads a book per day on a daily or even weekly basis. You folks are the outliers, not the norm.
posted by Atreides at 11:40 AM on October 13, 2009


It seems that there's something about books and reading that brings out the pompous moralizer in people. I noticed in the thread posted the other day, about owning books, that lots of people got on a moralistic high horse and criticized people who own a lot of books.

There's a similar dynamic taking place in this thread.

I see suggestions that you read just one book a year --- very slowly and carefully --- as rooted in a strangely fetishistic view of books, which is tied to some a weird moralistic view of what books are and how one ought to read them. I don't understand why books and reading make some people so priggish.

There's nothing wrong with reading a book --- and feeling you get something of value from it --- without feeling the need to lavishing religious-like devotion to its individual words and sentences over the course of a year, and without some cult-like devotee of close reading getting in your face about it. There's no right or wrong about how one reads, the pace at which one reads, etc.

Don't be so weird about it, people. Live and let live. Read and let read.
posted by jayder at 12:12 PM on October 13, 2009 [6 favorites]


OK, just went down her list to see what books on her list I've read, and saw this in her review of Forester's African Queen: "a small African village in the German-held colony of Central Africa. World War Two has spread to Africa..."

African Queen was set during the First World War. She may be reading the words, but she hasn't read the books.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 1:05 PM on October 13, 2009


Could be just a simple typo or mental slip of the math or history challenged.. WWI..WWII..
posted by stbalbach at 2:20 PM on October 13, 2009


I've got to agree with those who doubt just how much she's getting out of these books at that pace. I have about an hour on the train each way five days a week, and I average between two and three books a week. Any faster and I would just be skimming. Were I not gainfully employed, it might be another matter but I'd have to be reading all day, every day to not just be glossing over entire paragraphs.

Of course, lately I keep hearing people referring to listening to audio books as "reading" so what do I know?
posted by JaredSeth at 2:48 PM on October 13, 2009


I didn't read any of these comments or the link but I appreciate that the FPP is named after a Talking Heads song
posted by Damn That Television at 3:12 PM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]



I see suggestions that you read just one book a year --- very slowly and carefully --- as rooted in a strangely fetishistic view of books, which is tied to some a weird moralistic view of what books are and how one ought to read them. I don't understand why books and reading make some people so priggish.

Thank you. I am one of those rapid readers who also owns a LOT of books, and I stopped posting in the other thread -- and have refrained, till now, from posting here -- because I'm getting tired of having to think about defending a position that I can't fathom needs defending.

Reading means different things to different people -- just as, say, travel does. To some people, seeing a foreign country means immersing yourself in its culture, staying there for weeks or months, getting a job there, exploring everything about it, leaving no stone unturned. To others, travel means putting on a backpack and traipsing through as many countries as they can until their shoes wear out. Neither traveler is doing it wrong; they're doing what pleases them. As for me, I like to read, and read a lot of different things -- not just "modern fiction". For me, reading and re-reading one book for a year would make me insane. (As would reading "Twilight", but that's another story.)
posted by OolooKitty at 3:28 PM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


grapefruitmoon: I already know that koeselitz is going to disagree, so I'll just get that out in the open, but I'm always, always glad to see people reading anything. Anything. Anything that gets people into a book - and not a magazine or watching television - is awesome in, well, my book. My reasoning: people need entertainment without advertising.

... if someone wants to listen to nothing but Foo Fighters (or, heaven forfend, Coldplay) - hey, at least they're listening to music. People should consume whatever media makes them happy. And I think books are better than TV for the reasons I mentioned above. So, if that just means they read the next Twilight book, then so be it. That's another book they've read and another x hours that they've spent enjoying themselves in a way that doesn't involve marketing, advertising, or mindless consumerism. (Yes, I know, Twlight and Harry Potter are way on the fringe in that the book themselves are over-marketed, but I'm sticking with the "Books are better than being bombarded by advertisments!" rationale until someone starts putting ads in the books.) And hey, if they read books, they have some books to talk about and maybe someone will recommend them a book and they'll read more... I'm ever hopeful.


I disagree. Heh. Well, I disagree about one point – that I'm going to disagree with you. But I guess I'm already wrong on that count.

Anyhow, you're right; it's nice to see people reading, and on consideration I think it's something that is worth encouraging no matter what. A society full of people who read Twilight and The Mistress is much preferable to a society full of people who watch 6 hours of television per day, if only because the readers will be much easier to introduce the really fantastic books to. I might have mentioned above that I do worry that books are in danger of being monetized just as much as any other medium, and it worries me that I still meet plenty of people who won't read a thing unless it's been on the bestseller list within the last month, but... well, at least they're still books, and they're still books that were written by people, over-marketed or not.

If there's only one point that I'd want to bring up (not necessarily a disagreement) it's about statement that "People should consume whatever media makes them happy." I don't have any problem with that, and a free society where people are allowed to get into whatever they want is a condition at least for my own happiness. However, isn't it possible that people spend too much time "consuming media?" Maybe after all I should have realized that these booklogs and lists that people are putting together are the real fruit of the effort, since they involve not just consuming the books but on some level contemplating them and sharing what they've learned with others. I think there's a real hole in society where "thoughtful contemplation and discussion with others" ought to fit, and I wish people would talk to each other more about anything, up to and including the books they're reading.

But everything I've said so far here could be explained by the fact that I'm (a) lonely and (b) a really slow reader.

jayder: I see suggestions that you read just one book a year --- very slowly and carefully --- as rooted in a strangely fetishistic view of books... There's nothing wrong with reading a book --- and feeling you get something of value from it --- without feeling the need to lavishing religious-like devotion to its individual words and sentences over the course of a year, and without some cult-like devotee of close reading getting in your face about it. There's no right or wrong about how one reads, the pace at which one reads, etc. Don't be so weird about it, people.

People love to confirm their own habits by denigrating the habits of others. I don't think there's any moral value in one method of reading over another, and while it's perfectly all right to argue about which is more effective I've never said that one person is morally superior to another on the basis of their reading habits. You, on the other hand, just painted anybody who spends a long time reading a book as some sort of weird religious nutcase who has an unhealthy obsession with a particular book. So I ask you: who's being judgemental?
posted by koeselitz at 3:33 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've never said that one person is morally superior to another on the basis of their reading habits.

But you have denigrated other people's reading habits, which is essentially denigrating them. You have definitely assumed a posture of moral superiority in this discussion (see excerpts below). You have said (I am paraphrasing) that people aren't reading seriously, that they aren't reading the "only" right way ("slowly"), etc. There are a lot of serious readers in this thread who, it seems, take exception to your views. If you make the pronouncement that there's only one right way for serious readers to read a book, you are stating, in effect, that anyone who considers herself a serious reader, who isn't reading books your way, is reading it wrong. And that's silly.

I pulled out a few of your particularly silly pronouncements:

-- I have a feeling there are probably about five or six hundred books worth reading... If you do it right, in your life you have enough time to read about twenty of those well ...

-- I think that's a lot more noble than having read a thousand bestsellers, frankly. [You are putting forth your preferred way of reading as more NOBLE than another person's preferred way of reading?!?! Come on. You can't be serious. ]

-- I would have been more impressed if she'd read a book in a year. [Why is this about whether one is impressed or not? Do you read to IMPRESS people? If no ... well, she probably doesn't either. This appears to be a project that she took on for her own reasons.]

-- I'm sure Joseph Conrad or Thomas Pynchon would be delighted to know that they spent many years of their lives pouring their souls into their novels so that she could glide through The Crying of Lot 49 or A Smile Of Fortune in a single afternoon. Does she really think she's reading? [I have no better claim to know what Joseph Conrad or Thomas Pynchon would think about how quickly someone reads their books ... but I will hazard a guess that they wouldn't take personally the speed at which one reads them. ]

-- All I mean to say is that, for those of us who are aiming toward the serious understanding of really great books and of the people who wrote them, there is only one way to read: very slowly. [And by implication, you are stating that people who don't read as slowly as you do, who aim for serious understanding, are doing it wrong.]

posted by jayder at 3:58 PM on October 13, 2009


paduasoy: koeselitz, I'd be interested to know what the thirty that are important to you are.

Well, at the risk of being ridiculously self-indulgent, I'll pop over to my bookshelf and try to make a little list:

Walker Percy, The Moviegoer ♦ C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces ♦ Martin Lings, Muhammad: His Life based on the Earliest Sources ♦ Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War ♦ Carlos Franqui, Family Portrait With Fidel: A Memoir ♦ Homer, Odyssey ♦ Stendhal, The Red and The Black ♦ Stendhal, The Charterhouse of Parma ♦ Xenophon, Cyropaedia (The Education of Cyrus) ♦ Xenophon, Oeconomicus (Household Management) ♦ Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges, The Ancient City ♦ Herman Melville, Moby-Dick ♦ Moses Maimonides, The Guide Of The Perplexed ♦ Samuel Beckett, Molloy ♦ Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies ♦ James Joyce, Ulysses ♦ Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency ♦ Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul ♦ J. R. R. Tolkein, The Two Towers ♦ Dashiell Hammett, The Glass Key ♦ St Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain & St Makarios of Corinth, editors, The Philokalia ♦ Plato, Laws ♦ Plato, Phaedo ♦ Aristotle, On The Soul ♦ James Cutsinger, Advice for the Serious Seeker ♦ Baruch Spinoza, The Theologico-Political Treatise ♦ Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels ♦ Mari Sandoz, Crazy Horse ♦ Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian, or The Evening Redness in The WestThe Gospel According to John ♦ Marcus Aurelius, Meditations ♦ Walter M. Miller Jr, A Canticle For Liebowitz ♦ Friedrich Nietzsche, Daybreak ♦ Andre Bazin, What is cinema? ♦ Leo Strauss, Progress Or Return?

Okay, that's 36. But that was interesting. Hard to narrow down some stuff. Maybe it's like what Solon said about happiness: you don't know what the thirty books were until you're at the end of your life.
posted by koeselitz at 4:09 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Another member of the speed-reading club here. Yeah, that testing thing happens to me all the time. I could easily do this lady's project, and the only thing stopping me from reading a book a day any more is that I read the entire Internet in a day instead :P

Y'know, what was funny was that I had a teacher in high school who decided to teach us all how to speed read. Apparently speed readers (a) take a mental picture of the whole page before they begin, and (b) go down the middle of the page rather than following along every single line and word individually. Also, non-speed readers apparently have their eyes bounce all around the page--even they don't read linearly! Very strange to find out.

As for book snobbery, bugger it: I was an English major, I read tons of depressing books, and I DON'T WANNA ANY MORE. I WILL READ CRAP FOR FUN IF I WANNA!
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:30 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


jayder: But you have denigrated other people's reading habits, which is essentially denigrating them... And that's silly.

So you thought the best way of responding was to denigrate me and my reading habits? Do you realize that you're contradicting yourself?

me: -- I have a feeling there are probably about five or six hundred books worth reading... If you do it right, in your life you have enough time to read about twenty of those well ...

Since you want me to justify this: how many thousands upon thousands of new books does our society produce every year? The number is astronomical! How many of those are worth producing?

Some people now seem utterly allergic to conceptions of worth, of nobility, of good. That's because we moderns tend to be frightened that we're cutting someone out, and we have a deeply held conviction that it is wrong to express a belief in the rightness of certain ways of being which stems from our democratic mindset. But being accepting isn't "the highest value," and there are certain things which are more worthwhile than others, as scandalous and wrong people may believe that to be. Moreover, by living in a certain way, you are making a statement that your way of living is more worthwhile than others. You can't hide from that fact. Specifically, this woman made the choice that it would be more worthwhile to spend a year reading an entire book every day than to spend it reading a single book, or a dozen books, or whatever. Why is one more worthwhile than another? We're all participants in this debate, and you can't excuse yourself from it by trying to eschew worth.

me: I think that's a lot more noble than having read a thousand bestsellers, frankly.

jayder: You are putting forth your preferred way of reading as more NOBLE than another person's preferred way of reading?!?! Come on. You can't be serious.

Do you believe that there is any way of living that's more noble than any other? Not any way of living that's more right than any other, but more noble. It sounds to me as though you don't really believe in nobility; as such, how can you say?

Besides, on your position, don't I have as much right to express my opinion as anybody else?

me: I would have been more impressed if she'd read a book in a year.

jayder: Why is this about whether one is impressed or not? Do you read to IMPRESS people? If no ... well, she probably doesn't either. This appears to be a project that she took on for her own reasons.

I didn't say that she should read to impress me. In fact, as I noted above, my objection was less to the fact that she reads the way she does and more to the fact that she's held up as some sort of object of adulation by the New York Times article. More to the point, I'm unhappy about the fact that, unless I miss my guess, hundreds of people will probably see this article and think to themselves: "wow, she's incredibly. I could never read that much. Oh well, I guess I'm just not the reading type."

Also, I said that that would impress me because it would; I've never had the patience to spend a whole year on a book, but that's my own failing. I've met people who have, and they impress me.

me: I'm sure Joseph Conrad or Thomas Pynchon would be delighted to know that they spent many years of their lives pouring their souls into their novels so that she could glide through The Crying of Lot 49 or A Smile Of Fortune in a single afternoon. Does she really think she's reading?

jayder: I have no better claim to know what Joseph Conrad or Thomas Pynchon would think about how quickly someone reads their books ... but I will hazard a guess that they wouldn't take personally the speed at which one reads them.

Do you really believe that? Seriously. Do you believe that? I've never actually read The Crying Of Lot 49, but Pynchon described it as "the literary event of the millennium" and spent almost three years writing it; do you really believe that he thought it wasn't worth spending time on? Joseph Conrad; is he really worth almost no contemplation at all? I care about his books; I don't always agree with them, but I care about them. So how can I not say this?

me: All I mean to say is that, for those of us who are aiming toward the serious understanding of really great books and of the people who wrote them, there is only one way to read: very slowly.

jayder: And by implication, you are stating that people who don't read as slowly as you do, who aim for serious understanding, are doing it wrong.

Yes. Not just by implication; I say that if people really want to understand books deeply and they're reading quickly, they're doing it wrong, and I say that explicitly. It isn't evil to say that somebody's doing something wrong; and I'm not saying that this is morally wrong, or that they are bad people or that they should be punished. Speed-reading just isn't the best method for reading carefully, that's all.

I'm only saying: people who are slow readers shouldn't feel ashamed of the way they read, and they should know that their way of reading has value. And people who read very fast might enjoy slowing down a little and savoring things a bit, although I don't presume to tell people what they personally should do.
posted by koeselitz at 4:38 PM on October 13, 2009


And people who read very fast might enjoy slowing down a little and savoring things a bit,

I read plenty quickly and find that speed and savoring aren't opposed. If I find a good passage, I go over it three or four times, underline it - make a note in the margin - whatever, and move on to enjoy the rest of the book.

There's no shame in being any kind of reader, and I'mma not gonna be ashamed of reading at Mach III.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:02 PM on October 13, 2009


Also: In terms of time, the amount of time it takes to produce a piece of art is always several orders of magnitude larger than the amount of time spent enjoying it. Do you have any idea how long it took Da Vinci to paint the Mona Lisa? Do you really want to spend years looking at it?

Good art hits you in the gut and you can't ignore it. Doesn't matter if the artist spent five years or five minutes on it. The idea isn't to make you sit with it forever in a literal way, it's to make the work stay with you forever.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:04 PM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


I read a book a day when I was unemployed. It was fun, but I couldn't do it forever.
Could I if that was my job?

also: Stendhal rocks!
posted by ovvl at 5:26 PM on October 13, 2009


Moreover, by living in a certain way, you are making a statement that your way of living is more worthwhile than others. You can't hide from that fact.

Bull. Living the way I live makes a statement that my way of living is the best way for me. Your way is the best way for you.

You seem to think that people who read fast do not think about the books they read, and that the only way to absorb a work is to read slowly. This is not true for everyone.

How many of those are worth producing?

Not many? But who cares? Who's going to be the Worthy Book Police for each reader in this thread? You? jayder? Me? because I can guarantee that you'll hate a lot of the stuff that I consider worthy, and I probably think some of your favorites are pointless, outdated, culture-bound, or some other bad thing.

Additionally, I read at least a book a day when I was editing a book review magazine. A lot of this reading was more like skimming, but it was very attentive skimming, since I had to know the books well enough to assign them to a suitable reviewer and/or talk to the author about it intelligently.
posted by rtha at 5:30 PM on October 13, 2009


jenfullmoon: Y'know, what was funny was that I had a teacher in high school who decided to teach us all how to speed read. Apparently speed readers (a) take a mental picture of the whole page before they begin, and (b) go down the middle of the page rather than following along every single line and word individually. Also, non-speed readers apparently have their eyes bounce all around the page--even they don't read linearly! Very strange to find out.

That's a really insightful observation. I think I'm on the far end of the 'non-speed-readers' spectrum – I'm absolutely plodding, and that's not necessarily in a good way – and I think that's largely because my eyes are constantly all over the page. I'm pretty easily distracted, and I hardly make it through a sentence without glancing up and down and all around to take in where it came from and where it's going.

I had a teacher when I was in grade school who recommended to us that we read with a bookmark, putting the bookmark under the line we were reading and moving it down as we went; I think she said this would help us read faster or something. In any case, I tried, but it was impossible; I kept moving the bookmark away. Which I guess means my eyes jump forward all the time, too.

grapefruitmoon: I read plenty quickly and find that speed and savoring aren't opposed. If I find a good passage, I go over it three or four times, underline it - make a note in the margin - whatever, and move on to enjoy the rest of the book.

There's no shame in being any kind of reader, and I'mma not gonna be ashamed of reading at Mach III.


No shame! Absolutely! No one should have shame about what kind of reading they do. If my own feelings about the subject shame people, I'll stop giving them.

me: How many of [the books produced every year] are worth producing?

rtha: Not many? But who cares? Who's going to be the Worthy Book Police for each reader in this thread?

Somebody decided to publish them. They didn't just appear out of thin air. So somebody was presumptuous enough to decide which books were worth publishing and which weren't.
posted by koeselitz at 5:59 PM on October 13, 2009


Another interesting fact is that the speed at which we read is also quite modern, within the last few centuries at least. There's a famous bit in St Augustine's confessions where he's astounded to notice his mentor, St Ambrose, is reading without moving his lips.

This is not to say that people should move their lips while reading, or that we're better or worse for being, as Augustine might say, more 'interior.' In fact, if anything, the ability to so deeply engage with reading is a virtue.
posted by koeselitz at 6:04 PM on October 13, 2009


If my own feelings about the subject shame people, I'll stop giving them.

I can see you mean well, but your feelings come across as "Fast readers aren't paying attention!" That's how it reads from here. So, yeah, I see where you're coming from, but it wouldn't hurt to dial it down a notch.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:10 PM on October 13, 2009


grapefruitmoon: I can see you mean well, but your feelings come across as "Fast readers aren't paying attention!" That's how it reads from here. So, yeah, I see where you're coming from, but it wouldn't hurt to dial it down a notch.

Fine. All this "look how many books I read!" stuff just seems sort of, well, intimidating to people, I think. Maybe I'm wrong.
posted by koeselitz at 6:37 PM on October 13, 2009


Somebody decided to publish them. They didn't just appear out of thin air. So somebody was presumptuous enough to decide which books were worth publishing and which weren't.

Well, yeah, based largely on how much money the publishers thought they would make, not what their literary value was. Again, so what? What alternative do you suggest?
posted by rtha at 6:37 PM on October 13, 2009


I exclusively move my lips when I read. I pity the person who hasn't discovered how awesome a reading experience this makes. I notice when I do it in public, it's so exciting that other people take to watching me and I can only guess, attempt to figure out what interesting passage I'm on at that moment.
posted by Atreides at 6:41 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, koeselitz, since everyone else is attacking your statements from another angle, allow me to weigh in on what kinda dropped my jaw up above:

Since you want me to justify this: how many thousands upon thousands of new books does our society produce every year? The number is astronomical! How many of those are worth producing?

Well, they were all worth producing to the people who produced them. I think that's pretty safe to say, since otherwise, they, like, would have done something else. How are we supposed to determine which ones are the "worthy" ones? Who do we ask? You? I can't imagine; you apparently only read maybe half a dozen books a year, tops, and I'm afraid that just leaves you out as far as judging the merit of thousands of books go.

Some people now seem utterly allergic to conceptions of worth, of nobility, of good. That's because we moderns tend to be frightened that we're cutting someone out, and we have a deeply held conviction that it is wrong to express a belief in the rightness of certain ways of being which stems from our democratic mindset. But being accepting isn't "the highest value," and there are certain things which are more worthwhile than others, as scandalous and wrong people may believe that to be. Moreover, by living in a certain way, you are making a statement that your way of living is more worthwhile than others. You can't hide from that fact.

Well, no; you're making a statement that the way you live is more worthwhile than any other for you. There is a name for people who believe that their way of life is the only acceptable way of life, and that name is Bill O'Reilly.

More to the point, though, there isn't a sound way to arrive at the "worth, nobility, good" of a work of art. By which I mean to say, Couples Retreat (the number one film in America this past weekend) rates a 24% aggregate score on Metacritic, so we can rest assured that the average film critic thinks it's a terrible piece of shit, and the odds are very good that it is, but we can't count its calories or measure its transfat or arrive at the number of piece-o'-shit mitochlorians in its bloodstream. This can't be done. We can only accept the subjective judgment of the people (largely underemployed journalism majors, film school washouts and movie enthusiasts made good) we have appointed our cultural policemen. Now, you can passionately argue for the worth or worthlessness of a thing. It is possible that your argument may be so strong that it echoes with your audience, to whom it seems right. But that's all. No one can make the determination that it IS right. You can't empirically prove that the films of Uwe Boll or the novels of Dan Brown or the music of the Black-Eyed Peas is so objectively awful by any standard that everyone must agree it is so. I mean, WE KNOW IT'S SO, but you can't substantiate it. Can't be done.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:14 PM on October 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


Koeselitz pretty much wrote an entire book in this thread, and I read the whole thing in under an hour.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 7:15 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese: Koeselitz pretty much wrote an entire book in this thread, and I read the whole thing in under an hour.

Pfft. Y'know, that book really wasn't worth reading. I don't know why you wasted your time.
posted by koeselitz at 7:40 PM on October 13, 2009


I think I'm on the far end of the 'non-speed-readers' spectrum – I'm absolutely plodding, and that's not necessarily in a good way – and I think that's largely because my eyes are constantly all over the page. I'm pretty easily distracted, and I hardly make it through a sentence without glancing up and down and all around to take in where it came from and where it's going.

I read very, very quickly, and to the extent that I can track where my eyes are going, I'm all over the page, too. The difference is, I think, that I am taking in entire sections of a sentence, or entire sentences, in each glance, so the overall speed is far higher than someone who goes word, by word, by word. And I don't struggle to find my place again on each glance (any more than I struggle to keep track of what is happening in the five or more books I may be reading at any one time), so I can keep the momentum going.

It's not all puppies and snowflakes when you read fast -- it's expensive, travel is a huge pain in the ass because you can't carry enough books, and trying to read something at the same time as a slow reader is sheer hell. And, as you have hinted at in your posts, there must be qualitative differences between experiencing a writer word by word, and experiencing that writer as I do, in a fast flow of sentences and pages. I'd be a lot more hesitant about suggesting which is better -- but I can't see but how they must be different.
posted by Forktine at 8:55 PM on October 13, 2009


If you want to intimidate people with your well-readedness, you have to do it like André Markowicz: enjoin them to "re-read $difficult_author".
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:46 PM on October 13, 2009


kittens for breakfast: More to the point, though, there isn't a sound way to arrive at the "worth, nobility, good" of a work of art. Can't be done.

Then every time we finish a book that we thought was really good, really wonderful, and we say to ourselves, "wow, that was a really good book..." we are full of shit. Or, more precisely, we're talking about nothing while we think we're talking about something. And we have no grounds to tell people that they're better off reading a book than watching television; who are we to say?
posted by koeselitz at 10:29 PM on October 13, 2009


And people who read very fast might enjoy slowing down a little and savoring things a bit,

This statement is stupid to a disappointing extreme, as it shows a complete lack of knowledge of what reading is. A well trained reader really does take in the good bits, because he or she has learned to recognize the less good writing; and has ways to deal with that.

'Fast' reading is not just speedy page turning, ignoramus.
posted by ijsbrand at 12:21 AM on October 14, 2009


I have tremendously mixed feelings about all of this. My reading habits have moved from one extreme to the other over the years. When I was quite young, up until I was fourteen or so, I would read one or two books a day -- and remember almost none of it a month later. I don't spend a lot of time crying about that. I don't really need any details about all those Hardy Boys books I flew through in my day-to-day life. I also spent a not-unsizable chunk of my life reading everything Stephen King ever wrote. When I was 18, I discovered Kafka, and from there Camus, Beckett, Joyce, and on and on. I learned to read a lot slower and more carefully, and I think I get a lot more out of books now -- though of course, there's a lot more in "Molloy" than there is in "The Smugglers of Pirate Cove." I do still fly through the trashy ones, but even so I probably pay a little more attention to them than I used to. I don't suggest that this is the *right* way to read, but I think there's a lot of value to thinking more carefully about what's on the page... and I'm NOT suggesting you can't read quickly and still think about what you're reading.

As it is now, I only get through one or two books a month, if I'm lucky. But I think I enjoy them more than I would otherwise.

As far as the "any book is better than watching TV" thing: I can't find the exact quote now (or even remember the man's name -- please let me know if you know who I'm talking about,) but I remember when this novelist/critic/academic/eightotherthings was asked if he was upset that television was replacing reading for most people, he said it didn't bother him at all. He argued that the uses of reading that were being replaced -- for the most part crime novels, romances, etc -- were the least important ones, and that it didn't much matter to him if someone wanted to watch Dragnet instead of reading a novel about the same thing. I can't bring myself to agree with him completely -- after all, I read tremendous piles of utter crap when I was younger, and it led me to much better things. But at the same time, I think the point does have some merit.

koeselitz: Pynchon hates Lot 49 now. I don't think he'd be too upset about someone flipping through it in a day, except that he might prefer it wasn't read at all.

muddgirl: When I read GR for the first time, it took me six or seven months, four or five false starts, and I eventually resorted to Weisenburger's reader's guide. Ultimately it ended up being my favorite book, and I go through it again once every year or so.
posted by Limiter at 12:31 AM on October 14, 2009


Man, and I thought I got made fun of a lot for reading audiobooks. People, this thread is totally bursting at the seams with YOUR DOING IT WORNG!!1!11!

Reading is something people do for their own pleasure; don't rag on them for taking a different approach to reading than you do.
posted by tehloki at 3:48 AM on October 14, 2009


All this "look how many books I read!" stuff just seems sort of, well, intimidating to people, I think. Maybe I'm wrong.

I think it's awesome, not intimidating. But then again, I read a boatload just because I am a fast reader.

I really just love seeing people putting effort into enjoying and documenting their reading experiences. If someone regularly kept up a blog reviewing every book they read and it was only one per month, I'd be equally interested in seeing that. What can I say? I'm a bilbioholic.

What amazes me about "one book every day" isn't her reading speed, it's her free time quota. I mean, holy hell, that is a lucky woman if she honestly has that much time to devote to reading and still pay the rent and do the dishes.

It's not all puppies and snowflakes when you read fast -- it's expensive, travel is a huge pain in the ass because you can't carry enough books,

I'm with you there. I brought a book I hadn't started on a trans-Atlantic flight thinking that it would be enough to see me through. It only got me through until hour 6, which meant I had TWO HOURS to kill WITHOUT A BOOK. (That book? Pattern Recognition by William Gibson. We're not exactly talking Dan Brown.) I then had to buy a book at South Station for the commuter rail trip back to Providence, and in that hour, finished 2/3 of THAT book.

This trip, btw, was to Portugal and my suitcase contained more books than clothes for spending two weeks in a non-English speaking country. And yes, I went through all of them. I had honestly considered buying a Kindle for this trip just because of the bulkiness of traveling with that many books, but buying 10 new paperbacks was still a bit cheaper.

(Also: lady readers - carrying a purse big enough to fit a book in; total cramp on fashion, AMIRITE?)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 4:00 AM on October 14, 2009


Okay, that's 36.

Koesteliz, some might say your list is very much lacking in women, or writers who are not from Europe/America.
posted by mippy at 4:50 AM on October 14, 2009


(Also: lady readers - carrying a purse big enough to fit a book in; total cramp on fashion, AMIRITE?)

I've given up on carrying a purse to work and now just carry a backpack filled with books. Those two or three times that I finished my book during lunch and had to sit there and, like, people watch were just awful.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:57 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Koesteliz, some might say your list is very much lacking in women, or writers who are not from Europe/America.

It's also sort of an odd combination of broad and narrow. Some great ancient stuff, sure, but Douglas Adams but no Margaret Atwood? Cormack McCarthy without Russel Banks? What about Tim Winton, Peter Carey, or Elfriede Jelenik? Jose Saramago?

My point being, when you refuse to read widely, you are throwing an awful lot of babies out with the bathwater.
posted by Forktine at 6:04 AM on October 14, 2009


Could be just a simple typo or mental slip of the math or history challenged.. WWI..WWII..

But that's just it, stbalbach... Typing "Two" when you meant "One" is not a typo, it's a misunderstanding. As for being mathematically or historically challenged, well... isn't that what books are supposed to correct? I can't imagine coming away from that book thinking the bad guys were Nazis. I've only read a few others that she's reviewed (Ender's Game, Last Tycoon, probably a few others), unfortunately, but each one I've checked comes out the same way. She's fully read the books, but she hasn't really understood them. It's like watching a movie while you're playing cards with friends. She may have 90% of the story, but the 10% she's missed is sometimes rather vital to understand the book.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 6:09 AM on October 14, 2009


I'll agree with you Ghostinthemachine, her review of Ender's game seemed somewhat lacking. The case could be that she doesn't necessarily give the time and attention to writing her reviews as she does to reading the books.
posted by Atreides at 6:43 AM on October 14, 2009


You know what's weird? I've read H2G2 a zillion times, but just cannot get into anything else in the quadrilogy.

What you need is a satchel-type bag. A steadfast criterion for bag purchase is: will it fit a book in here as well as my purse, keys and make-up bag?

Ender's Game I've only heard of via a mailing list for disenfranchised high schoolers I was on years ago during a phase of I-wish-real-life-was-more-like-Heathers.
posted by mippy at 7:43 AM on October 14, 2009


She's fully read the books, but she hasn't really understood them.

Maybe. Writing good book reviews is hard. I think the website amounts to a personal diary posted in public - maybe she is just a ditz and its part of her personality to construe facts and act confused - it's more akin to a personal conversation than a public "book review" as we understand it, though it has some of the trappings. But if we take her "at her word" than yeah she seems to lack comprehension.
posted by stbalbach at 7:45 AM on October 14, 2009


mippy: Koesteliz, some might say your list is very much lacking in women, or writers who are not from Europe/America.

1) I should have put Persuasion on there – it is one of my absolute favorite books, but my library's in disarray so some stuff on the list fell through the cracks – but I don't think that would change your mind much.

2) Four of those books weren't written in Europe or America.

3) I dispute the lumping together of books and authors from over four thousand years and thousands upon thousands of miles of area on the earth. 'Europe/America' is a nice label when you're hoping to dismiss things, but it's actually impossible even to define them aside from either some sort of weird racial characterization or something very basic like geography. I've never heard a convincing argument that there's any way whatsoever that Homer, Maimonides, Spinoza, and Dashiell Hammett can be united ideologically. If you can think of a way, I'm all ears.

Until I'm convinced otherwise, however, "the East" and "the West" are (in my book) just artificial constructions with hardly any real meaning beyond points on the compass. For example: a lot of people who argue for something like "western exceptionalism" try to say that "the West" is the sole source of the scientific tradition because we originated the concept of "nature," or "phusis" as it was in Greek. But the fact is that there were a number of Indic schools of thought that had an analogous conception in what was called in Sanskrit prakriti. (There were plenty of atheist and utilitarian schools in ancient India, too. You'd be surprised.)

So I don't really believe that there's a border that can be drawn between two realms of the world. There are many, many more than that. Things flow together; the Sufis had ancient strongholds from India to Egypt, the Taoists and Buddhists have their hands in everything south of Siberia and north of Sri Lanka. I don't think there's any divide there at all.

4) I don't know what you mean to imply. If it's that you think my horizons are far to small, you're absolutely right. I'm happy to remedy that. Please give me reading recommendations.

5) Sexism has been a pretty horrific problem in the world for thousands of years. This isn't anything new, and frankly if there's anything that unites the cultures of the world it's this common heritage of disgrace. I have a bias toward old things, not because I think things were better in the past but because I want to uncover different ways of thinking and reading old books is the best way I've found of jarring myself enough to reformulate my thinking. The saddest thing about this for me is that so few women in the course of history have (a) been allowed the time to write and (b) so few women who have written haven't had their work passed down. That's still not an excuse. Great women like Hildegaard von Bingen, who had the strength of will and of mind to forge a place for herself in music, art and literature, ought to be seen in the same light as their male peers.

(6) In the interest of equality, I don't like to patronize female writers by giving them special consideration or acting as though they've achieved certain things when they haven't; but the fact is that prejudice and sexism remain, and it's a duty incumbent upon us to try to eradicate them , so I want to be as proactive as possible. Anyone who can is encouraged to recommend to me women who are writers and thinkers, and especially those who wrote more than a hundred years ago.
posted by koeselitz at 9:50 AM on October 14, 2009


ijsbrand: This statement is stupid to a disappointing extreme, as it shows a complete lack of knowledge of what reading is. A well trained reader really does take in the good bits, because he or she has learned to recognize the less good writing; and has ways to deal with that.

'Fast' reading is not just speedy page turning, ignoramus.


Absolutely. As I've admitted many, many times so far here, this is more about my own learning disabilities at this point than about anybody else's failings.
posted by koeselitz at 9:53 AM on October 14, 2009


Forktine: My point being, when you refuse to read widely, you are throwing an awful lot of babies out with the bathwater.

Who exactly are you to say I refuse to read widely? Maybe you'd like to go back over this thread and point to exactly where I said "I refuse to read widely."

I'm just fucking slow, okay? And now that the "I'm faster, so I'm better, dumbass!" crew has gotten done, maybe you can actually take the time to read what I've said.

If you think my list is weird, well, maybe it is. I don't know. I put it together over the course of about fifteen minutes, and there are obviously things I'm missing.

Jesus Christ. Has anyone noticed that we've spent the last hundred comments talking about how narrow and judgmental I am?
posted by koeselitz at 9:57 AM on October 14, 2009


Jesus Christ. Has anyone noticed that we've spent the last hundred comments talking about how narrow and judgmental I am?
posted by koeselitz


Well, you did say that the Fast Crew reads shit books shittily. It wasn't very nice.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:58 AM on October 14, 2009


Well, now I know better. Goodbye.
posted by koeselitz at 10:01 AM on October 14, 2009


Has anyone noticed that we've spent the last hundred comments talking about how narrow and judgmental I am?

You spent the first third of the thread talking about your own reading habits and have, in so many words, proclaimed them as more "noble" than the woman who is the subject of this post.

If you frame the discussion to be about how your ideas are better than other people's - surprise, surprise - other people become defensive and start picking apart your ideas.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:08 AM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


Then every time we finish a book that we thought was really good, really wonderful, and we say to ourselves, "wow, that was a really good book..." we are full of shit. Or, more precisely, we're talking about nothing while we think we're talking about something. And we have no grounds to tell people that they're better off reading a book than watching television; who are we to say?

We're not full of shit. There just isn't a way to prove that we're not. If you can think of a good metric for the value of art, please share it. Also: I can't argue that people are better off reading a book than they are watching TV. I mean, are you better off reading Blood Meridian than watching Heroes? Of course. But are you better off reading Dan Brown than watching Breaking Bad or Deadwood? Absolutely fucking not.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:48 AM on October 14, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's interesting to me that people haven't mentioned the context of her project, in which her sister's death seems to play a really important role. There are so many different reasons to read and things you can get out of reading, but from the article it seems like absorbing herself in something she loves, that also happens to take her out, to some extent, of every day life, is a lot of what she's getting out of it. Maybe she wrote/thought WWII instead of WWI. Okay, she's not writing for the NYT or a history book publisher. What do you know about her sister?

This reminds me of the woman who cooked a different Julia Child recipe every day. They are finding ways to add meaning into their lives, and in the process they're offering something interesting to the world. If an author has a problem with that because OMG she read my book too fast and failed to appreciate my unique genius, I'm happy to let someone else (Koeselitz?) soothe their troubled ego...
posted by Salamandrous at 9:01 AM on October 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Philip Roth: "To read a novel requires a certain amount of concentration, focus, devotion to the reading. If you read a novel in more than two weeks you don't read the novel really."
posted by dng at 1:43 PM on October 26, 2009


I've never actually read The Crying Of Lot 49, but Pynchon described it as "the literary event of the millennium" and spent almost three years writing it; do you really believe that he thought it wasn't worth spending time on?

If I recall correctly, in the preface to Slow Learner, Pynchon describes The Crying of Lot 49 as a book where, viewed in retrospect, he seemed to have (I'm paraphrasing) forgotten everything he ever knew about writing.
posted by jayder at 3:01 PM on October 26, 2009


« Older OK, this looks bad. Disgusting and really bad. Sea...  |  Tom Waits has a new live album... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments