March 11, 2003 9:58 PM   Subscribe

Top readers in America. Do you read anything other than metafilter? [via]
posted by srboisvert (42 comments total)
I read roughly 2 fiction novels a week. I went cold-turkey for four years in the nineties where I decided that it was a waste of my time and read only non-fiction. I'm thinking it is time to let the writers catch up again.

These days the web meets almost all my non-fiction reading needs.
posted by srboisvert at 10:04 PM on March 11, 2003

I can't honestly believe that "2+ books a week" qualifies someone to be one of America's biggest readers. I do three books a week on average, plus a couple graphic novels on the weekends for fun. Last summer I was doing a book a day on account of being basically bedridden, although I know I couldn't have kept it up forever. I'm not a speed-reader, either; quite the contrary. I think most people who haven't read anything since college would be surprised at how much you can get done if you get in the habit and read things you like.

... And if the average American buys nine books a year, I'm Bloggie Lifetime Award Winner Jason Kottke. This is one of those cases when the math is misleading. Certainly, most people buy one or fewer books, and a small portion of people buy dozens upon dozens.
posted by Hildago at 10:27 PM on March 11, 2003

I can knock down a few books in a week, but nothing like some of these people. I asked my cognitive science prof what he thought about things like Evelyn Wood and the like, and he basically said that while you could in fact train yourself to read more quickly, the claims of most speed reading programs were beyond spurious, and I wonder if he'd believe these score or two o' book a week people or book in 20 minutes maniacs exist.

He also said there'd only been one recorded demonstration of eidetic memory.

posted by namespan at 10:30 PM on March 11, 2003

Maybe your prof is just jealous. Also, I agree that 2 a week is pretty low for a "top reader".
posted by Potsy at 10:43 PM on March 11, 2003

I am not sure that you can read 50 books a week and say you retained anything substantive.

But who am I to say, back to PS2!
posted by xmutex at 10:48 PM on March 11, 2003

Guinness-certified in 1989 as the world's fastest reader (the category has since been dropped from the book), Berg can read eighty pages per minute. He doesn't read constantly, and he doesn't always speed read. "But when I want to learn about something," he says, "I learn it really quickly and really well."
posted by stbalbach at 10:49 PM on March 11, 2003

I read about 2 books a week (assuming they fall in around 300 pages each; that figure doesn't stand for the 900+ page books I sometimes tackle), and I spend much of that time rereading particular passages and looking up words or references (mental notes taken in subways, physical notes taken with phrase and page number on notepad). I'd read more, but I honestly don't have the time. And a bit of this stuff goes through my mind like a sieve, particularly if it's lousy.

As for Howard Stephen Berg, can you really trust Regis and Kathie Lee as the paragon of scientific method?
posted by ed at 11:16 PM on March 11, 2003

I haven't read good fiction in quite a while, actually. Reading the Green Mile and Sometimes a Great Notion back to back kinda left what I tried later wanting. So it's been nice big non-fiction tomes. Plus, reading textbooks will burn you out on reading rather quickly.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 1:25 AM on March 12, 2003

score or two o' book a week people

This may not have been clear. By "score or two" I meant 20-40.... you know, four score and seven years ago etc....

As for Howard Stephen Berg, can you really trust Regis and Kathie Lee as the paragon of scientific method?

True. Plus Berg looks like he should be eaten by a dinosaur in a Spielberg film.
posted by namespan at 1:30 AM on March 12, 2003

If you go to a four star restaurant, would you chow down, or would you take your time, and enjoy the meal. The better the book, the slower I read. I want to enjoy every single page.
posted by Beholder at 2:22 AM on March 12, 2003

I found it ironic that once I became a professor, I had far less time to read than I did before. Ack. Nevertheless, in either full research mode or full vacation mode I can read up to 10 books per week. And the only good thing about airline travel & its attendant delays is, well, the opportunity for more reading. (A flight from NY to CA usually allows me to read at least three substantial novels.) I do read fairly quickly--100 pages/hr is my "cruising" speed, so to speak.

Right now, however, I'm reading fifty term papers and two sets of midterms. After that, I gear up to read "context" for the article I'm writing (a huge stack of Victorian periodical articles on Anglo-Catholicism, the Roman Catholic Church, and Wycliffe--no, not all in the same article).
posted by thomas j wise at 3:23 AM on March 12, 2003

Me read two or three littrachur-type books a week for pleasure, and one or two non-fictions a month to try to make my brain bigger. Although my brain is now approximately the size of Lichtenstein, I suspect that's bloating due to all the beer, as it does me no goddamn good at all that I can tell.

You know, except for all the love I feel on Metafilter.

*waits for the love*
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:52 AM on March 12, 2003

Although my mother tongue is Spanish and I live there, I read more books in English than in Spanish or Catalan (my second language).

But, and this is a bit BUT, the problem is that I read almost exclusively non fiction (sociology, economy, anthropology, essay, etc) and when I want to enjoy some English fiction (ie: Lord of the Rings, all of Neal Stephenson books, etc) I find that I have a disturbing lack of "normal" vocabulary... I do use a dictionary (a very big and heavy one), but it's not the same.

I suppose it's the same reason I don't post as often as I would like to Metafilter. (Perhaps, in the end, that is a good thing, but this is another story...)
posted by samelborp at 4:20 AM on March 12, 2003

If you go to a four star restaurant, would you chow down, or would you take your time, and enjoy the meal.

Speed of reading doesn't necessarily correlate to enjoyment of the material. (Would you suggest that a good movie should be watched on slow-motion?) Personally, I've found that so long as I'm awake and able to give appropriate concentration to the task, I can take in most novels in just a few hours, definitely in one sitting. That's just the speed at which I read something I find compelling. A well written book to me is like a glass of ice water -- it goes down fast and smooth. Since I've rediscovered the joy of the networked public library I'm up to three or four books a week.

That said, I'm currently working on reading all of the Pulitzer Prize novels, and while recent winners (Interpreter of Maladies, The Shipping News, American Pastoral) have definitely fulfilled the ice water analogy, that's not by any means a given. I was trying to read both recent and early winners with the intention of working my way toward the middle of the list, the 50's era novels at an even pace. But I've digested the last 12 winners and I'm stuck on the first two. His Family and The Magnificent Ambersons are going down rather like a mouthful of peanut butter and saltine crackers in the desert. Slow and painful reading. They're enough to make me give up the whole idea. (But I shall perservere!)
posted by Dreama at 4:57 AM on March 12, 2003

the average American buys nine books a year

Maybe, if 6 are the TV Guide and 3 are People Magazine.
posted by Shane at 6:09 AM on March 12, 2003

Ooo! Ooo! I have a question for those of you who read multiple books per week (a club I used to belong to, sigh). Do you finish one before you start another or do you have a bunch going at any given time?
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:35 AM on March 12, 2003

Heh. Harriet Klausner never read a book she didn't like. She used to post 2 reviews a day to Dorothy-L (a mystery listserv), and during the time I was subscribed to the list, any number of flamewars exploded over her reviews--the most memorable being the one over whether or not she actually existed. The fact that she lists Patricia Cornwell as her favorite should say something about her tastes (she writes mainly romance and mystery reviews--both genres that I enjoy, but that also have a lot of crap in them--there are good romance novels, but they are few and far between).

That said, my own personal reading goes in fits and bursts; there are times I don't do a lot of reading, or there are times, like now, when I read a lot. I've read 3 books since Sunday. I've been known to plow through a 300 page book in 3 hours. Lately, I've been doing a lot of rereading (my books were packed and inaccessible for two months), too, and that's generally quicker than reading a new book.

I really should stop rereading; my TBR pile is 2 feet tall... But Laurell K. Hamilton is like crack--once you start you can't stop until you've read them all, so that's what I shall do.

On preview: PinkStainlessTail, I generally have at least two books going at once, sometimes more. At the moment, I have four books going.
posted by eilatan at 6:44 AM on March 12, 2003

God no, I don't finish them. I read books concurrently. What I read when depends upon my mood, the weather, my health, and the physical size of the book: I like to carry French paperbacks around in my coat pocket when I'm not carrying my laptop bag. Some books just aren't portable.

Right now I have about four books on the floor under the bed. I just finished Jason Elliot's An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan, which is a very instructive and comprehensible look at the country and its people; Elliot is a smart man, though also stricken with a curious case of traveler's anomie. I'm also reading Karen Blixen's La ferme africaine, better known in English as Out of Africa. There's a book on poker (I'm getting ready for weekly games with friends, and as the author puts it, "More cheating goes on in friendly games than in all of the casinos in the country.") Also, Martyr’s Day: Chronicle of a Small War by Michael Kelly, about the first Gulf War (a very prescient book), and Cuban Counterpoint: Tobacco and Sugar, by Fernando Ortiz, originally published in Spanish in 1940, which concerns the history of Cuba and the nature of its agriculture, and by way of that, the island's people and culture.
posted by Mo Nickels at 6:58 AM on March 12, 2003

I'd love to see the speed readers tackle Spinoza's Ethics.
posted by lbergstr at 7:29 AM on March 12, 2003

I remember some summer, before summer jobs, I would ride my bicycle to the library, over the highway bridge, down the largest hill in town, and pack my backpack full of sci-fi, asimov, bradbury, norton, heinlien, and fantasy, arthurian lit. Somewhere average of 20 or so books, holding those extra two that wouldn't fit in the backpack balanced against the handle bars as I rode back up the big hill towards home.

When I got home, I'd stack them in piles around my bed, feeling rich, with so many choices before me.

Haven't been to the library in some time.

Though, I will admit, a good deal of the heinlein and asimov did run together...
posted by dreamling at 7:29 AM on March 12, 2003

If you go to a four star restaurant, would you chow down, or would you take your time, and enjoy the meal.

The better the book, the slower I read.

People who go on and on about speed reading always remind me of similar folks who say how they raced through a big museum in 15 or 20 minutes. What's the point?

I'm not like Beholder, though, I probably read faster with a better book, because I get caught up in it. I was really high-speed as a teenager, but the older I got, the slower I went, because I spent part of the time analyzing how the book was written. (Now, as I get even older, I'm backing away from that.)

Do you finish one before you start another or do you have a bunch going at any given time?

I'm always reading at least a half-dozen, usually more, but only one in each category at a time: novel, detective story, history, general non-fiction, humor, biography, etc. I tend to read fiction before going to bed, and non-fiction when I wake up in the morning and lie there refusing to get out of bed. (A few months ago, I looked at the five books stacked on the little table beside my bed and realized they were from five different libraries, from within 1 to 60 miles of home.)

I average about three books a week (181 in 2000, 149 in 2001, 164 in 2002), but I don't make a big deal out of it. Not like, say, Art Garfunkel. (For the last two years, MetaFilter has seriously cut into my reading time, by the way. But it's a fascinating diversion.)

My pet peeve (as a Playboy model would say): audio books. Like speed reading, what's the point? (Unless you're blind.) I want to hear my voice, in my head, telling the story.
posted by LeLiLo at 8:15 AM on March 12, 2003

I'd read more, but I honestly don't have the time.

I feel that way too. But at the beginning of his autobiography Education of a Wandering Man (the 60th book I read in 1989), Louis L'Amour writes, "Often I hear people say they do not have time to read. That's absolute nonsense. In the one year during which I kept that kind of record, I read twenty-five books while waiting for people. In offices, applying for jobs, waiting to see a dentist, waiting in a restaurant for friends, many such places."
posted by LeLiLo at 8:21 AM on March 12, 2003

Do you finish one before you start another or do you have a bunch going at any given time?

I read usually two or three at a time: one that's good to carry on the bus, one for when I really have time to focus, and something else random that someone generally hands me. I get most of my books at the library, so I am always up against getting them back on time, esp if they are part of a long hold list [The Goldbug Variations and The Pianist are currently in this list]. I also like to mix up fiction and non-fiction and, like Hidalgo, a few graphic novels on the weekends.

audio books. Like speed reading, what's the point?

I used to think this as well, until I started driving cross-country a lot and realized that I was missing being able to read. Audiobooks aren't a total substitute for reading, but they beat NPR any day. I was also surprised that 2-3 books a week could land you on the top of the list over at Book Magazine [itself an amusing piece of fluff in general] but this article is better than their usual author interviews.
posted by jessamyn at 8:29 AM on March 12, 2003

I'm so jealous of those of you who have time to read multiple books in a week. I don't doubt that I could, given the time, but even the lightest reading takes me at least a month these days. I try to read in bed and I'm lucky if I get through a page before I fall asleep.

I was actually excited that a car repair was going to take longer than expected because I was waiting for the car at the shop, and thus had more time to read the book I brought with me. I think I need to reevaluate my priorities.

And to add some data to a poll-type question asked above, I often read books simultaneously, usually because I am very excited about them and can't decide which to read first.

On preview, addressing the Louis L'Amour quote: I'm in school and a lot of my waiting reading is reserved for class assignments. However, I used to always read at breakfast and during lunch breaks and now I spend that time browsing the web instead. He's right though, not having time to read is kind of like not having time to exercise, but there has to be a point at which one honestly does run out of time for things.
posted by jennyb at 8:30 AM on March 12, 2003

your priorities sound just fine to me, jennyb. I've been known to take the subway home rather than the company-provided taxi, just so I can finish a book on the way.

I usually read 2-3 books/week...maybe 60% nonfiction. I usually have at least two going at any one time. Plus there's metafilter, about three blogs I read closely, about ten others I check in on occasionally, the New Yorker, the Atlantic, a desultory pass through New York magazine (till it pisses me off and gets thrown across the room), the five or so trade mags I get, news sites, et cetera.

Damn, I never realized how friggin' much I read till I set it all out like this. I guess I'm just addicted to text...that's why I love the 'Net so much, methinks. Who has time for TV, anyway?
posted by Vidiot at 9:08 AM on March 12, 2003

If I'm in research mode, then I normally have multiple books going at once (up to three or four). In "normal" mode, it varies, depending on whether or not I need to reread a novel I'm teaching.
posted by thomas j wise at 9:17 AM on March 12, 2003

Interesting some people can read entire books in hours while others can barely get through one page.
posted by stbalbach at 9:25 AM on March 12, 2003

Actually, vidiot raises a valid tally. If I included the fifteen or so magazines I'm subscribed to, the Sunday New York Times (with the exception of sports and style, I read the little bastard cover to cover, even if that means waking up at 5 AM to hear it thwack against the door), the free weeklies I sometimes grab in desperation (if I don't have my bag o' books and goodies on me), other newspapers, journals and magazines purchased at airports and read on flights, and the sleepless nights in which I finish off a book, that's a lot of reading. In fact, I often take a longer bus route home just so I have more time to read. :)

There's actually one person I know who claims to read while driving the long I-5 stretch between SF and LA at around 85 mph. Goddam crazy, if you ask me.

Audiobooks? No no. Unless it's a particularly dramatic presentation with strong talent and high production values (almost like a radio play), I can't abide. Besides, the real way to go on a road trip is to pack a car with other people, frequent stops and lots of custom-burned CDs (specifically mixed to suit the gang of personalities packed within a car).

However, I suspect that some of the Book claims are laced with as much BS as Jeffrey Archer's.
posted by ed at 10:26 AM on March 12, 2003

One of the questions I get asked the most at my librarian gig is, "Have you read all these books?" I sigh and say, "No, I wish...." I discovered when I became the librarian here that I had less time to read than I would like. I usually read multiple books; sci-fi and fantasy are my fave escapist reading. Like Jessamyn, I get most of my books from the Bookmobile, so I also have time constraints and waiting lists to think about. I also read 3 daily newspapers, 3 weekly newspapers, Time and Newsweek every week and a couple of fashion magazines every month. That's in addition to Metafilter, of course. ;-)
posted by Lynsey at 10:51 AM on March 12, 2003

I'd love to see the speed readers tackle Spinoza's Ethics.

Exactly. When I was younger I used to plow through R.L. Stine's Goosebumps books at about 20 mins/book. In high school a friend loaned me a few 900+ page fantasy books (I wanted to see what the big deal was about), and I finished one of them on a lazy Sunday. But that doesn't mean that I'm cruising through Plato.

More so, when one reads philosophy (or the like), I hardly hear anyone use the term "reading", its usually "studying", because that is the only way it's going to sink in.

If someone wants to speed-read Patricia Cornwell, more power to them, but I refuse to be particularly impressed.
posted by cohappy at 10:52 AM on March 12, 2003

if you go to a four star restaurant, would you chow down, or would you take your time, and enjoy the meal. the better the book, the slower i read

I understand and agree with the sentiment somewhat, although a good book is harder to put down and usually gets read quicker overall.

A recommendation: the English translation of "Soul Mountain" by Gao Zhangzian (sp?). And one quick read, "The Notebook" by (darn it, I forget just now). - result of reading too many technical manuals :-) Anyway , back to my book "What Liberal Media" by Eric Alterman...
posted by nofundy at 11:00 AM on March 12, 2003

PinkStainlessTail - I usually have about 4-5 books going concurrently, after that I refuse to let myself pick up any more until I've finished some of what I'm in the middle of.

Novels usually take a day or two. Easier non-fiction (cognitive psychology, evolutionary biology, history, etc) can stretch out for a week or so. Harder non-fiction (math, physics, programming, etc) can stretch out for weeks or even months. Basically, anything with a narrative pulls me along quickly, but books requiring analysis & problem-solving are much slower. Since my reading has shifted to a greater percentage of the hard stuff, my count per week has definitely dropped. Sigh.
posted by tdismukes at 11:04 AM on March 12, 2003

Guinness-certified in 1989 as the world's fastest reader (the category has since been dropped from the book)

How come? Were there a lot of injuries or something?
posted by soyjoy at 11:06 AM on March 12, 2003

PinkStainlessTail:Ooo! Ooo! I have a question for those of you who read multiple books per week (a club I used to belong to, sigh). Do you finish one before you start another or do you have a bunch going at any given time?

eilatan:But Laurell K. Hamilton is like crack--once you start you can't stop until you've read them all, so that's what I shall do.

I usually have about 2 - 4 books going at one time. On a 5 hour flight I can read a book cover to cover and get started on another before I touch down. I read primarily for entertainment so admittedly a good portion of those books are fluff/eye candy, Laurell K. Hamilton's stuff, for example. I, however, prefer an engagingly written non-fic book when I can get my hands on one.

When I was in grammar school, teachers would accuse me of goofing off because I read though assigned text so fast. I think I developed that skill because it was a quick way to check out of a boring, unhappy situation. Some kids escape into TV; we usually didn't have one, so books became my refuge.
posted by echolalia67 at 11:19 AM on March 12, 2003

Big deal. Anyone who majors in English is generally expected to be reading about five book-length works a week.

And I agree with the people who say speed isn't everything. Sure, I was a fast reader in elementary school (and often got assigned more work because my teachers didn't believe me), but now I value reading slowly and carefully much more, even if I can't always do it...
posted by dagnyscott at 11:32 AM on March 12, 2003

Do you read anything other than metafilter?

Does this exclude responses from those that don't read Metafilter?

The romance, crime, mystery, and (whatever other) genres are chock full of books with cookie cutter content that it doesn't surprise me that one could read through them quickly. It surprises me that people would want to. It surprises me that they don't nod off after the hundredth time of being led by the nose.

Good books give us indigestion. They make us hurl if we force-feed. They inspire us to go back and read a chapter again - perhaps the whole book. James Gleick's Faster hit the nail on the head. We are heading toward that infinite horizon toward a faster this and that and I don't think half of us remember how to sit back and relax.

"Reforms by advances, that is, by new methods or gadgets, are of course impressive at first, but in the long run they are dubious and in any case dearly paid for. They by no means increase the contentment or happiness of people on the whole. Mostly, they are deceptive sweetenings of existence, like speedier communications which unpleasantly accelerate the tempo of life and leave us with less time then ever before. Omnis festinatio ex parte diaboli est--all haste is of the devil, as the old masters used to say.

- C. G. Jung

But I'm a gadget fiend and I love my Coffee. I'm with the speed freaks all the way. It's not all bad, is it?
posted by john at 11:34 AM on March 12, 2003

Unless I missed someone, I may be the only one here who reads one book at a time? It's cheating if you start another! One book, one magazine, no jumping ahead until you've finished. I read every day, usually until my forehead falls down onto the book. I open a book in front of me in the mornings while I dry my hair, prop it open with something. I have to, I have piles of books awaiting me!

Anyone ever dropped a library book in the tub? Oooo, no more library books in the tub for me!
posted by allpaws at 11:52 AM on March 12, 2003

I agree with the people who've noted that reading something serious or meaty takes longer than brain candy--I've been picking away at a small collection of essays for a couple of weeks now in between my rapacious reading and rereading of a variety of brain candy (specifically, some Mercedes Lackey, the latest J.D. Robb, and the aforementioned Laurell K. Hamilton).

I will admit, though, that the bulk of my reading does fall into the brain candy category. I ascribe this mostly to having to read a vast quantity of what I like to call literary spinach while working towards my English degree. If a book doesn't grab me within the first few pages, I generally won't read it, no matter how good for me it may be. Reading is, for me, a hobby and a way to escape everyday life, and I'm not going to spend what time I do have to read reading things I don't find enjoyable.

One of the things I don't find enjoyable, though, are poorly written books, so even though I do have a tendency to read mostly genre fiction, I tend to read and reread the better written books in each genre. So no cookie cutter mysteries, science fiction, or fantasy for me. It is much harder to find non-cookie cutter romance, though, so I try to find ones which are, at the very least, intentionally funny.
posted by eilatan at 12:02 PM on March 12, 2003

"If I had read as much as other men, I would be as ignorant as they."--Thomas Hobbes

I have that quote on a bookmark.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 12:23 PM on March 12, 2003

Last summer, I found myself with a couple weeks for brain candy for the first time in about a year. During that year, I had been reading almost purely heavier text - philosophy, lit theory, and mathematics, oh my - and found that when I went back to the scifi I could throw down a book a day no problem. Reading the heavier stuff seemed to make the lighter work go by a lot faster. (hell, with some of my math texts, I'm lucky to get through five pages in a day...)
posted by kaibutsu at 2:07 PM on March 12, 2003

Before I came to university I used to be on 5-6 books a week - about 400-500 pages on average. I didn't really find that the subject matter/type had that much of an impact on the rate I got through them tho - be it ethics or winnie the pooh.. I suppose its because I've got a good memory for this type of thing - once I've read a book I can pretty much remember it as a narrative - ie not exactly the pages, but sentences here and there and how they link? Does anyone else find that? This means that I always think about book after I read them until I understand them - nice and efficient.. :)

Now I'm at uni, only read 1 book these past two terms. Bah. Education, who needs it? :)
posted by Mossy at 3:28 PM on March 12, 2003

Aw, thanks for the validation, Vidiot, but I meant I need to rework my priorities so that I have enough time to read without having to wish for longer waits at the mechanic's shop. And I have always been a fan of public transportation, largely because it's made up the bulk of my reading time for the last six years. Yay for subways!
posted by jennyb at 8:44 AM on March 13, 2003

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