Sunday, 2 January 2011

Pace of reading

My Shelfari says cheerfully: “You haven’t read any books this year. Last year you read 60 books, so you’re behind your pace”. I hope I am excused that I haven't read any books this year (I am in the middle of two, one for work and one for pleasure). Until yesterday, it kept saying: “You have read 60 books this year. Last year you read 76 books, so you’re behind your pace”. I think the average literate Western reader reads 3 books per year, so I am slightly above the average. But I remember many years ago when I had a manual book log, my annual average was 120, so I am behind my pace.

The pace of reading is determined by the kind of books you read. When I had just come out of Russia I read masses of children's novels to catch up with what hadn't been available. I probably read several books a day. I used to review a lot, so I had to read quickly. I needed to keep up with Nordic, Russian, British and American literature, preferably also Australian and Canadian. Keep up and fill the gaps. I have always read a lot of professional literature, but it's not the same kind of reading. You skim over pages, read one chapter more carefully, stop in the middle to read something else. I have always tried to read books totally unrelated to work although to be honest I cannot: I will always think about how a book is crafted, whether it's War and Peace or War and Peas.

The past few years I have been very deliberately reading long, thick, slow books without pictures or conversations. It is a counterbalance to quick-paced children's books with short chapters, page upon page of dialogue and no adjectives. I can read fifteen children's book while I am reading one slow “real” novel. Wow, I just wrote it, “real” novel. That's me, having defended children's literature for thirty years as being “real”. I know many child lit colleagues read crime novels for a change.

I guess it all boils down to the old wisdom: "Some books are to be tasted; others swallowed; some few to be chewed and digested". I have swallowed too many books, I need something to chew.

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