Friday, July 27, 2007

How I Read Books

This is a topic I can discuss endlessly.

When I was growing up, reading books was the center of my universe. It was my primary source of entertainment, anodyne for boredom, solace in the midst of peer rejection, refuge from yard work. It was so primary in my life that my dad actually thought I read too much and wanted to limit my time with books. Fortunately the almost religious degree of respect society has for books made it impossible for him to restrict my reading, but he certainly tried to replace it with yard work and tennis lessons. I don't think he had any pleasure in reading, or he perceived it as a waste of time.

I can list my favorite series and authors ad infinitum, but that is only of interest to myself and other bibliophiles. What interests me at present is HOW people read. I am a skimmer; I read through fiction really quickly although I slow down somewhat for nonfiction since I am reading for detail. My favorite way to read fiction is to quickly get the gist - the basic outline - and then read my favorite portions a second and/or third time. This only applies to really enjoyable fiction, of course. If I'm not really interested, I won't read it again.

If you think about it, it's actually a very time-efficient method. If a book is boring, I have invested very little time in it. But if it's good - like a Harry Potter, or Anne McCaffrey, or Robin McKinley, a Colleen McCullough Rome book, or Stephen R. Lawhead's Avalon - then I can re-read it many times over the years and get to enjoy the experience all over again.

This is NOT a good thing when reading non-fiction. I am rather disinterested in fiction at present, having found nothing as good as the stuff I read when I was younger. (Harry Potter, again, is the exception.) So I've been on a history/biography/cultural history kick for several years now. Skimming is pointless when you're reading for content, so I've had to learn how to slow down and read almost every word.

So I read HP & The Deathly Hallows in about 5+ hours, which averages out to about 140 pages an hour. And yes, I brag about it as if it's a talent or skill! Which is ridiculous, because it's simply the way my brain processes text. I think it's how my subconscious seeks to stretch out its enjoyment of a story; if I really like the story, I want to re-experience it over and over again. Like eating fried chicken - you go over it once, get most of the meat, then go back for any bits left behind. Although I don't like fried chicken.

I miss the reading. Once my TV-watching was no longer restricted, I've spent much less time in books, and now I have fallen out of the habit. I have stacks of books around my apartment that I've been collecting and planning to read; enough to keep me occupied around the clock for a few years if I had no distractions or TV. I've gone from 5-7 books a week as a child to 1 or 2 a month. But thank goodness for iPods and audiobooks! I've gone through so many books on my long commutes that I would never have gotten to read, and it has forced me to learn to process at a slower speed, since you cannot "skim" an audiobook!

1 comment:

Mike Howell said...

Years ago I read voraciously, and certainly did my fair share of skimming. About ten years ago something changed in my reading style, and I really don't know why. I started reading at about "speaking" speed, actively processing each sentence instead of absorbing them en masse and revisiting. I haven't read a great volume in the past ten years, and I can't even say I've enjoyed what I have read more. Maybe I should go back to skimming.