Wednesday, July 11, 2007

On reading rates

Received the following yesterday:

Lola has left a new comment on your post "Five books in five days, a reading marathon":

How many hours did you read in one day (on average?) You must read really fast, OR you read nearly 24 hours straight! I can't do that unless it's a really good book.

PS: I added you to my short list of biblioblogs links. Hope you don't mind! (..?)


First, Lola, I'm delighted that you've added this blog to your short list of links. Of course I don't mind. My goal is to have a dozen readers by the end of this year. I think I'm halfway there!

Your question about how fast I read is a question that I’ve often asked myself. The simple answer is that I read about 50 pages of fiction in an hour. The more complex answer is that the actual number of pages read in an hour might range from 35 to 70.

Factors that contribute to my read rate include the author’s style, the genre of the book, where I’m at in the book (beginning, middle or end) and any external distractions – from TV, a wife who wants to converse or a barking dog.

As to author’s style, some authors just read “faster” than others. I’m a fan of Charles Dickens, but it always takes me about 100 pages to become re-acclimated to his writing style before my reading pace picks up. It’s the same with Edith Wharton. With Shakespeare, the pace never does pick up. On the other hand, I can pick up Tony Hillerman's newest book and read 70 pages in an hour without breaking a sweat.

That leads to the genre of the book. Mysteries are quick reads. I think there are several reasons for this – mysteries are not laden with loads of descriptive text, but are rich in dialogue and mysteries generally have a propulsive plot that propels the narrative and the reader along. This holds true for some of the authors I enjoy such as Robert Crais, George Pelecanos and Michael Connelly. It’s less true of P.D. James.

I always read at a slower pace when I’m just starting a book. Refer back to my point about the author’s style. Usually there’s a small adjustment period as I familiarize myself with a writer’s style, the characters and setting. I always feel that by the point I’ve reached 60 to 100 pages I’m well on my way – and the pace picks up – and the pace always picks up again in the final 100 pages. I don’t know why. I’m like a horse who smells the barn.

Eliminating external distractions are important. A quiet, well-lit room with a cozy chair and a couple of hours uninterrupted is the ideal. No TV. No dogs. No one else around. That’s when the world slips away and I slip into something like an alpha state. I’m not aware of the passage of time, the turning of pages. Nothing. I am one with the book. Or, more accurately, one with the story.

When I find my thoughts wandering, my pace slows down. That’s often a time to put the book down, take care of what’s on my mind or engage in some other activity.

I said a few hours of uninterrupted time is the ideal, and it is. But many people seem to believe if they don’t have a block of two or three hours what's the point of picking up a book at all? I think the failure to take advantage of interstitial time is one of the biggest mistakes non-readers make. An interstice is the space between things. Interstitial time is that time you spend in doctor’s waiting rooms or in those dingy rooms at the car dealer while you’re waiting on the oil change and safety inspection. Fifteen minutes here, 30 minutes there and it all adds up. I never go on an appointment without a book. It’s a good use of time and helps the time go faster.

My goal, each day, is a minimum of 100 pages. I read an average of 50 pages during my morning commute and another 50 pages on the trip home in the evening. I try to read at noon, generally about 35 pages. I read at in the evenings at home, but less than you might suspect. Perhaps a few pages before dinner and then for 60 to 90 minutes after dinner. But I don’t always pick up a book after dinner. My wife and I might spend the time talking. The kids may call. We might pop in a DVD; currently, we’re working our way through Season 1 of The Closer or catch the most recent airing of Gray’s Anatomy.

I read less on the weekends then you would imagine. Weekends are for me and my wife. That’s the time we spend together; shopping at the farmer’s market, running errands, dining out, sightseeing.

All in all, I have the same attitude about reading as I do running. It’s not how fast you are that’s important, but that you’re doing it. Both are good for you.

1 comment:

  1. Dad, I thought you'd appreciate this crossing of our interests. Charlie Stross attempting to explain a recent World of Warcraft event to a hypothetical someone from 1977: