Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Society of Slow Readers

I am, as I've admitted before, a slow reader and (fairly) unashamedly so these days. I like to think I compensate by reading extra carefully ... and much of the time I also have a pen in hand to scribble notes and occasional ouchy proofreading corrections). Also, because I review, I do tend to double back on myself and do a fair bit of rereading. I suppose it doesn't help either that I usually have several books on the go at any one time, and read just in odd moments whenever I can find the space and time. (Usually during coffee breaks and over lunch.)

Raman admits he's a slow reader too :
I can't read more than one hour at a stretch -- I will have to get up, go for a walk, get a drink, eat something, and then come back to the book. It took me two weeks to finish reading Milan Kundera's The Curtain and JM Coetzee Diary of a Bad Year, but I was reading other books at the same time. But typically I take about two weeks to finish a book unless it is one of those huge tomes, which I largely avoid these days anyway.
He was responding to Michael Henderson in the Telegraph writing about novelist/critic Philip Hensher's claim :
... that he had read five novels a week, every week, since he was five years old. As he is in his 43rd year, that means he has read at least 9,880 novels in his well-thumbed life.
Is it possible? I think perhaps it is. The fastest reader I know is a friend I used to teach with, who can dispatch a literary novel in an evening and talk about it in depth the next morning. I wouldn't be surprised if she could equal Hensher's total.

But I'm not like that. Nor is Henderson who goes on :
What a relief it was, last year, to learn of Milan Kundera's opinion that he based his reading on the premise that he got through books at the rate of 20 pages an hour. How the Society of Slow Readers enjoyed that confession!

There are those who read quickly, but many more, I fancy, are closer to Kundera's estimation than Hensher's. Keen reader that I am, I reckon I have done pretty well if, having spent three hours with a book, I have got through 100 pages.

Once I regretted being a slowcoach. Now I am content with my lot. It's like a cricketer building an innings. If a book is worth reading, it must be absorbed, sentence by sentence, which often means re-reading paragraphs if they are tricky - or if they are delightful. If others are able to zip through books, skimming the pages, it is a matter for them.
Even if I could physically read faster, I don't think that I would want to ... I find I need non-reading time in between chapters, in between books, to let the words knock around in my head and examine them. Even when I'm not actually sitting there with the book in my hands, I still keep visiting the world created by that book and examining its effect on me. That's my excuse anyway.

Francine Prose who recommends savouring books rather than racing through them, is of course entirely right. Prose' list of "117 books to be read immediately" can be found online on bookofjoe's blog.

(Pic is The Readers 111 by homo_sapiens on Flickr)


Anonymous said...

Some books you read slowly, and other quickly. I think I read Ulysses at about a sentence a minute (if not slower :) )

Anonymous said...

I'm a really slow reader, too, though I agree with Anonymous above that it does depend a bit on what one is reading. I can read Dorothy Sayers and P.G. Wodehouse fairly quickly, and I can read a newspaper article or an informative piece of nonfiction faster than almost anyone I know and still get the gist. But I read most fiction and poetry oh so slowly, and I wouldn't want it any other way :-) .

- Preeta

Tunku Halim said...

I'm a pretty slow reader too. But it depends on the type of book. I rip thru airport novels but plod thru the literary ones.

James Abela said...

I have the opposite problem, I read too fast to the point that my wife reminds me at the airport to read as slowly as possible, because there are no more books to read once that one is finished...However for students and people who'd like to read more books then I'd suggest coming to the activity hall in PWTC on 13th April to find out about X-Treme Speed Reading. Either that or buy the book from stand: 3156 (Hall 3) Check out the details at:


P.S. Sharon with the price of books in KL, its probably a good thing you're a slow reader.

bibliobibuli said...

yes, you guys are right about the depends what sort of book. i occasionally enjoy a book i can really zip through. i have managed a novel in a couple of hours but it was more to take in what it was about than to enjoy the experience

james - i know what you mean because i once taught speed reading and found my own mental processes greatly speeded up too. i can still gut textbooks really quickly, but it just doesn't work for the kind of fiction i enjoy which has to be read unapologetically slowly.

i think one of the greatest gifts we can give our students is to enable them to choose the appropriate speed for text and purpose

james - y'know you are very welcome to guest blog a piece here about any aspect of your book you think my blog readers would like to know about ...

dreamer idiot said...

Thanks for sharing this. What a comfort. I feel a bit less guilty now, or at least no longer ashamed. I am a slow reader too, around Kundera's speed of 20 pages an hour.

KayKay said...

It also depends on the type of book you go to after the last one.We discussed this at your place, Sharon. It also helps speed up your reading considerably when you go from a prose heavy, "lengthy paragraph-long chapter" literary book like "Love In The Time Of Cholera" to a page-turning thriller. It normally takes me a week to get through one of those mainly due to my working schedule as I am a relatively fast reader, but after Marquez I zipped through 2 Police Procedurals in the span of 4 days!

animah said...

I go fast through long descriptive paragraphs - especially of scenery.

I linger when its about a character, or the character's feelings.

I read dialogue over several times.

Kundera, I read slowly cos he's brilliant.

savante said...

True enough! I am trying to read slower actually :) I think I've been influenced too much by the ratrace that I've been rushing through books like a speed-reading machine.

Zed said...

For me, it largely depends on the book. Some books with good pacing and captivating stories would just breeze by but some books that are so uninteresting to me (though you have to finish it because you've already read it halfway), would take about a month to get through.

And what a wonderful book-blog Sharon. I stumbled upon yours from Silverfish. :)

Dienasty said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eli James said...

I am unfortunately a fast reader. 100 pages an hour.

Sometimes I read so fast I've no idea what has happened, and then I start getting sick of reading, and I try to put the book down but I can't tear my eyes away from the page. Stupid habit. Forces me to reread books I've just finished.