The Lonely Scene of the Subjunctive: If Only We Could Read More!

If only we could read more!

Mind you, I read a lot, but I can’t read a book a day.  And yet I am hooked on  Jo Walton’s column at Tor about her monthly reading.  Often she reads 30 books in a month, and her musings are fascinating.   In July, she read “just 14 books.”

Actually, “just 14” made her human. Much as I love her writing, it is impossible to keep up with her reading. I had read “just 13  books” in July, which I thought a respectable number, since it included a seldom-read Latin oration and a big novel by Mrs. Humphry Ward.

More and more people these days write about how many books they read and how many pages an hour. These stats became popular, as far as I can tell, in the 21st century.   In Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, a bibliomemoir about reading a book a day to cope with grief, Nina Sankovitch informs us that she could accomplish this feat because she reads 75 pages an hour.  Wow, that is a lot of pages!  And then while I read her reviews I kept  calculating how many pages she read per hour, how many hours a day…  And that was not not the point.

Book challenges online are often about numbers. At Book Riot, Courtney Rodgers recently announced her “30 Books in 30 Days Challenge” for September.  She writes,

This challenge started four years ago, when I was working two jobs that required a lot of time and physical presence, but not a lot of brain power. I wasn’t reading as much as I used to.  I wanted to read, but I was just tired and overwhelmed. So, being the stubborn sort of person that I am, I decided the best way to force myself back into reading as a habit and hobby was to read 30 books in a short amount of time.

Is Courtney a superhero?  When did she shower?   But I must interject that I will never, as she suggests, add picture books to a TBR stack so I can say I have read 30 books in a month.  That way madness lies!

Katie at Books and Things on Booktube recently posted a fascinating video, “How I Read As Much as I do.”  She reads during her  commute to her publishing job in London (one hour each way), reads books for work,  and listens to audiobooks while she walks, shops, or cleans.  Sometimes she and her boyfriend listen to audiobooks together.  (Awww…   I never listen to audiobooks, but I’m relieved that I can  keep up with Katie’s reading.)

Although I’m “a big reader,” as we used to say, I am astonished by the common reader’s obsession with numbers.   Some years ago, I read an interview or article in which Ron Charles, editor of the Washington Post Book World, and Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Michael Dirda discussed their reading habits.  Both said they read 20 to 25 pages an hour. (But where is this article?  I can’t find it.) They read, they think, they take notes…and they pay attention.

We’re so used to being tracked now–steps, calories, book challenges, clicks on the internets–that we don’t even question whether the data is meaningful.

The internet brings people together, but it adds up to a lonely scene.

6 thoughts on “The Lonely Scene of the Subjunctive: If Only We Could Read More!”

  1. This is exactly as nuts as those people who post on Facebook that the novel they are writing is now at 30,000 words, 50,000 words, whatever. Who the heck cares? It isn’t QUANTITY that counts with writing, it’s whether the writing is good, if it’s readable! Sheesh. Similarly the book blogger quantity thing. All my life I’ve read a lot and very fast – my career was as the “book person” story analyst at Warner Bros where I read novel manuscripts to see they’d make movies, and yes, speed and quantity was the name of the game. For something light and trashy I could read 100 or even 200 pages an hour (as Calvin and Hobbes once said, “don’t sweat comprehension”). Now that I’m retired, I don’t have to read anything I don’t want to read myself, EVER AGAIN! Of course during my work years I kept my sanity by having a rich reading life of my own, with women’s literature of the 18th and 19th centuries mostly; but these were books I wanted to digest, learn from, be affected by, study, re-read. Not churn out on a daily basis for the sake of a blog or a count. I churned out reading for forty years, and I thought when I retired I’d still keep an outlet for that by writing occasional book reviews on Vulpes Libris, which would be less demanding than trying to maintain a whole blog. But I found I didn’t even want to do that. Actually it turns out I’m doing my own writing again, and have just finished a new novel! And I won’t say how many words it is! 🙂 I don’t read many book blogs these days, but yours is one of my few favorite regular ones, Kat, I always enjoy it. All the best, Diana

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    1. Diana, I’m so glad you’ve written another novel. Now THAT’S worth doing! Maybe because we were raised on typewriters, those stats don’t mean as much to us. Sometimes I’d be told to write 500 words, or 1,000 words, and I knew exactly how many pages that was.

      I’m sure you had to read a lot of junk as well as good books for work, so it’s great to have time to read what you want! And thank you for the compliment about my blog.

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  2. I used to think I read a lot but had my eyes opened once I started following bloggers. I was astounded to see how many books some people were reading – where did they find the time? Self doubt crept in for a time. Even though I spotted some people got to the big numbers by reading Manga and lots of slim YA novels (neither of which have any appeal for me) I still felt inadequate when I saw the quantity being read regularly. Fortunately I got over the doubts and came around to the realisation quantity matters not at all. I could probably double my reading but would I necessarily double my enjoyment if it was just being done to notch up the statistics? The answer is clearly no.

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    1. There are only so many hours in the day. .. and everybody has her own pace. I should probably quote something from Thoreau , but then I’d have to get up and go across the room and find one of his books. We’re all stats-mad these days. I keep track of the number of books I read by men and women! I have so many cute notebooks and I have to fill them up.:)

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