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.

A Random List: Books I’ve Read on May 28

Do you keep a book journal?   If so, you know what you’ve read on May 28 each year for the last decade (2010-now).

It is a very odd list:  I’ve included links to posts at my old blog, Mirabile Dictu, where relevant.

MAY 28, 2010: The Days of Abandonment, by Elena Ferrante  (my favorite book by Ferrante)

MAY 28, 2011: The Needle’s Eye, by Margaret Drabble

MAY 28, 2012: Doctors and Women, by Susan Cheever

MAY 28, 2013: Ursule Mirouet, by Balzac

MAY 28, 2014: Off Course, by Michele Hunevan

MAY 28, 2015: The Professor, by Charlotte Bronte

MAY 28, 2016: Uncle Silas, by Sheridan le Fanu

MAY 28, 2017: Golden Days, by Carolyn See

MAY 28, 2018: Love in a Cold Climate, by Nancy Mitford

MAY 28, 2019: Franny and Zooey, by J. D. Salinger

Does this list have meaning?  Well, it’s a random date, and I’m disappointed by the results.  If I’d included 2009, the title would have been Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which would have added flair.  But these are good titles, all thoroughly enjoyable, more or less classics, with the exception of Susan Cheever’s clever novel, which is long forgotten  and out-of-print ( hence not a classic) but worth reading if you can find a copy.

So Many Books, So Much Time!

If you  were a furloughed federal worker, you’d have loads of time right now.

According to an essay by Sarah Wendell in The Washington Post,  many of the 800,000 furloughed federal employees are spending it reading.

Wendell writes,

I started noticing the trend in my own home, where my husband, furloughed federal employee Adam Wendell, has been burning through books at a startling pace. It’s a good alternative to checking Twitter every 10 minutes to see if the shutdown has ended, he explains.

Wendell says her husband Adam  is powering though Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files books, a fantasy/mystery series.  She also interviewed a furloughed meteorologist in Oklahoma, Barb Mayes Boustead, who recently finished  Tara Westover’s Educated, Sam Anderson’s Boom Town, and Elin Hilderbrand’s Winter in Paradise.

Wendell says library use is up in the D.C. area. “Arlington County has noticed a pronounced increase in its e-book and e-audio circulation from January 2018 to January 2019. While there’s typically a jump of between 1,000 and 3,000 titles, this year it’s closer to 12,000. ”

A furlough might send me into the arms of Commissario Guido Brunett, the hero of  Donna Leon’s mysteries.  A few years ago on PBS, Louise Erdrich, the novelist and owner of Birchbark Books in Minneapolis, recommended Leon’s series as unputdownable.

What would you read if you were on furlough?  Or what are you reading on furlough?  I’m turning on the comments just for today so you can recommend books to read during the shutdown!

By the way, I’m 100% with Nancy Pelosi.