Monday, May 25, 2015

Reading habits

In my adult life I cannot remember a single time when I was reading fewer than fifteen books, though at certain points this figure has spiraled far higher.
Joe Queenan, One for the Books

I can relate to Joe Queenan on this one. I haven't always been this way. There was a time when I read just one, maybe two books at a time. Over the years that number has somehow multiplied until, when I did a rough tally last night, I numbered at least 20 books in progress. Some of these have been "in progress" for a number of years. The count is imprecise because there are unfinished books throughout the house, as well as in both of our cars and in our Florida condo. Some books have been untouched for so long I'm sure I have forgotten them. I'm not sure whether to classify some books as unfinished or just abandoned.

"Like any addiction," writes Queenan, "the habit of ceaselessly starting new books provides me with immense pleasure." Yes, opening a new book and reading those first few pages can be irresistible. Reading the last few pages can also bring intense pleasure. It's those vast middle sections of most books, when plots bog down and when nonfiction books get clogged with uninteresting detail, that are the problem. Of course, stretching the reading of a book out over several years doesn't help matters. Queenan says he can remember what he has read before, but I am not always that lucky.

Reading so many books at one time means it can take a long time to finish a book. Yet it can mean finishing several books at about the same time, sometimes as many as three in a single day. So the numbers add up, even though progress seems slow. I consider it a good reading day when I have read a portion of at least 10 different books.

Juggling so many books at one time allows me to enjoy more diversity in my reading than most readers can boast. I try to maintain a balance between fiction and nonfiction, although I tend to read the novels more quickly. I like to be reading at least one mystery or thriller and at least one more serious work of literature at any one time, and I always have at least one book of short stories in progress. Currently I'm reading three.

I also like to be reading a biography, something about history, something about science, something about language, something about religion and something about literature. I also like to be reading something, such as a book of quotations, that I can pick up to read for just a couple of minutes at a time, such as during television commercials.

"My reading habits are unusual, perhaps counterproductive," Queenan says. So are my own, but reading habits, like any habits, are not easily broken. That's assuming I even wanted to break them.

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