Sunday 24 January 2010

How We Read: An Addendum

As if they've anything left to prove, the incredible community that's built up around SF&F in fiction and in film last week wowed this humble blogger with their considered response to the first feature to grace the front page of The Speculative Scotsman. There's another such article in the works, never fear, and I'm as excited as all get-out about this one, too, though I'm keeping the details close to my chest for now.

In the meantime, I thought it would be a fine idea to highlight the best of the comments and responses to Had We Worlds Enough and Time in a post of their very own. TS was first to answer the question I'd posed - how do you read?

"These days I'm also a slow reader.

"The start of the book is usually the slowest going. I'll read a chapter or two, set the book aside until tomorrow. Somewhere in the middle, I'll speed up because I'm more invested in the story. Usually 1/4 to the end I'll be sitting in the near dark late at night only moving because otherwise I'll get a cramp."

I find myself in almost complete agreement with this reader. Starting out with a new novel is always the hardest part, but the further along the road I get, the more I'm drawn in, the easier I find it to ignore all the other things I could and very likely should be doing to keep reading into the wee hours.

ediFanoB of Only The Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy has some sage advice, too:

"Every month I put together a list of books I want to read. Mostly six books... Normally I try to find three hours per day for reading. Sometimes it is difficult due to my work."

The Speculative Scotsman could certainly learn a thing or two from this suggestion. I've always got a pile of books I mean to read, not least because of the review copies that are now trickling in day by day, and I do try to dedicate a couple of hours each day to whatever I'm reading at the moment, but as ediFanoB says, it can sometimes be difficult; real life often picks the least opportune moments to intervene while you're in the middle of a great story. Nonetheless, a bit of self-regulation could do me the world of good.

Meanwhile, the lovely Amanda of Floor-to-Ceiling Books had this to say:

"I skim read, I guess... I want to read as much as possible, but it does mean that as little as days after I've finished a book I can only remember sketchy details. The positive is that I can pick up a book for a second and third time and read it again with as much enjoyment - not remembering some of the little plot twists - and each time picking out some new detail I missed the first time."

Now I'd dispute that 90 books a year is "slow" reading by any stretch - last year I managed through perhaps 40 novels - but Amanda makes some excellent points. When the last issue of Granta arrived, with an ad for Paul Auster's Invisible, it took a few long minutes before I realised I'd already read it in a single sitting just months ago. Great book, by the way... I think.

The great Mark Charon Newton - author of Nights of Viljamur and the forthcoming City of Ruin - stopped by to offer his $0.02 as well:

"There seems to be a culture these days to read as many books as possible, which I don't think does the reader or the writer any justice... I must say, the writing eats up a good deal of what used to be reading time. And the internet eats away at a lot too, which I'm trying to control (not easy when you're watching any debate)."

Which reminds me of a lamentable by-product of all this blogging. One thing I've damn near stopped doing since launching The Speculative Scotsman is writing my own fiction. I really must get back to a few shorts I'd begun before the new year before my inspiration is lost to the ether, but making my presence felt in a blogosphere that was ticking over just fine without TSS has taken precedence in January. I regret nothing!

But Mark, I think I speak for the entire community when I say, if other books interfere with the progress of Legends of the Red Sun: stop reading, man, and get on with that next book! :P

Bryce of Seak's Stamp of Approval and another Mark, this one from the excellent Walker of Worlds blog, seem to agree that the style of the novel you're currently devouring has as much to with how we read as anything else. As Mark Chitty puts it:

"It all depends for me, if it's a book that I've been waiting for and the prose is to my taste then I can devour a book in a day or two. If it's done in a style that I struggle with then it will take anywhere up to a couple of weeks, or longer."

I'd agree wholeheartedly. You can read the TSS review of Best Served Cold here for a more thorough explanation of my feelings about Joe Abercrombie's relentless revenge fantasy, but suffice it to say I spent something like 10 days reading that, while managing through three admittedly shorter books in the week since. I would add, however, that I tend to be rather intimidated by longer novels, and that surely affects my own drive to read.

Mark also developed his point of view on the questions raised by Had We Worlds Enough and Time did with a post on his own blog, which I'd recommend you catch up on via this link and duly get involved in the conversation - if you haven't already, that is.

I'm going to conclude this addendum with a response from Black_Dog_Diary, who has no site that I can pimp for what will become obvious reasons. I think her comment represents a perspective that few of us in the blogosphere take proper account of:

"I used to read prolifically, but... now I have a life with 2 boys under 5 and a full time paid job & another full time unpaid job, being wife & mother. At the end of each day I am, frankly, spent. I have a pile of books by the bed, and probably 2 nights a week I return to the latest read before falling asleep. I arrange the pillows, get comfortable and read until I find myself backtracking & re-reading sentences & paragraphs because I was too tired to get the gist of what was trying to be expressed."

Often, it's not that the desire to read has faded in any sense, only the opportunity to. In some (selfish) ways, I dread the day my other half comes through with The News, not because it wouldn't be wonderful - truly, it would be; what more worthwhile pursuit is there in our meager existences than making new life? - but because it would mean I'd necessarily have less time to indulge myself in the books I love so much.

Then again, a baby would be something to love immeasurably more than even a new China Mieville. And I could read to it, couldn't I?

It's been a pleasure to add even such a small thing to the great conversation taking place amongst the lovely SF&F community, and it wouldn't be possible without you, dear readers. Thanks to everyone who took the time to read and respond to The Speculative Scotsman's first feature post - those of you who didn't make it into this addendum equally as much as those of you whose comments did.


  1. Mark Newton basically hit the nail on the head. I used to worry that I didn't read fast enough (especially for a blogger), but then I realized that I wasn't enjoying books as much as I did when I read at my own pace.

    Some books I like to savour. Some I like to devour. I don't think there's anything wrong with either angle.

    Enjoyed these two companion pieces!

  2. Left a lengthy comment on the original article. Thanks for posting the addendum. I might've missed the source article if not for this!

    Keep up the great work.

  3. I think especially with bloggers, there's a pressure to read a lot in order to post often enough. Last year I read more than I have in a long time, but I don't expect that to happen again. I like taking time to read, and not feeling pressure to get a review on an ARC out in time, and reading according to my mood. I don't think I read very fast- I think I just make reading a priority for myself.

    I completely agree that online blogging takes away from reading time. Especially commenting on the blogs you follow! So exhausting, but a great way to keep a finger on the book pulse.

  4. I was talking with EdifanoB and he brought up a great point that just as reading is a great way to relax, so is blogging for those of us who've succumbed to the addiction. Not only that but it's rewarding to have an author comment or just to talk to other fans.

    That's why I love going to SFFWorld, awesome people to talk to and I've made tons of friends, who I've never seen in person, but who are just as good of friends as any. Group hug people!

  5. Let me add some more or less suitable quotes:

    "Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body." Sir Richard Steele

    So I train my mind very well.

    "Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking."
    Albert Einstein
    US (German-born) physicist (1879 - 1955)

    Scary in case certain age starts at 50.

    "There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it."
    Bertrand Russell
    British author, mathematician, & philosopher (1872 - 1970)

  6. Some great quotes, ediFanoB.

    Not to stand on the shoulders of giants, but I'd add a third motive to Russell's stated two reasons to read: so that you can take part in the discussion about about it.

    Although I don't suppose there was a network of SF&F blogs in Betrand's day...