There’s this neat trick that some of the websites have (I’ve usually seen it on Fast Company links, but you may have seen it in other stories), where somewhere in the top mess of advertisements and notations there is a statement of how long it will take the reader to consume the piece they are about to review. I’ve always found these estimations a bit off; is this the estimation for the regular skimmer, or the reader like myself who sits and savors?
And I do savor. I savor to the point of rumination. I “close read,” which is what my advisor in college used to call it, not because I knew he would test me on something obscure and ridiculous (he wasn’t that kind of professor), but because he wanted everyone involved in discussion and he wanted us to be prepared for a round of devil’s advocate. I didn’t want to miss the devil’s advocate in the text–I wanted to be prepared for it AND I wanted to see the writer pull from both sides of the coin (neat trick!)–so I read closely. Also, I always felt that I was less intelligent than the other students because I was an unconventional student (read, older). And literature was my major. So…it took me a long time to get my homework done.
It still takes me a long time to read. I feel like I’m going to miss something if I don’t sit with it, even with books that top out at 160 pages. Things that take a long time to do try my patience. I’m also a writer, which is a craft that takes time to get right. In today’s attention-deficient world, time-consuming stuff can be a problem if you want to feel some sense of accomplishment. Still, it’s a lesson I am determined to learn…even in the face of glittering reporting on social media.
Every year on January 1st the book-related websites and apps reach out to readers: “What are your reading goals for this year?” In most cases they are called “challenges,” a long way from the bookworms we’d construct as kids with round pieces of colored paper at the library or in our elementary classrooms. Some challenges are just numbers (Goodreads) and some have specifics (Book Riot’s Read Harder) that force the reader to read something they normally wouldn’t. I find the numbers thing somewhat turnstile, even though this year I’m shooting for the same number that I would have read in my college days; how is one supposed to be changed or moved by literature that is skimmed to make a quota? For the specifics’ challenges, I’m usually challenged enough by the fact that I’m hearing about books from a wide variety of sources:
- My local independent bookstores;
- The New York Times’ book section;
- Best new lists and themed lists off of Twitter or pictured in a stack on Instagram (Facebook for some reason doesn’t provoke me to read much);
- What people I know are reading on Goodreads.
If I went with a specifics’ challenge, I would never read anything in my TBR (to be read) pile, or…I would never find a book by pick-up in the bookstore or library.
I have always had this nifty gift of find the book I most need at the time when I most need it (even in college this phemonenon was more or less true). Sometimes, needing it, I keep in longer than others might, dwelling with it. I recently did this with Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, even though I ended up gobbling it in the last 100 pages. I think my challenge for 2019 isn’t so much how much I can read, or how varied I am, but what I can glean from my reading…getting back to close reading. Yes, maybe it will take me two or three renewals to finish Adam Bede, or maybe I’ll need to snap out of the habit of reading six books at once. I think the challenge lies in developing my pace and keeping it, in the face of a world rushing through accomplishment.
Here’s to spending time with books.