Thursday, October 28, 2010

My Reading Habits

In a comment on the previous post, Prashant C. Trikannad says, among other things:

Would you consider writing about your reading habits? For instance, the process of selecting and acquiring the books you hope to read, the time you spend reading every day, assimilating what you have read and then putting them up on your blog, perhaps even a regular list of interesting books for the rest of us to get the drift.

A long time ago, a wise man once told me “The problem with writing is that it interferes with your reading time.” That’s all too true. I was a reader long before I was a writer, and if the writing went away I’m sure I’d continue to read. These days, I read a little in the morning, while I’m eating breakfast and while I’m lingering over my coffee, if I think I can spare the time from whatever I’m working on. And I read some at night, usually between ten o’clock and midnight. That’s about it, although every so often I manage grab fifteen or twenty minutes sometime during the day to read. Luckily, I’m a fast reader and always have been, so I can get through quite a few books that way. I’m not a speed reader, and I don’t skim much at all, but when I do read, the pages go by pretty quickly.

In 1980 I started keeping a list of all the books I read. Although the lists are gone, lost in the fire (except for the ones for the past three years), I remember that I never read less than 100 books in a year, and most years I read somewhere between 120 and 150. So that’s ten to twelve books per month.

Choosing what to read used to be done almost entirely by whim, just whatever appealed to me at the moment. For the most part, it’s still that way, although these days more people send me review copies or manuscripts that I’ve agreed to blurb or books for which I’m writing introductions. The thing of it is, nearly all of these are books that I want to read anyway, so I still consider it pleasure reading. There are also occasions when I have to read books in a series where I’m going to be writing some of them. Even though you could call that research, I still enjoy it. And sometimes I read actual research books. Mostly, though, it’s still a matter of “Ooh, that looks good!” or “Ooh, that would make a good Forgotten Books post!”

I buy used books at Half Price Books, on the Internet, and occasionally at other used bookstores. I buy new books on the Internet, either from Amazon or directly from the publisher. I know I should buy more new books from brick-and-mortar stores, but I’m hardly ever anywhere close to one. There was a time when I would say, “This looks interesting, I might read it someday” and buy it. Now, because of the shortage of space, time, and money, I try to be a little more discriminating. I try to hold my purchases down to books that I actually intend to read in the reasonably near future. Of course it doesn’t work out that way. No matter how long I live, I’ll never read all the books I have. I know that. Doesn’t stop me from buying more, because in the words of that same wise man, “You never regret the books you buy, only the books you didn’t buy.”

I blog about most of the books I read, but not all. There are several reasons I won’t blog about a book. The most common is that I didn’t like it. I don’t mind pointing out a few flaws in a book, especially if I can talk about the things I liked in it, too. But I’m not going to really rip a book here, especially not one by a living author. I’m not getting paid to be a critic. I’m just a guy saying, “Hey, I read this book that was really good, you ought to read it.” Anyway, if I start a book and think it’s really terrible, I usually don’t finish it, and I’m not going to blog about a book I didn’t finish. Another reason I might not blog about a book I liked is that it would be difficult to talk about it without getting into divisive issues like politics or religion, topics I tend to steer clear of on this blog. I have definite opinions on such things, but I don’t think you’re here to read ’em. Then there are the oddball books nobody but me would have any interest in. This doesn’t come up very often, but it still does every now and then. But mostly, what I read, I blog about. My reading list so far this year is up to 113 books, and I’ve blogged about 94 of them. Some of the ones I haven’t blogged about were ARCs or review copies, and I’ll have posts about them when the books actually come out. So I think that’s a pretty good percentage.

A few years ago I did an end-of-the-month update post every month, listing all the books I’d read and the movies I’d seen that month, whether I blogged about them or not. I might try that again next year, if I can remember the idea that long.


Richard R. said...

This is always a topic of interest to me, and I appreciate your long and considered post on it. My personal goal, and I am NOT a particularly fast reader, is two books a week, 104 a year. I make that goal about one year in five. As for picking what to read, for me it's always "gee that looks good". I don't receive review copies, but it's okay since I'm relieved of the deadline and the have-to of reading for review.

I kept lists for years of the books I read, in a notebook, lined paper, but those are gone, not because they were destroyed, but because I put them into computer files (later lost in a multiple hard drive disaster, when both main and back-up drives went down together (and that's why I have triple back-ups these days). I have from about 1996 to present.

Like you, I'll never read all the books I have, let alone the ones I want to re-read, yet I buy more. I TRY to cut back, but it's difficult. I'll be interested to see if the move, and lugging all those books in the two-level house makes me less eager to buy more.

I will review a book I didn't like, if I finish it, but if I finished it I didn't hate it, just was disappointed in some way. Making the transition from apa to blog, I'm changing the way I write reviews, but not by a lot.

Charles Gramlich said...

Your reading habits sound a lot like mine. I don't get through quite that many books but usually manage over 100 a year. I do read a lot of books these days written by friends but for the most part I enjoy them.

Ron Scheer said...

There's a school of thought that reading and writing are the same thing. It's hard for me to read a book without writing about it afterward. In fact, I've got a review of DUST DEVILS I've been meaning to post on my blog. Maybe this weekend.

George said...

Like you, I rarely slam a book in a review. I'd rather recommend Good Books. I keep a book list by year in an ACCESS data base. It would take me 100 years to read all the books I have, yet I keep buying more. I'm a hopeless book addict.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I will never read even 1/3 of the books I have but having them around me is enough. I almost never review books on my blog, except old ones. I feel too uncomfortable with it.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Incredible. I have a lot of dead time but I usually read 65-90 books a year. I guess I'm not fast.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

I appreciate your quick response to my comment, Mr. Reasoner. I couldn't agree more with you and the others that we often buy more books than we can read, for whatever reasons, which I guess makes us "book hoarders" as well as "book addicts".

I usually buy old and secondhand books that are either hard to find or out of print, such as Oliver Strange's Sudden Series, an elusive treasure in my country, or Franz Rottensteiner's pictorial The Science Fiction Book: An Illustrated History or Stan Lee's The Mighty Marvel Superheroes' Cookbook, all near-mint copies which I picked up from Bombay's pavements for less than a dollar each.

Old books and comics smell better. You feel at home with them.

I get my quota of "what to read" ideas from informed blogs and websites such as yours and from the Paris Review interviews that make a fascinating read.

Here's how it works sometimes: i just finished reading Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls on the Spanish civil war and even as I gave it away to a friend, I chanced upon an old as-good-as-new copy of Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage on the American civil war. Around this time I read Gore Vidal's interview in the Paris Review where he refers to these two books, saying, "I detest (Hemingway), but I was certainly under his spell when I was very young, as we all were. I thought his prose was perfect—until I read Stephen Crane and realized where he got it from... Certainly The Red Badge of Courage is superior to A Farewell to Arms...."

Thanks to Vidal I am going to read A Farewell to Arms sooner than planned.