I’ve been thinking a lot about reading lately. Sometimes I think if I read more and thought less I’d be better off. That certainly seems to be what many people do — though, of course, not you, dear reader.

When someone tells me they read 200 or 300 books a year I feel a little gobsmacked. How can anyone read a book every one or two days? Don’t they do anything else? Do they actually read every word or even every sentence? When I see the books they read — 1200 page fantasies or 800 page historicals — I have an even greater sense of wonder.

I can remember reading that fast. As a young teenager I could and sometimes did read a book in a single day. But that was a treat not an everyday occurrence. I didn’t keep track but I suppose, at my fastest, I might have read 80 or 90 books a year. But once I reached university where I stopped reading as entertainment and started reading to retain, that dropped off considerably.

These days I manage to read between 30 or 40 books a year depending on how much I’m flying. Because I no longer have the time to read for my own purposes every single day. I do read a lot for work both as a publisher and as a policy wonk on Parliament Hill but the former is mostly slush — which sadly cannot be called reading for pleasure — while the latter consists of government reports or magazine articles — which too often is nothing more than drudgery.

No reading for myself is what reading a book in a day used to be — a treat. Still, when it comes down to it, reading is a major part of my life and, as long as my eyes and brain hold out, will remain so.

But why? What does reading give me or give anyone that we can’t get from movies or Facebook or hanging with our friends?

Reading fiction, in particular, is an interesting experience and I have developed theories as to why we do it. When you watch young children explore books (which I’ve been doing over the last few years as I’ve somehow acquired grandchildren), you realize that one of the things they are doing is practicing life. One of the reasons they will read the same book over and over (and repeat watch movies too) is they are trying to figure out how to be human. It is not an easy task and that’s why so much of early reading has to do with sorting things out — making distinctions between this thing and that and between emotions.

Reading gives us emotional insights that we can’t get anywhere else. As adults, we are constantly trying to get inside other people’s heads: does my boss respect me, will Joe support me, does Jack love me, what does Harry really want? But, with the exception of a few experiments in thought transfer, we are always alone in our own heads. Except when we read. Only then can we see what others see, think what others think.

Now, reading non-fiction is an entirely different thing.

But that’s ten minutes.


2 thoughts on “Reading

  1. During my early university years (bachelor’s and first master’s), I was reading consistently about 200 books a year (as measured by the number of new books on my shelves by the end of the year), but that was actually a drop-off from my youth when I was able to read over 100 books a month (mostly shorter young adult works, of course, as measured by the yearly fundraising read-a-tons for MS or something) and might borrow 10-20 books a week from the school and municipal libraries.

    Why? In my younger days, it surely involved learning about the world and other people, but it can also be a cheap ticket to elsewhen and elsewhere. Beyond the immersion in other milieus, there’s outright escapism, of course. At some point, as I became a writer, reading was also about discovering the full spectrum of literature. And since I read both in French and English, that meant I had twice as much ground to cover.

    These days, between work, writing, and volunteering, I read much less, and mostly in spurts, and much of the reading is work-related in some form. Books for review, books for research, but sometimes I also dig up a new novel that I can read for no reason, but enjoyment and escape…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When I was in university I read an average of 10 books a week — but I had a job where I could read about 80% of the time, so that meant I was spending about 90% of my total time reading. Nowadays if I’m lucky I read 2 books a week.
    I absolutely agree with your assessment of why people read, by the way, and it’s the main reason we should be encouraging others to read. When I meet a person who lacks self-awareness, it’s odd on that they don’t read.

    Liked by 1 person

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