In last week’s review of The Untouchable, I mentioned it took almost 90 pages to really get into the novel. This reminded me about reading hygiene and the right way to read.
As a commuter in New York City, I’m always amazed at people reading books on crowded, chin-to-shoulder subway cars or while walking on the street. Or readers that can pick up a book, read a page or two in between phone calls. If these were “easy” books, sure… the latest Grisham or a romance novel. But I always notice the books people read in public, and some of them are quite serious.
I need to follow rules to read successfully. The most important is give serious work the time and attention it deserves. For instance, I couldn’t have read Anna Karenina a page at a time, or for five minutes at night before falling asleep. I hadn’t previously read Tolstoy; the story was in an unfamiliar world and wasn’t plot-driven. I have to block off sections of at least thirty uninterrupted minutes to concentrate on this type of novel. My mind needs that time to get comfortable with the author’s style, to pick up on the more subtle action, and to appreciate how the author is telling the story. Later, once I’m in the book’s world, I can read in smaller chunks.
If the book is longer (like Anna), setting targets helps. I don’t want to feel like these books are a burden. To move through at a good pace, I’ll set page goals for a weekend. One hundred pages, on a non-busy weekend, is reasonable. And enforces the first rule of sitting for good chunks of time to immerse into the story.
Another rule is to read at least two books at once. And they should be different, preferably one fiction and one non-fiction. Right now I’m reading A Month in the Country (fiction) and Death in the High Grass (non-fiction). I can read Death in the High Grass (a book I read fifteen years ago) easily and while groggy… the short, punchy stories are interesting and the writing is clear.