Archives for category: Reading

Montaigne asserted “I may be a man of fairly wide reading, but I retain nothing. . . I would very much love to grasp things with a complete understanding, but I cannot bring myself to pay the high cost of doing so. . . From books all I seek is to give myself pleasure by an honorable pastime; or if I do study, I seek only that branch of learning which deals with knowing myself and which teaches me how to live and die well.” He sought “to become more wise, not more learned or more eloquent.” It’s a relief to note that he too didn’t retain as much as one might like from the books he read. When I was a student I was assured that the aim of education was not to knock facts into my head: it was to teach me how to look up information when needed. At the time this meant navigating books. Now maybe it’s degenerated to Googling.

Montaigne’s remarks come from Joseph Epstein’s essay at FirstThings in which he tells us that he reads for style, not information, or even wisdom, though he may hope to pick up a little of those too. He’s indisputably a bookman. Along the way he tells of his work as literary executor of Edward Shils, who had 16,000 books in his Chicago apartment plus another 6,000 or so in a house in Cambridge, England. His will called for the books to go to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, but they had to decline because they hadn’t the space for so many books, nor could afford the approximately $100,000 needed to ship and catalog them. Epstein says he sold most of the books to a private dealer for $166,000. I occasionally wonder what will happen to the books which threaten to push us out of this apartment, after I’m no longer around to gaze upon them. It sounds like my fallback of the library may well be a non-starter. Here comes the Strand?

One’s time is always limited, not only as one gets older — it just seems more immediate then — and selecting books to read is a bit of a lottery. After all you can’t really tell if a book is worth reading until after you have read it. Schopenhauer has typically stern advice, advice which certainly helps: “The art of not reading is a very important one. It consists in not taking an interest in whatever may be engaging the attention of the general public at any particular time. When some political or ecclesiastical pamphlet, or novel, or poem is making a great commotion, you should remember that he who writes for fools always finds a large public. A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones: for life is short.” So basically, avoid the bestseller lists.

As a sort of counter-balance please see Rosie Leizrowice’s piece How to choose books you’ll actually read at The Ascent. She’s got no time for Schopenhauerian rigor. BookRiot reveals to us that Britney Spears also lives a bookish life, having been launched on this pilgrimage by Harry Potter.

A bookish life must be what I’ve lived. There are people who work in book publishing without letting “the book” become overwhelmingly important to them. I was never sure why such people chose to work in the same place as I did: they could probably have made better money elsewhere. It was usually a fairly low-pressure life, it’s true, though when there’s a panic there’s a big panic. It’s not like the food business, say: nobody risks their life as a result of reading a book — the nearest one comes to danger is the risk of a bookcase falling on top of you. I gravitated to the production and manufacturing end of things because panic was more likely there, and I rather enjoyed overcoming panics. But always first and foremost to me was the book and its content. If you are dealing with 20 or 30 books a week, there have to be many of them that you can’t find time to read. I can honestly say, though, that there were very few that I wouldn’t have liked to be able to read. One of the best feelings in publishing (for me) is opening that carton of sample copies sent straight from the end of the binding line. Here at long last it is, that object you’ve been wrestling with all along the line. Proofs late? Budget shot? Too many AAs? Index not done? Error in artwork? Jacket doesn’t fit? Paper late? Now all is forgiven: here it is. Nobody’s seen it before. Just let me read it!


Be careful. Your bad habits could still get you in trouble.

Tweet from Michael G. via Open Culture.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that To Kill a Mockingbird turned out to be America’s favorite book. Despite the potential turn-off of often being required reading in schools, almost everyone has read it on that account, and it does have an iconic film adaptation rattling around in one’s head. What did surprise me was the number of books on the list I wasn’t aware of: starting off with number 2, the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon who was there to accept the applause. You can watch the Grand Finale here.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

It turns out that I do recognize the stars of the TV show, Outlander (about to start its fourth season) from promotional Tweets I’ve gotten over the years, but I’d no idea that there were books lurking behind. “Scottish Highlands, 1945. Claire Randall, a former British combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding clans in the year of Our Lord . . . 1743.” Wow: is walking through a standing stone exactly what they mean? If the effect of doing so it to transport you back two centuries, maybe it is. The show’s obviously got everything.

Here are the top 15 of America’s favorite books:

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  2. Outlander (series) by Diana Gabaldon
  3. Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling
  4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  5. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  6. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  7. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  8. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  9. Chronicles of Narnia (series) by C.S. Lewis
  10. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
  11. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  12. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  13. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  14. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  15. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Game of Thrones surprises by not getting any higher than 48th place. There it’s behind even The Count of Monte Cristo. That White Teeth isn’t ahead of Americanah seems back-to-front. But there it is. The people have spoken. To a large extent the exercise points up the importance of a television of cinema version in spreading the word. Word-of-mouth was always the best book marketing tool. The cynic lurking within me wonders if many of the volumes were voted for out of piety rather than as a result of frequent re-reading.

I do hope that at least a few non-habitual-readers were motivated by the whole exercise actually to read a book. I may have to look at the Outlander series.

You can do the math. This Medium piece The Simple Truth Behind Reading 200 Books a Year walks you through it. The only thing stopping you from reading 200 books a year is apparently a lack of will power! Warren Buffett can do it, so why not you? His recipe for success: “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works.” Dead easy.

Well, hang on a bit. We do often get tired, and may then be unable to knock off our 400 words a minute. Actually when you come down to it 400 words a minute is quite a clip. Even the lower level of 200 (the piece tells us Americans read at an average of 200-400 words per minute) is not undemanding.

Readingsoft sets a test so you can determine your reading speed. The piece you read is all about speed and reading, so is relevant to the task at hand. When you finish there are questions to measure your comprehension.* I managed 219 words per minute with pretty good comprehension, but I did feel I was reading fast, and would have slowed down under non-test conditions. You just can’t read for hours on end at top speed and with full concentration — well, at least, I can’t. We have to allow after all for those interruptions when a Cooper’s hawk flies by, (or was it a sharp-shinned hawk?), or when you need to blow your nose, or take a drink, or even maybe just think about what you’ve just read. Maybe you have to look back a few pages to remind yourself what the word is for those bits of a glove that fit between the fingers (fourchettes, for those not currently reading Philip Roth’s American Pastoral) — and your wpm rate goes out the window and off with that hawk.

So by allowing for life to go on simultaneously while we are reading I suspect we have to allow that average wpm to go down to something like 100, which may even be a bit optimistic. This means that the Medium calculation for reading 200 books is going to commit you to 1,668 hours of reading each year. This is still less than we apparently spend watching television, so might still be doable: after all it’s only 32 or so hours a week, about 4½ each day. But I’m not sure how you’re going to be able to fit in the time to select enough books with a page count of 200 or less. Of course there are some, even quite a lot, but there are many, many burdensomely long ones which you’ll have to avoid if your will power drives you to get to 200 in the year. I wonder if careful training would enable you to double your throughput by simultaneously listening to an audiobook and reading a print edition of a different novel? Would that count?

Being retired, I read a whole lot, and I managed a paltry 60 books last year. Warren Buffet may make his 200, but most of us have to be content to make less than him, both in book and money terms.

Here’s another test, that for me at least yields a different result. See also Speed reading.


* One flaw. The questions don’t really require you to have read the piece. As the offer multiple choice answers  common sense will navigate you through with relative ease.

The Travelodge chain has bothered to compile a list of books left behind by their guests in their British hotel rooms. Apparently they’ve had to deal with 70,000 abandoned books this year.

The top twenty forgotten books thus far in 2018 as recounted by Travel & Leisure are:

  1.  “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood
  2.  “The Couple Next Door” by Sharri Lapena
  3.  “Bad Dad” by David Walliams
  4.  “Origin” by Dan Brown
  5.  “The Secret” by Rhonda Bryne
  6.  “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins
  7.  “Paul O’Grady’s: Country Life” by Paul O’Grady
  8.  “Sharp Objects” by Gillian Flynn
  9.  “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway” by Jeff Kinney
  10.  “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling
  11.  “Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book” by Johanna Brasford
  12.  “IT” by Stephen King
  13.  “The World’s Worst Children” by David Walliams
  14.  “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them” by J.K. Rowling
  15.  “Big Little Lies” by Liana Moriarty
  16.  “All Out War: The Full Story of How Brexit Sank Britain’s Political Class” by Tim Shipman
  17.  “Harry Potter: Coloring Book,” Warner Bros.
  18.  “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher
  19.  “Donald Trump: The Art of the Deal” by Donald Trump
  20.  “Disney Princess Beauty and the Beast Magical Story,” Disney

Now of course to get on the list a book has to be quite popular: a lot of people have to be carting it around. But is that all? Doesn’t leaving your book behind imply a sort of loss of interest. After all if you were really into the book, in that can’t-put-it-down sort of way, well, you sort of wouldn’t be able to put it down, would you? One or two of the books might be thought of as falling squarely into that category. Unsurprisingly several children’s books figure: always difficult to get them to focus on packing.

Many of the guests leaving books behind did report that they did so because they’d finished the book — though one wonders who was asking them.

Perhaps even more fascinating is Travelodge’s list of odd things left behind in rooms.

Link via BookRiot, 4 September 2018.

The Guardian assures us that sales of The Wonky Donkey have “gone through the roof” after three million people have viewed this YouTube video of a granny reading the book.

Laugh. You can’t avoid it. Just like yawning, laughing is infectious. The grandson appears however to be stoically immune.

Link via LitHub.

This quiz is a bit oversold by its title, but you’ll all feel good getting most of these right — I hope and assume. Only a serious bookworm will know which novels these characters are from comes from Buzzfeed. Giving us multiple choice options, as always, leaves so much room for the lucky guess!

Not really about FOMO,* this Wired piece, “Goodreads and the Crushing Weight of Literary FOMO”, is more about guilt induced by membership of Goodreads. (Link via Lit Hub Daily.)

I must have never moved in the right circles, as I don’t think I’ve ever read a book because I felt embarrassed that all my friends were talking about it and I hadn’t even opened it. I dare say I’ve managed to pontificate about many a book without any greater familiarity with it than reading the New York Times book review, but I always (I like to believe) mention that I’ve not read the damn thing. Why let facts interfere with your opinions? It’s nice to think that there may be people out there who can be shamed into buying our books, but I can’t believe there are too many of them. Goodreads is, I guess, based upon the assumption that competitive reading does exist, and lots of people do seem to use the site, so maybe I’m the odd one. They now display a “Readers like you liked these, so you’ll love this” feature — perhaps unsurprisingly as their owners Amazon have done so well with it. To be fair, the main intention of Goodreads is to provide suggestions about what books you might like to read next. You can tell it what books you’ve enjoyed, and other users’ data will cause recommendations to be suggested to you. If you’re a hermit with digital access, this can be very helpful.

FOMO, as an acronym, looks like a modern phenomenon, but of course it has always been around. It has affected every generation of teenagers and those who fail to grow out of the teenage state. We used to call it peer-group pressure. Almost all kids go through a period of desperately trying to be identical with everyone else. In the olden days your peer group was small — maybe 15 or 20 people. Now that kids are constantly looking at their iPhones your “friend” group may run into the thousands. Feeling like you have to fall in with the attitudes of thousands must make for a constant state of FOMO. Obviously nobody’d have time to type that out.


* “Fear Of Missing Out” for those who live quieter lives.

New York Public Library is offering novels which you can read on Instagram. The first, available now, is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with illustrations by Magoz.  Hyperallergic tells the tale.

Here’s an NYPL video — if you don’t see the YouTube video below, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

This plan seems insanely sane, and may even persuade some kids to look at a book.

The Library’s Instagram account is @nypl.

An article on PubMed brings us the vital news that the reading of books will lengthen your life.

The abstract of the article, “A chapter a day: Association of book reading with longevity” reads thus:

Although books can expose people to new people and places, whether books also have health benefits beyond other types of reading materials is not known. This study examined whether those who read books have a survival advantage over those who do not read books and over those who read other types of materials, and if so, whether cognition mediates this book reading effect. The cohort consisted of 3635 participants in the nationally representative Health and Retirement Study who provided information about their reading patterns at baseline. Cox proportional hazards models were based on survival information up to 12 years after baseline. A dose-response survival advantage was found for book reading by tertile (HRT2 = 0.83, p < 0.001, HRT3 = 0.77, p < 0.001), after adjusting for relevant covariates including age, sex, race, education, comorbidities, self-rated health, wealth, marital status, and depression. Book reading contributed to a survival advantage that was significantly greater than that observed for reading newspapers or magazines (tT2 = 90.6, p < 0.001; tT3 = 67.9, p < 0.001). Compared to non-book readers, book readers had a 23-month survival advantage at the point of 80% survival in the unadjusted model. A survival advantage persisted after adjustment for all covariates (HR = .80, p < .01), indicating book readers experienced a 20% reduction in risk of mortality over the 12 years of follow up compared to non-book readers. Cognition mediated the book reading-survival advantage (p = 0.04). These findings suggest that the benefits of reading books include a longer life in which to read them.

So get reading. Even the longest books may be started with the confidence that we’ll be around to finish them. Is it possible that eternal life may be achieved by a combination of speed reading and a vast library?

Thanks to Philip Weimerskirch via the SHARP listserv for this notification.