My posting on zapping along has received such a lot of comments both on and off blog, that rather than respond to all the questions raised and opinions expressed in the comments column, I have decided to post again.
It seems that my experience at school and later on in life regarding the speed with which I read is not unique. A sad thought really. When at school it is difficult to hide this fact and I was often accused of being a show off and know it all because of my reading ability and so tended to keep as low a profile as possible. Add to this, that I attended a Convent School where all signs of individuality were severely frowned upon; I seem to have spent most of my school days treading on egg shells. No wonder I finally snapped and walked out.
One comment was left by Litlove who mentioned Orhan Pamuk's The Black Book which she felt had to be read slowly as if read quickly and in a big gulp would not be enjoyed so much. This links with another comment later on from Ros asking if the speed of my reading depends on the nature of the material and could I read a complex densely argued piece of non-fiction as quickly as I read a novel.
I find on the whole that my reading speed adapts itself to what I am actually reading. If I am sitting down with, let's say a DL Sayers detective story, I will get through that in about an hour and a half. If I was reading a critical analysis of DL Sayers and crime novels of that era, then even if it was the same length as the novel (highly unlikely but let us suppose it is for the sake of argument) then it would take me twice as long. My mind does seem to adjust automatically to the reading matter in hand. I took an OU course on Shakespeare a year or so ago and found when reading the two plays I was studying and the accompanying text books, that I read much more slowly.
However, this does not necessarily mean that quick reading = fiction; slow reading = non fiction.
For instance, I have found when reading Margaret Atwood that I had to put the brakes on pretty hard if I wanted to get the best out of her work. Hugely complex, multi layered books that really make you think and as the first one I read was The Blind Assassin with its story within a story within a story, I really had to be on my toes and a fast read would not have answered here.
Another comment asked if my speed of reading was one of the reasons I found the Booker list so difficult to come to terms with. I don’t honestly think so. I have mentioned Margaret Atwood just now, who has won the Booker and been in the short lists and I do read hers, albeit more slowly than usual; I have read Possession by Byatt which took me a day, I found that Remains of the Day was a read I thoroughly enjoyed and had no problems with, so I have come to the conclusion that in this case, it is purely whether I like the book or not, and speed of reading has nothing to do with it.
When I am reading Trollope, Dickens or Eliot or authors of that time and ilk I feel I read them more slowly, but other friends of mine who take weeks to read let's say, The Way we Live Now, and perhaps Bleak House, are amazed that I read them three of four days, but this to me is a slow read. A fast read is a couple of hours.
It is impossible to find a rationale for all this and these are arguments and counter arguments I have been using all my reading life and there seems no final resolution in sight.
Litlove also mentions that she has heard that slowing down our brain waves makes us less prone to depression and reading is one of the ways in which we do this. In my case my mind would still be whizzing along in top gear. In response to this, I would say that I find reading the most relaxing and stress reducing activity I know outside of sleeping. Sitting down and losing myself in a book is a wonderful way of getting rid of stresses and strains and I am not conscious of reading quickly as it is the norm for me. And as for helping ward off depression – well, when I was going through a difficult patch several years ago now and suffering from in this way, sitting down and losing myself in a book, whether I read it quickly or slowly, was an escape from the glooms and made me forget my troubles for the time I was reading. Perhaps books should be prescribed on the NHS…
I am trying to sum this all up now and come to a neat conclusion but not sure that I can. I, personally, love being able to read quickly as it allows me to read so many books which as another comment pointed out, is something 'you obviously love'. I regard this as a gift, I wasn't aware that I had this, I was just born that way and though I have become used to my capability in this area, I never ever take it for granted.
The downside is that I tend to 'binge read' when I find a new author I love and read everything I can lay my hands on in a short space of time and then am left bereft at the end and, if the author is alive and still writing, have to bide my time in patience until the next book is published. If the author is no longer living, as is quite often the case, then the joy and pleasure of re-reads in the future is always there. Re-reads of a book one has loved are one of life's pleasures, the joy of rediscovering familiar characters and situations and yes, this time, getting more out of it, as you always do on each read. (This was another comment I learned to live with 'What are you reading that for? You have read it dozens of times already?”) I have never ever maintained that I can totally understand or reach the bottom of every book I read, but some do not need deep analysis and thought, those are for pure pleasure, and I am just so thankful that with this ability I at least have the chance of making the acquaintance of those that otherwise would pass me by and would never impinge, purely because of the time factor.
I have had to take a lot of flak because of this reading speed but, apart from the teacher mentioned in Zapping Along and who I have never forgiven or forgotten, one other comment has always stayed with me for the simple reason I was so totally staggered by it. I was told that in order to fully understand and appreciate what I was reading 'you should have a note pad and pen to hand and write your thoughts as you go’, and that if I read in this way “I will have more respect for you and your reading integrity.”
No answer to that one really so I just get on with my love and enjoyment of books and maintain that it doesn't matter if you read 50 or 250 books a year, whether they be romance, detective, history, biography, philosophy or whatever subject matter you are interested in, reading is the most rewarding thing in life and can enrich each person.
No argument there surely.....