Slow, Slow, Quick, Quick, Slow

142004194470138886_zzjkurbS_fSorry I haven’t been around much this past week.  Yet another set of medicaments went rogue on me last weekend and as a result today is the first day I haven’t felt as if I’d just done ten rounds with the world heavyweight champion and comprehensively lost.  I’m now on the last possible set of tablets before surgery becomes the only remaining option, so, as you might imagine, there is much crossing of paws going on in the TIF household.

As well as neglecting all my blogging friends I’ve also fallen hopelessly behind in my reading commitments for book groups and have found myself with only three days in which to read Michèle Roberts’ superb novel Daughters of the House.

In fact, the book is relatively short and so I picked it up this morning thinking that a weekend with a fairly blank diary was going to be ample time in which to finish it and indeed that is so.  But, the experience has brought me back to a question that has been lurking in the nether regions of my mind for some time now, namely, what constitutes reading?  With only seventy pages left and a nice peaceful day in front of me tomorrow there is no doubt but that come Monday’s meeting I will have read all the words, what is more, I may even have recognised that they are good words and very thoughtfully ordered, but whether or not I will have anything more than the sketchiest appreciation of the deeper meaning that results from the multitude of choices that Roberts has made in the selection and placing of those words is another matter entirely.

All too often these days I find myself racing through a book in order to get to the next one in the pile.  And, in doing so, I miss out on pretty much everything except what happens to who, when.  I didn’t use to read like this.  I have notebooks full of the comments I made as I spent time thinking about what I was reading and relishing making the connections between ideas and the way in which the author had chosen to give them shape.  And these aren’t notebooks I kept on books I was reading for study or for teaching, but simply the books I was reading for pleasure and to which I was giving the time that each one merited.

Anyone who has taught small children will recognise the phenomena of which this is simply a more ‘grown-up’ version.  There is all the difference in the world between a child who is merely reading the words and the one who is actually engaging with the meaning and becoming involved with the action.  Did I labour for almost forty years to ensure that children came to enjoy that deeper level of involvement only to fall foul myself to the temptation to simply get through the pages as quickly as possible?

I’m not certain why this has happened.  Is it that as I get older I am beginning to hear ‘time’s winged chariot’ calling to me and urging me to read as much as I can while I still have the opportunity?  Is it that as I become more involved with other readers I am more aware of books out there that I desperately want to find time to read?  If that’s the case then it’s your fault and I am going to put the blame fairly and squarely on your shoulders where it so obviously belongs!  I don’t know what the reason is, but I know I don’t like it.

I suspect that part of the reason is that reading for more than the words is a habit, that when I stopped teaching I stopped having to practise that habit on a daily basis and as a consequence have lost it.  Would that bad habits were as easy to kick!  Perhaps the answer, then, is to treat each book for a book group as one that I have to teach, even when it isn’t my turn to lead the meeting.  Or would that make me appear to be an insufferable no-it-all, intent on making everyone else seem unprepared?  Maybe I should tear up my library card and only read books that I am willing to buy?  Now that would definitely cut down on the number of books that came into the house and Jolyon Bear (he who looks after the finances) would certainly make sure that I got every last shred of meaning out of every single word, but I’ve had a library card as long as I can remember and destroying it would feel rather like killing a favourite child.  I don’t think I could do that.

It is a quandary and I suspect one that others may have encountered before me.  So, on the grounds that you may indeed be partially to blame, what can you suggest as a solution?  How do you deal with the temptation to count the quantity rather than feel the quality?  Is there an answer or am I a lost cause?


18 thoughts on “Slow, Slow, Quick, Quick, Slow

  1. I had this rather scary image of your medicine “going rogue” flash through my mind as I was reading – though not as scary as the actual experience I know. I have my fingers crossed for you with the tablets.

    With regard to your question (and I’m such a recent blogger that surely I can’t be held responsible 😉 I know for me it’s a bit of “time’s wingéd chariot,” combined with the blogging effect of realizing how many authors I’ve not yet met. I used to re-read so much more than I do now, happy to meet characters that felt like old friends. That has much less appeal now. I notice more of what I think of as “auto-pilot” reading with something like mysteries – so more genre-related I think.

    1. Yes, Lisa, I definitely know that auto-pilot feeling and as you say it is usually with specific genre books. I suspect that part of the problem is that I read too many of those and therefore have little chance, unless they are exception examples of their type, to hone my more analytical reading skills.

  2. Oh, Alex! Sorry about your medication – hope this last lot work.

    And I do so know your predicament about reading – I have it too, not that I ever did make copious notes before I started blogging, but I’ve been reading and blogging about what I’ve read for nearly 6 years now and things have changed!! I no longer feel like analysing books- sometimes I just want to read for the pleasure of the words and story. And as for the number of unread books set against the number of years (I hope) left to me that is enough to make me panic and just want to read as quickly as possible – but then where’s the pleasure in that? I don’t really have an answer, except I’m trying to slow down, because I don’t like it. I don’t like the anxiety it causes. When I began my blog one of the reasons was to keep track of what I read and what I thought about them. Now, I think it’s time I stopped that and just read and write whatever occurs to me about the books, or not. If it’s memorable to me – good, and if not don’t worry, let it go.

    1. Thanks, Margaret, I hope this lot of tablets work as well. The surgery is not always successful and I would hate to go through all that only to be back where I started!

      It’s interesting that you are also rethinking how you read and respond to the books you read. We seem to have a different experience. You, if I understand you aright are regretting having to analyse so much, whereas I am regretting my seeming inability to do that any longer. Maybe we both need a break, time to reassess and explore just who we are as readers and who we want to be.

      1. Yes, I think you’re right. To some extent I’ve been doing that with more reading and less blogging about the books. My blog is getting to be more about anything other than books, with the odd book post slotted in now and then. Several other bloggers have stopped writing their blogs over the last year. I don’t want to do that, but maybe a break is what’s needed.

  3. I think some books are more guilty than others of making us charge through them when really, we’d like to sit back and enjoy the view occasionally. It may just be that you’ve had a run of that kind. Sometimes listening to an audio book can slow me down if I’ve just fallen into a run of fast books. You are absolutely obliged to hear every word! And sometimes, you know, it’s just where you are at that moment, wanting to gobble down the fiction. It will only take one book to shift your gears and you’ll be reading differently again. I’m a great believer in ebb and flow, even if I often complain about the same thing and forget the bigger picture all the time myself!

    Argh, medicines, side effects and other hideousness! I know all about it. Take things gently, try not to worry and rest. I know you’re in good paws. 🙂

    1. The Bears are duly flattered by your confidence in them. And yes, you’re right about the books I’ve been choosing. The problem is, though, that I am the one choosing them and I have been guilty of taking the easy path recently. The easy one, but not really the satisfying one. I need to be a bit more ambitious.

  4. This really made me think – I’ve been having similar feelings but hadn’t really processed them into rational thoughts or verbalised them! But on reflection, as a relatively new blogger I’ve noticed two things that seem to impact less positively (I’m loathe to say “negatively” because that would seem too strong – and would I think carry with it an inevitable conclusion that I don’t like – to stop reading and writing blogs!). Anyway the two things, which I’ve noticed since I started blogging are that my thoughts and views seem to matter more because I plan to write them down – and that in itself seems a bit artificial – I read and feel under pressure to take it in to the Nth degree! The second thing is that as I get older, the vastness of the literature cosmos is being brought home to me so much more – the “I can’t believe how much/how quickly/how widely other people have read!!” syndrome – I feel I now sometimes rush what I read because I’ve gone from living in my own one-dimensional reading bubble (my pre-blogging state) to becoming aware of just how well read others are! I have however decided to bring some sanity to my reading but only after the most ridiculous of accidents – I was reading on my iPhone while walking the dog to save time yesterday (and as I’m a man multi-tasking isn’t natural to me) and I walked into a tree! That incident, coupled with your post, makes me realise I need to do things differently – which feels better already – now all I have to do is think of a convincing story for work tomorrow to explain the fact that I’ve got a bump over one eye! Oh and I’ll get the dog to add his own crossed-paws in the hope that it helps!

    1. Nice to meet you, Col. You may not yet have met The Bears but your comment has given even more ammunition to their argument against us getting a dog. “See what happens when you have to take one out for walks”, they said. “Far too dangerous!” Dogs are the one subject on which we always disagree.

      I think you have a very valid point when you suggest that an element of comparison comes into play when you enter the blogging world. Although the best of bloggers would be horrified to think that they made others feel as if they were lacking as readers there are so many erudite and well-read people out there that inevitably it does happen. When I first started blogging (not on this site) I felt that I had to post something every day. That became so oppressive that within a year I gave up altogether and when I came back on-line it was with the understanding that I would only ever post when I felt I wanted to start a conversation with other like minded people about something in particular. There are so many book-bloggers out there now that there will always be some whose pieces you will want to read and who will respond to those that you write.

      My problem at the moment is that i am comparing myself not with other readers but with the reader I used to be. I’ve got lazy and too often I’m choosing books that make no real demands on me. Very nice occasionally but as a diet offering as satisfying a menu as a year long supply of chocolate. What i need is a kick in the proverbial seat of the pants to jog me out of my rut.

      1. If it helps in responding to the Bears, dogs are really good for getting you out of a rut – even if they do lift you out of the rut to get you into puddles, mud etc!

  5. Fingers crossed for you Alex that the medication works and surgery can be avoided!

    As to the reading question at hand, as Litlove said, sometimes it is the book. Other times I know I just feel lazy. What usually helps me is jumping into something challenging. Also, knowing I am going to blog about everything I read makes me pay closer attention so I can say something moderately interesting about the book.

    1. Thanks Stefanie. Medication number three seems to be causing more problems than it’s solving but I’m pushing on with it for a while. Perhapsd this is not the time to be trying anything challenging. I may be asking too much.

  6. there is an uncanny coincidence going on here. This morning I caught myself thinking about how quickly I could finish the book I’m currently reading so I can read another one from my of my lists before I have to turn attention to the next book club read. The lightbulb in my head went off – what a stupid thing to do to rush reading something just to tick another off book in a self imposed challenge. As Col says, I’m sure I’ve been influenced by reading other blogs and without meaning too, getting swept along by all those challenges. And spooked a bit by seeing how fast some other people read (are they really reading here or just skimming). How can anyone read 200 books a year and remember anything about them? Unless they are a bear with a much bigger brain than mine.

    1. I know that some people do read and retain far more quickly than others. I’ve seen it many times in my years of teaching, Kheenand. But I think we get caught up in a feeling of needing to do as ‘well’ as others and I really want to get away from that.

  7. Praying that the medications will work well for you and that you will be in good health as well as having the right frame of mind to enjoy your enjoying, whatever the choice may be. I am also trying to constantly remind myself to read at my own pace, and not to compare myself (and be pressured or intimidated) by those amazing bloggers/readers who can devour 100 books a year! I also remind myself the reason I had started blogging was to enhance my whole reading experience and the interaction with books and like-minded book lovers. It is ultimately for pleasure, not duty or obligation, though so often it’s easy to be swept along by the currents around us in the blogosphere.
    I would say, to go for quality over quantity, but there are just so many good quality books out there (or in our own TBR stacks) that are waiting to be savoured, one can’t help but hope to achieve both quality AND quantity as best as one can, I guess. 😉

    1. Thanks Michelle, I’m afraid things aren’t looking good at the moment, but perhaps it’s too soon to say. Your mention of quality and quantity reminds me of a television programme we used to have in the UK called ‘Never Mind the Quality Feel the Width’ Sometimes it feels as if that’s where I am at the moment.

  8. I hear you! I think it’s because I don’t user the library but I buy a couple of books every month (when I get paid!) that I don’t have a tbr pile. I have a list – but only buy a couple at a time. Enjoyed reading this post.

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