Recently The Australian Financial Review ran a lengthy article titled “How to read 50 books a year”, this presented in the same tone of a how to lose 30lbs in six months type advice.
I found it amusing. I have no difficulty reading between 100 and 150 books annually, plus eight daily newspapers (six on line) and half a dozen weekly news magazines. With books I keep a record to try and maintain a 50/50 fiction and non-fiction balance, of which more later.
But don’t picture me lying about reading all day for I also play lots of golf and tennis each week and pursue numerous other activities.
So what’s the secret? In a nutshell it’s about efficient time use. For example, when the hugely disappointing Ashes series was on I watched the lot. But games reliant on a pace attack as most were, offered excellent reading opportunities between each ball. A casual reader may find that difficult, picking up where they left off but it’s no trouble to a constant reader. This had the added bonus of turning off the commentary and not listening to Shane Warne talking about himself.
Pre-covid I spent about 6 months abroad annually in numerous different trips. On the flights I would rip through many books whereas other passengers watched movies. I don’t watch television unless of special interest, and so it goes. In short, bowling through two or more books weekly is effortless if one cuts out time-wasting.
To some extent this is a generation thing. Growing up in post-war, drab working class New Zealand, reading was a principal recreation. We were all avid school and public library users. Every home had sizeable libraries, with the likes of “The Grapes of Wrath” common, that working class generation having been traumatised by the 1930s depression.
Today, books are a huge part of my life. I have circa 15,000 in my home libraries in four countries. There’s a considerable over-lap such as (unsurprisingly), each including my own 27 published books, all but Brideshead which was crap, of Evelyn Waugh’s brilliantly outrageous fiction, and so too with other favoured novelists.
About the same time the AFR article appeared, a study was published showing 85% of fiction readers are women. I’m bewildered. I have to restrain myself from totally reading fiction.
The thing about a well-written novel as opposed to watching a movie (which I never do) is one’s participation. Unless pertinent to the plot, the characters’ appearances and numerous other details are not described, thus one must imagine them. Not so with movies where everything is laid out before you like comic strips.
Two decades back over lunch with a chap seeking the publishing rights for four European countries for my novel “Full Circle”, I found myself engaged in a surreal argument. Discussing a key character, I made a comment and yielded an angry response that she wasn’t like that at all, etc. etc. Pointing out that I wrote the bloody book and created her didn’t wash one iota. Instead I was roundly condemned for not understanding her. That incident illustrates my point about reader involvement with fiction.
I treasure my fiction library. Waugh’s splendid six pre-war novels I joyously re-read annually, other favoured novelists I also regularly re-read, but not annually. Re-reading is rare with non-fiction but I enjoy their physical presence, more so than any artwork. That said, one non-fiction category I do love re-reading are newspaper columnists’ books, of which I have about 200. A good columnist’s writings never truly date. Reading Bernard Levin’s Times newspaper columns of the 1970s is always a pleasure.
The Internet and cell-phone obsessions have not merely damaged the book publishing business, but in my view, hugely harmed their obsessive users. Many studies now show as a consequence, that the current generation is hugely more ignorant than preceding ones, this a first in modern history. Blame that squarely on the absence of reading books in so many younger generation lives.
I’m not sure the modern problem is the technology. Since the 60’s education has gone quixotically into a prescriptive ‘woke’ mode while at the same time students are encouraged to ‘learn to learn’ rather than learn facts. I thought a good example of this was the constant concern about reading. For years excuses were made, radio, TV, computer games, short attention spans, etc. Then along came Harry Potter and kids were lining up around the block to buy and read the latest 700 page tome. The ignorance comes from teachers being afraid to teach (and demand students learn/remember) facts. If they teach facts they have to test facts and then they have to fail students and that is much more of a no no than anything else.. All the kids can get a pass if only their opinions are assessed (by someone who doesn’t want to fail anyone)!
The here and now generation. Absolutely no sense of perspective
A wise man said : ” Outside of a dog , a book is man’s best friend … and , inside of a dog it’s too dark to read ! “
The author I can reread without ever tiring of is Clive James. Even at his most profound, he can’t resist livening it up with a few witticisms. And some of his word images are just brilliant
Thank you again, Sir Bob, for another important message.
I like the idea of a 50/50 split between reading fiction and non-fiction. The latter, biographies and autobiographies, tend to be my mainstay: Most recently Michael Cullen, Billy Connolly, Mike Moore, Arthur Taylor (just purchased “Prison Break”), Mike Chunn, Billy T. James, Muhammad Ali , Alan Duff (“Conversation with my Country”), and Tyson Fury. I am about to start”Killing Fairfax by Pamela Williams.
Ironically, the last fiction I read was your own “Four Comic Novellas” (which, Iike “Degrees for Everyone”, needs rereading from time to time). Followed closely by Ben Sanders’ “Devils You Know”, a New Zealand writer who was asked to come up with American scenarios for his detective stories set in Auckland.
For other fiction, I warmly recommend for you and your readers the most pleasant works of Alexander McCall Smith, whom you’ve no doubt heard of.
I will soon be starting another book by Giles Foden, (“The Last King of Scotland”) called “Zanzibar”, fusing fiction and history.
James Patterson is another enjoyable discovery. He’s also found interesting ways to portray the Kennedys and John Lennon, two subjects you would think we have heard everything about already.
I have been asked to contribute to a book to be presented to world leaders, edited by a Nobel Laureate. The co-author of my piece will be a global expert in law, security and UN Resolution 1325.
She is a very intelligent woman.
I haven’t bought a hard copy of a book in almost 10 years since getting an iPad, the sole exception being (not trying to micturate in your pocket) your “Four Comic Novellas” tome. I gave away most of my books when I moved back to NZ from Sydney a few years ago. I hope they are giving similar joy to someone somewhere. I read at night as I find it helps me relax before sleep. I encourage you to publish your books in electronic form as I would gratefully buy the lot.
Cursed with a near eidetic memory I find it hard to reread even an exilharating tome. However, Sir Bob is exactly right, reading is the key and developing an imagination is paramount. However, factor in taxinda and the whole world changes, and not for the best.
So true, particularly the last paragraph. I recall a survey being undertaken in Britain about ten ears back which found that the majority of 15 year-olds surveyed had not heard of Hitler and believed Auschwitz to be a European theme park.
Today, I imagine, those youngsters who don’t read would believe Gallipoli to be a day at the races.
But ignorance is not generational. A far more recent survey, again conducted in Britain, found that 10% of adults spoken to did not know that Hitler had been involved in World War 2.
What’s bliss, they say?
Funnily enough, I’m currently re-reading “Brideshead Revisited” which I’m thoroughly enjoying. My problem is I cant get the wonderful Granada TV Series out of my mind as I read it..
Having three children nearing the end of their secondary schooling, I can confirm education has going to the dogs (being replaced by multi media)…As most dont question it, society is being cloned….Maybe its by design?
I think the main part of the problem is the profession is not performance based, with most teachers going through the motions..The state has scared off male teachers and critical thinking, with bullies now running riot through lack of discipline….
Also education is now seen as a business, which isnt helping either…
While I now enjoy reading; exclusively non fiction, I find physical activity dominating my spare time, and always sleep better for it. Its the adventure, challenge and creativity I get, which may have to be replaced by fiction books in time…when I have more for myself and the body is not so able…
A friend tells me audio books are even better, as they are not so hard on the eyes and he can do some exercise at the same time…