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.