Tuesday, January 08, 2008

a new year, a new idea

I normally read more than anyone I know (my reading has been cut into lately by my obsessive World of Warcraft playing, but I think that will be short-lived). When I was practicing law, my reading was cut down to about a book a month due to too much work and too little time (and indeed it took me a few months to get through Camille Paglia's "Sexual Personae", which I loved and the title of which witlessly scandalized all the partners at my old firm. Why didn't Ms. Paglia ever finish the sequel??). Typically though, I plough through a book a day, as I am a powerful speed-reader. This is actually a curse, as it means short books are unsatisfying. I hate to read more than one book a day, as the segues can be jarring. I love a good, long, rich and complicated book, and I love a very prolific author. Those were happy days indeed when I discovered Iris Murdoch and Patrick O'Brien: both so very good, and both so very productive. When I found them, they were both still alive and publishing at an alarming rate, and it was just so satisfying to feel I had more of their books ahead. (Indeed Iris Uber Alles is named after Iris Murdoch).

I have no idea how much I read in a year. I think I will try to keep track this year of what I read, and accordingly here are the first books of the year: "Hidden Moon", just out by James Church, and Stephen Chbosky's "The Perks of Being A Wallflower." "Hidden Moon" is set in North Korea and was lauded in various high-toned periodicals as being remarkably authentic, written under a pseudonym by a Western intelligence officer. I enjoyed this, but I didn't love it. Very atmospheric, very literary, but I found myself slogging through it. "The Perks of Being A Wallflower" on the other hand came out in 1999 and was a quick read. It's a charming book about a depressed, friendless boy starting high school, but I personally disliked the ending. According to the back cover, "The Perks of Being A Wallflower" set off a huge debate over the respective benefits of passion versus passivity, but I don't see it. If you're a fan of the coming-of-age genre and missed it the first time around, go hunt up a copy.

The other book I've been spending time with was an extremely thoughtful Christmas present from the Sober Husband, "World of Warcraft Atlas", but I'll spare you further discussion (except to note that it makes the perfect gift for the Warcraft obsessive in your life, but not me, 'cuz I already have a copy).


hughman said...

yeah, what you really need when not playing WoW is to READ about playing WoW.

JKG said...

Is speed reading a talent, or a skill you learned?

Anonymous said...

Have you tried Good Reads? It's great for keeping track of what you read, seeing what your friends read, etc. This fellow speed reader loves it!

hokgardner said...

I've kept track of my reading for several years. I have a blog all about my reading now, which I need to update, now that I think about it. Check it out at http://plentymorebooks.blogspot.com.

the Drunken Housewife said...

I will check beloved Hokgardner's blog & also goodreads.

Brown, it's an inherent ability. It's nothing I learned or worked on. It's actually about the freakiest thing about me. I've had strangers on mass transit accost me about it, telling me it freaks them out to see how fast my eyes roll back and forth. It was helpful when I was practicing.

hughman said...

i think it's a learned ability. like typing fast. i, too. am a fast reader but it's after years and years (since grade school) of avid reading. i can also read a 450 page book a day. however i also read a book a day when i was in 5th grade.

JKG said...

Hugh and DH:

I can read a book a day, too. But only if it's a good, compelling read and it does take me the entire day.

I tend to read conversationally, perhaps a bit faster, as though someone was telling me a story. I mean, it isn't that slow, but that's the way I 'hear' it in my mind. There's a speed beyond which there is no savor. No savor, no point.

When I was in law school, I read for comprehension and more. That often meant re-reading the same paragraph. (Sometimes that has to do with the jurist, of course. Most judges seem either to be poor writers or uncertain thinkers--sometimes both. And sometimes what they're trying to do is make an illogical outcome sound logical. A better recipe for a narrative pretzel would be hard to come by.)

My father, an engineer, is also a rapid reader. Not on a par w/DH, but probably twice as fast as me. He used to read solely for information. It's only now, later in life, that he's begun to take his time with books.

And as long as I'm unburdening myself: I'm now reading "The Johnstown Flood," one of David McCullough's earlier books. Since the last time I read McCullough (1776 I believe -- the book, not the year), I've seen the movie "Seabiscuit" for which McCullough does voiceover work. It has taken me two full chapters to start reading faster than that man narrates, and I'm still hearing his voice in my head. Distracting.

the Drunken Housewife said...

When I was in law school (and indeed practicing law), I used to read things over and over again. I remember one particularly horrible textbook on International Business Transactions which was just incomprehensible. I used to read each chapter 2-3 times in a go, trying to make sense of it. Reading cases, I'd often have to read the same paragraph many times, stopping to think (you know exactly the sort of paragraph I mean, where the judge is setting forth the legal reasoning but doing so in overly learned tones, throwing in plenty of Latin catchphrases and those wretched expressions like "three prong test" or "fruit of the poisoned tree"). Oh, if only they could all write like Learned Hand.

Anonymous said...

May I humbly suggest "Goodreads"?

Goodreads.com .... it's a social networking site (I shudder at such an inadequate term) that links users through books. It's marvelous.

Make sure to search for the user "Leah Lionheart," for I'd love to have you as afriend.

hokgardner said...

Brown, I loved Johnstown Flood. Basically, I'll read anything McCullough writes. If you haven't yet, you should pick up Path Between the Seas, which is about the building of the Panama Canal. It's fascinating.

JKG said...

hokgardner: Will do. I've always had a fascination for engineering achievement (and disaster).

the Drunken Housewife said...

I've gotta get that Panama Canal book, too. I was always fascinated by the Panama Canal and finally achieved one of my goals by visiting it a few years ago. (I cannot recommend Panama as a destination highly enough! Way at the beginning of this blog I wrote about my trip there).

I read a fascinating book way back when I was in law school, about the Top Ten Civic Planning Disasters. One was BART, which turns out to be a hideous money-loser but yet keeps getting expanded. One major reason BART sucks so much is that the creators were deadset on giving the trains a distinctive appearance, with a sharp nose. That means they can't be driven in either direction, like most subways, and it means they have to be turned around awkwardly: a huge set of logistical problems caused by a design which is still in use today.

Anonymous said...

Have you read The Historian? Historic fiction, very long, fun! You might like it... for a day.

Anonymous said...

I am such a slow reader. I've wondered, as an adult, if perhaps I didn't have a little dyslexia. I stink at alphabetizing. I absolutely hate the phone book and the dictionary because I will simply get grabbed by the first word I see and get drawn in.

It takes me twice as long as the typical reader to read the same page. I hate when I have to read at the same time as others because it becomes distracting as I notice them look up from the book and drift off as they wait for me to catch up.

However, I have outstanding comprehension and in some cases I practically memorize passages as I go. I often re-read a passage for pleasure or just to get all the juice and nuance out of it.

Later, years later, I can tell you how far down a page and on which side a certain scene happened.

My mother reads a book a day and has since my childhood. My second grade daughter also reads a book a day. She got 5 chapter books for Christmas, and had read 3 of them by boxing day. I ask her what they are about and she says, "a girl".