I have a confession. I am a bit of a hoarder when it comes to books. I don’t keep too many in my house – the last move took care of that. (I believe the conversation when something like this: “Why the bleep are we carrying so many boxes of heavy books that we aren’t going to read again??”) I use my public library religiously for reading materials and love the feeling of dropping books into the book return almost as much as I love the feeling of checking them out.
But I hoard books. I have lists of every single book I’ve read in the past ten years. It started when I applied to graduate schools and one wanted a list of all the books I’d read in the past two years. I gave them several single spaced pages and a whole bunch of smug attitude. I pretend that the lists help me remember what I’ve read, but I rarely read over previous years’ lists. In truth, I use the lists mainly for bragging rights: “Who me? Oh yeah, I’ve read a lot of books this year. Let me show you my really long list.”
I tend to consume books, enjoying what I’m reading but always anxious to move onto the next one so I can grow my list of finished books. Reading Middlemarch a few Januaries ago was a reading highlight, but for the rest of the year I felt “behind” because it took me so long to read it.
Then I read Robertson Davies’ Reading and Writing, which a friend gave to me. (True confession – I started it in part because it was short and thus would earn a place quickly on my list.) Davies called me out:
“[I]f you do like the book, if it engages you seriously, do not rush at it. Read it at the pace at which you can pronounce and hear every word in your own head. Read eloquently.“*
Okay, Mr. Davies. Deep down I think you’re right. Some people can probably read fast AND savor, but I’m not one of them. Lately my experience of reading has been marked by stress that I’m not reading enough.
I’m not one for new year’s resolutions, but here’s one: I’m not going to keep track of every book I read this coming year. I will slow down and try to savor what’s in front of me.
How do you read? Read as much as possible or savor slowly? Or a little of both?
*In my edition, published by the University of Utah Press in 1993, this quote appears on page 16.