Friday, June 20, 2014

Finding the time to read

I've been noticing this year that even professional readers are talking about having to carve out time to read books. At the Festival this year, several hosts confessed that they needed to take a week and just read books assigned to them for an event coming up because they'd been too busy all spring to find any time to read. This is the first time I remember hearing this from so many people.

And even when I think about my own time, reading is never something that just comes naturally. I have to schedule time to read. I have to make it a priority or my time will simply disappear. After all, there are movies to see, TV shows to binge-watch, not to mention social events, friends, walking the dog, etc.

Tim Parks considers this issue in his recent article and also what it means to read nowadays. He predicts that certain stylistic features that readers used to revel in, passages which required a reader to slow down and re-read, admire, etc., this kind of writing will disappear. People simply don't have the time to revel in long descriptions or repetition for style's sake.

272 pages: I like this size of novel
I was remarking on this a while back. I was reading Sarah Waters and while I loved the book, one thing which irritated the hell out of me was having 95 page chapters. I just couldn't break up my reading into such long chunks. Generally, I read on the metro, at home after work, before bed, on Fridays, and over the weekends. I don't have any children. But even so, it's hard for me to sit for an entire hour uninterrupted and read. I can do it sometimes but it's not very usual (though it used to be: I remember spending entire afternoons in a chair when I was younger and before I had a cell phone beeping or other distractions).

I think, too, that our reading habits have resulted in these series books: Knausgaard, St-Aubyn, writers who take a story and then write a new "installment" every couple of years. This used to be a death-knell in North American publishing (though the Japanese have been doing this for a long time) but it's now part of the literary landscape. And I have to admit I like it: I like not having to over-commit to one book for a week or two. If it's short, I can read it in a day or two and then move on to something else. Then go back and read Part II later, re-immersing myself in the story.

At any rate, it will be interesting to see how our frenetic and stolen moments of reading will affect the way books are published marketed and consumed.

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