This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Taking the Time for a Good Book

            At a wedding this weekend I was sitting across the table from an English teacher, and somehow the subject of reading came up. The discussion took a turn to book-reading habits, and she told me that she typically has three or four books going at the same time and goes back and forth between them, adding a new one to the mix whenever she finishes one of the ones in the stack.
            I’ve heard there were people like that, but it was the first time I’ve ever met one.
            That approach to book-reading is incomprehensible to me. I can read only one book at a time, and when I start reading a book, finishing it becomes a priority. I even plan my reading around available blocks of time. For instance, if I’m flying from San Francisco to New York, I don’t want a book much longer than 250 pages because that’s about the length of book I can read on that flight. I don’t want to be sitting in a Manhattan hotel room, forsaking the pleasures of the city, to finish a book I can’t put down.

The Unread 800-Page Novels

            If there’s a book of any considerable length that I want to read, I have to plan ahead. I won’t start an 800-page novel unless I feel confident that I will have five days in a row during which I can spend at least three hours a day reading it. Not only do I read one book at a time, but I don’t want to put it aside even for a day while I’m reading it. I have to stay connected.
            That’s one reason there are so many famous novels I haven’t gotten around to yet, or so I tell myself. It’s also the reason that a number of very good (and long) books are associated with the circumstances in which I read them.
            Team of Rivals will forever be associated with a summer vacation at Lake Tahoe. David McCullough’s Truman took up the better part of a week in the Bahamas. George Eliot’s Middlemarch got me through the recovery from my second hernia surgery. Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin made a flight from Paris to San Francisco almost bearable.

I Love a Mystery — All at Once

            Almost every week I read a mystery novel, typically on Saturday. With a mystery, I feel that I need to devour it in one day, and the way I go about it has become a ritual.
            Saturday  morning I devote to a number of weekend tasks and to cleaning up any unfinished business from my business. By noon or one o’clock, I’m ready to go. The book was chosen earlier in the week, but occasionally there’s a late substitution. If something unexpectedly comes up for Saturday afternoon, for instance, I might take the book I had planned to read and swap it out for a shorter one.
            I get started between noon and 2 p.m. and usually read the book in a recliner by the window in our upstairs family room, where I can look outside and see the trees and be aware of the weather. About an hour into the book, I take a break to make a small (2 cups) pot of tea and set out two scones on a plate. I read until 4:30 or 5, take a break to check email and work on dinner if necessary. After dinner I read until the book is finished. By then it’s night, the lamps are on in the room, and I feel that the day is over and has been particularly well spent.