Friday, December 10, 2010

Rules for reading

Since we're talking about rules these days, let's talk a little bit about how we read.

In terms of selecting books, I have some trouble finding a method that consistently works. If I hear about an author say a hundred times I will often get a book from the library or buy one cheap. I don't have a lot of money or time for readings of personal choice (because I spend so much time and money reading stuff for school) so I tend to be pretty protective of my reading time. Sometimes someone will mention something on HTMLGiant and the mood will strike me or I'll see a friend is reading something. Sometimes I just want to spend some money and I see something on Amazon. 

Once I find a writer I really love I try to compromise between the desire to read everything he or she ever wrote and the desire to read him or her for the rest of my life. In the case of Vonnegut I've read most of what's out there but I'm saving a few. (I got this idea from John Irving, who if memory serves is saving a particular Dickens novel for some time near death.) I could easily read everything Kelly Link has done to this point but I want to know there will be more later. This can lead to weird gaps in my reading but I'm okay with that.

Once I've chosen a book I have to deal with the increasingly difficult problem of how to physically manage the book. In the case of small ones, like say Kamby Bolongo Mean River, I can just sit there on the couch and hold it the way you're supposed to, maybe even in one hand. But my hands shake all the time and they get especially troubled when in delicate positions like the "book claw," so sometimes I'll just sort of hurl the book to the floor by mistake.

If the book is a big one I get into trouble because it can be too much to hold it up. But putting it on my lap doesn't work. And I have to sit up to read -- these days I find it way too easy to drift off, even if I'm really enjoying the book. So I can't lie down the way I did in high school, say, with Kavalier & Clay. My buddy and frequent commenter Ryan has suggested putting a pillow or a board on my lap, and this can work, but I'm a really, really warm person. Like, people sit down after me on a chair and they feel uncomfortably hot. So if I put something extra on my lap I end up sweating uncomfortably. This has become a real problem for me, it's one of the reasons I'm hoping to get a kindle sometime soon. I think that for some of the big books I hope to read over the next few years, it's pretty much my only hope.

I used to listen to music while I read (and watch TV, and use the Internet, and who knows) but increasingly I want to do it in silence. I can eat while I read. I like to have a drink nearby. 

I need good light. I need to have a little air circulation if possible to keep my body alive and aware. Reading by a window can be nice.

I used to only read in long blocks of say 2-6 hours and this is still my preference but often now I have to content myself with reading fifty pages here and fifty there. Fifty pages is the unit I prefer to work in, because it makes me feel like I'm making progress so I don't give up but I know I can manage it fairly quickly. 


  1. Also, I pretty much never make notes in a book, even if it's for school. I don't like to cement my reading of the book that way.

  2. Air circulation is key.

    I've never been able to manage eating while reading. Too many hands involved.

    I think 50 pages is the ideal unit size (for prose) too. Any less in a sitting and I find I have more trouble recalling stuff. It's like it doesn't have time to settle.

    The kindle's read-to-me feature can be really nice, too, for comy reading (listening?). It is maybe my favorite feature.

  3. It took me about three years to get through player piano, because that was that last Vonnegut book I had left to read. And when I finally worked up the courage it seemed to be the right time to read it. When things in my life were very relatable to the story. When I lost my job to a machine.