The last month has seen me finish reading a total of one (1!) book, and a novella-length one at that. But! I have been reading a book so slow and murky that there was no way for me to read anything else, or to skim (which I never do anyway), a book that reads like a prose poem, and is constructed in ‘episodes’ like a TV show. That book is Beyond This Point Are Monsters by Roxanne Carter, and I suspect I will struggle to finish it by the end of this new month of ours.
But is there anything wrong in reading slow? I keep a total of my ‘Endless Reads’, a remnant from a project I started in 2012 to encourage me to read more. I would often take long breaks between books, my imagination satisfied by its stint in a fictional world to the point where I did not feel the need to read, not when there were so many other distractions around. Then laziness, inevitably, or frustration because I didn’t know which book to turn to next, amid hype and the pressures to read those classics I have not yet turned my hand to. But I had become frustrated with my inaction. I love books, love reading, so what was I doing except standing empty handed, poorer for not pushing myself?
In that first year of Endless Reads, I read forty-four books, which may not sound a lot to some people (I have seen ferocious lists of well over a hundred and fifty for some reviewers) but to me, it was too many. I was reviewing most of the titles, either here or on PANK, and feeling so tired out, unable to fully immerse myself in the music and texture of the words, in the explorations the authors were undertaking. The year after, I read twenty-one books, and felt ashamed. But why?
I will come out now and say it: I am a slow reader. I’m dedicated, and I like to savour what I’m reading, but I just can’t knock back a book a week and live well, and appreciate the text. Books read quickly become a net and the fish of my comprehension are all very small and swim through, panicked, while the rest of me struggles, getting an idea of what is going on but not really appreciating the knots and seaweedy accouterments.
I’m always going to feel that slight ruefulness. Asking myself if one book is too few and if the other book still being read, that prose-poem circling and circling itself, is ‘above my reading level’. But there is no one to censure me. I am subject to no law regarding how many books read make me a good literary citizen. And if I am pushed to the limit and wear myself out going further, the pleasures and challenges of reading diminish. So I grant myself permission to read slowly. To read endlessly but at a glacier’s pace if the pressure of life demands I do so. Deep channels will cut just the same as if a torrent of reading came sweeping through. I won’t suggest the ‘slow readery’ movement for everyone. But for me, now, it’s the only way I can seem to thrive.
Metaphors, metaphors. But I wonder how it is for you, if you’ve ever kept numbers – or just titles, to remind yourself of times and locations you read such-and-such? Or if you’d never keep a list, or if you religiously do, and eye the totals of others with envy or respect?