Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The 7 Habits of Highly Efficient (?) Readers

1) Read books in bookshops without buying them.

2) Browse, rather than reading whole books.

3) Make snap judgements about the quality of the writing by skimming a single page at random (and never read anything badly-written).

4) Have several books on the go at once.

5) Don't worry about not finishing books.

6) Always carry a book in your pocket.

7) Always buy one book - but only one - whenever you visit a bookshop.

I'm not really sure that I believe in this advice - but I throw it out there as a provocation. I have noticed these tendencies in myself, and was reproving myself for them the other day; but then I fell to thinking that there may be arguments to be made in favour of each of them.


Froog said...

Oh, it breaks my heart! This has been one of my most unjustly neglected 'children' during my first year of blogging.

I'm going to put a link in the sidebar, to see if that will attract anyone here to take a look.

Readers, Commenters, where are you??

homeinkabul said...


I liked this post and enjoyed reading it. But i just don't think it is possible for someone to leave a bookstore with only one book. It is for me and it's certainly impossible for Tulsa, that's for sure. :)

Froog said...

I think the underlying argument for this point, HiK, is that unless you ration your book buying sensibly, you will overwhelm your capacity - and not just end up with a lot of books that you never read, but perhaps also be so daunted by the backlog that you may procrastinate about which one to start next.... and probably ultimately lose momentum in your book buying.

My advice is: if you want to buy more books, visit bookshops more often, and pace those visits to the speed of your reading.

Don't be like the undisciplined kid in the candy store who pigs out stupidly.... and then doesn't go back for a while.

homeinkabul said...

well, i actually rationalize pigging out at a bookstore b/c i live in afghanistan and don't have access to good english language books. or rather, that used to be my rationale until i found the book rental place (i love you book rental place).

but i end up buying really random books and then don't read them. because to be honest, i only like to read fiction and memoirs.

perhaps i should be ashamed. but well, yeah, i am a little. i only like stories.

Froog said...

The lovely Moonrat ("my editor", at least in my dreams) has finally made good on her nearly-a-year-old promise to post on her own blog about this topic.

She has a lot more readers than I do, so it makes sense to put in a link to her post and its discussion thread. Please go and take a look.

Froog said...

Moonrat's posting on this topic (see comment above) goaded me for the first time into writing a detailed commentary/justification of these 7 propositions. I reprint it here.

1) Can be quite a good way of saving money. And perhaps of making "more efficient use" of your bookshop time. However, if I really liked a book, I think I'd buy it anyway - having already read a book is no obstacle to my wanting to buy it: quite the reverse!

The only time I did this a lot was in high school where for a while I had a 1hr wait for my bus home, so used to go into a newsagent and read a book from the shelf almost every day. I found I could finish off a book in a week or two.... It passed the time.

I'm not at all advocating cutting back on buying books here, nor suggesting an absolute rule that you should not buy a book you've already read. My twin points in this first proposition are: a) that, rather than just idly skimming through dozens of books, you can actually use your bookshop time to finish a whole book; and b) since your book-buying budget is finite, it probably makes more sense to buy books you haven't read yet rather than ones you have.

Reading, I find, begets the appetite for more reading (and more book-buying); so reading a whole book in the bookstore needn't entail any reduction in overall book buying.

2) This applies mainly to non-fiction - although it could conceivably relate to certain novels as well. The point is that you can waste a lot of time feeling obliged to read whole books when only a part of them is really of interest to you or they are only intermittently well written.

3) One page is enough to judge the quality of the writing. Heck, one paragraph is usually enough. Commenters who talk about warming up to a book after 50 or 100 pages are surely thinking about the story, not the writing. I also advise against using the first (or last) page - authors make special efforts with these, and they tend to be story-rich (or suspense-rich, teaser-rich). Pick a page at random: think, does this writing thrill me.... or irritate me? Buy accordingly.

4) I've never considered myself great at 'parallel processing', and I think reading multiple books at once is non-ideal - especially with novels. But I also think it's good to get away from being too reverential about pointless, self-imposed rules for devoting yourself to a single book ("Must finish it; mustn't start anything else until I've finished it; must read every page...." etc.). I am finding more and more that flitting between different books can help keep my energy and enthusiasm up - if I am flagging on a heavy read. But with me, it's usually one novel, a few poetry collections, a book of short stories, one or two non-fiction titles.

5) Re-iterating the point about over-reverentiality. I used to be in thrall to this notion that once I'd started a book I really had to finish it, as a sort of duty (to the author?). Crap! You don't owe the author anything. If I find myself inclined to give up on a book, it is because the book is no good - and 9 times out of 10 times I have already lavished more time on it than it deserves by diligently plodding through it to the half-way point.

6) Always have a book with you. Vital. Strangely comforting, even if you never actually find time to dip into it - although, of course, there are lots of 'spare' moments in the day when you might be able to get some reading done if only you had the book with you. I've never been good at reading on public transport or while queueing... but I do spend a lot of time in bars and restaurants and coffee-shops being stood up by people....

7) Probably the most important rule of all. I didn't think of it as an exhortation to people to buy books. Or to buy them in bookshops (a way more satisfying experience than buying on Amazon). The main thrust of this is to discourage excessive book buying. Like most of us, I suspect, I get tempted to splurge in a bookshop - but that can be a dangerous waste of money, and you can wind up with a lot of books that you're never going to find time to read. I also think there's a danger that having too many books on the 'to read' list can actually slow down your reading, as you fret and procrastinate about what to start next. I think there's even a danger that this binge book-buying may tend to reduce the number of books you buy overall (or the number of bookshop visits you make), as you repent of previous excess and keep away for a while. My advice is: go to bookshops often, and buy books there regularly - but pace these visits to the speed of your reading. Go once every week or two. Buy one book each time. Read it. Repeat. Simple magic.

fairyhedgehog said...

I've only just found these fun rules!

I don't read entire books in bookshops - I would worry that the book would start to look tatty and unsaleable. I do read books from the library though and then if I like the book I may also buy it.

I don't often browse, even for non-fiction, but I do feel free to do so. If a novel needs to be browsed rather than read straight through, I tend to think it's not worth reading. Although when I re-read Lord Of The Rings I do tend to skip all the poetry.

I do read a page from somewhere in the middle of a book to judge the writing. I'm not lookin for "good" writing as such, just for something that carries me along.

I often have more than one book on the go at once and if I hate a book I don't finish it.

I nearly always carry a book even around the house. The trouble is then I misplace them which is another good reason to have more than one on the go at once.

I can leave a bookshop without buying but usually because I'm buying online instead. If we had small bookstores locally I might make more effort but Waterstones doesn't care if I buy in store or online. I buy lots of books but I'm always running out of things to read.

Thank you for this list, it was thought-provoking!

Froog said...

Always a pleasure to welcome another of Moonie's minions!

I hadn't revisited this post myself for a long while, but it has always been one of my favourites.