In a recent post on Thinking in Fragments, Alex asked for suggestions on how to fit more reading into her day. I wish I had some pearls of wisdom to send her way but I’m struggling with the same issue myself. When I first started blogging and interacting on Library Thing I was flabbergasted to see how many books many of the members seemed to get through. Quite a few LibraryThing members seemed to read a new book every day whereas I think I’m doing pretty well if I can read a book a week.
I dont want to play the numbers game here. For me it’s not a competition between readers to see who can read the biggest number of titles. Nor are numbers themselves particularly meaningful – someone who reads a lot of novellas is clearly going to have a higher total than someone who reads a lot of nineteenth century novels ( those Victorians dos like to write a lot). My desire to read more stems from the fact a) it’s an activity I love so why not invest more time in doing what I love and b) there are just zillions of authors I have yet to discover and at my current rate it’s going to take me decades to get to them all.
I know I am not the only one facing this dilemma. Looking around the Internet I find a range of approaches people have adopted in response.
Aim to read at least 10% of your chosen book every day is the advice on one blog ( helpfully it suggests that if you have a particularly long book then 5% a day might be more manageable. Break this into smaller periods of reading if that works best with your schedule. So if you have a 500 page book, try reading 25 pages in two sessions or if that doesn’t work, go down to the 25 pages (5% ) a day, read across two sessions.
A variation of this approach is to read a set number of pages per day. This was the plan adopted by Andy Miller when he embarked on his Year of Reading Dangerously. Except his target was 50 pages. Which was ok when he had days involving a train commute to work but on weekends he found he was making excuses to go to the Post Office just so he could read while standing in the queue (if the Post Office keeps on closing their local branches, the queues will inevitably get longer which is good for readers but not much fun if all yiu want is to buy a stamp).
Get up earlier is another popular piece of advice. “If you can only devote 15-30 minutes of reading each morning you can read 20-30 books year” according to an article at life hack.org which is great if yiu happen to be the kind of person who is bright and alert in the morning. But I’m no lark so that approach is doomed to failure. I do sometimes go to bed earlier though, just so I can read a few extra pages.
How about reading instead of watching tv? I dont watch that much anyway.
If I can’t find any more time in the day, could I maybe read faster. According to Tony Buzan and many other experts In speed reading techniques and time management it’s possible, with enough practice, to increase from the average reading speed of 200-400 words per minute to around 1000-1700 words per minute. Even at the lower end of that scale it could mean I get to read five times as much.
Theres a catch here however. It’s all to do with how you interpret the word ‘Reading’ . Certainly I would get through a book quicker so strictly speaking yes I would be reading faster. But would I understand what I was reading? Probably not according to research. All of the popular methods such as skimming, meta guiding and Rapid Serial Visual Presentation have drawbacks. In Keith Rayner’s “Eye movements and information processing during reading” he comments
You can practice going faster and you probably will, but when you start going too fast you’ll start losing comprehension. Most speed reading methods involve getting rid of subvocalization. Research shows that when you do that and the text is difficult, comprehension goes to pieces.
This means I would be reading my books faster but I wouldn’t actually be absorbing what I was reading. Which really defeats the purpose doesn’t it? I could get to the end of a long novel and feel super smug and satisfied but then if anyone were to ask me to explain the book or describe it, I would struggle to recall any detail. For me that mean all those hours I spent reading would have been wastes effort. There are further enlightening comments about speed reading techniques in this article f you’re interested. I’ve read enough now to know that speed reading will not be the answer for me. I think I’ll just resolve to enjoy what I’m reading, and to go for quanity over quantity.
I can’t think why it’s taken me so long to get around to reading Barbara Pym. But I’m glad that I have even if I’m a latecomer to the party. Some Tame Gazelle was her debut novel. In it she features characters based on people within her own circle of friends and acquaintances but imagines how their lives could be twenty or thirty years’ time.
The two ‘gazelles’ are the middle-aged spinster sisters Belinda and Harriet Bede. Belinda is the more intelligent one having taken a degree in literature. She’s long harboured a passion for the Archdeacon who lives in the village, being almost the only one who can tolerate his obscure sermons and propensity to regale everyone with his literary knowledge. Harriet has looks instead of grey cells but though her beauty has faded she is still the subject of repeated marriage proposals of an Italian count who lives locally. Instead she takes a fancy to every new curate who passes her way.
A smart and floridly handsome admirer in the Prime of Life would be much more acceptable to her than a husband of the same description. In her girlhood imaginings, Harriet had always visualised a tall, pale man for her husband, hence her partiality forthe clergy. ……. Who would exchange a comfortable life of spinsterhood in a country parish which always had its pale curate to be cherished, for the unknown trials of matrimony?
During the course of the book, both sisters reject proposals which would have taken them into the unknown world of marriage. They do so partly because they are not attracted to these men, but also because they are settled in their lives together and view marriage as a disturbance of that equilibrium.
Pym shines at portraying daily life in an English village of the 1950s with all its peculiarities and minor concerns. The mending of stays, the correct way to turn the heel of a sock; what to serve guests for lunch: these are the daily dilemmas of Harriet and Belinda.
Were all new curates always given boiled chicken when they came to supper for the first time? Belinda wondered. It was certainly an established ritual at their house and it seemed somehow right for the new curate. The coldness, the whiteness, the muffling with the sauce, perhaps even the sharpness added by the slices of lemon, there was something appropriate here even if Belinda could not see exactly what it was.
As amusing as these glimpses are of a world full of such small pains and pleasures, there is a sadness surrounding Pym’s leading ladies. With their faded hopes and lost dreams, these are gazelles who have lost a little of their spring but have found other compensations in life.
Another storm was predicted to hit the UK today and tomorrow which is not good news at any time but esp ecially disconcerting when you have to get to the airport. Hope the Met Office gets the forecast wrong… Talking of the Met Office it seems ever since they embarked on their “name the storm” project last autumn, we seem to have had them more frequently. We started with Abigail, now we’re up to Henry. At this rate we’ll have exhausted the alphabet before year end.
I just managed to finish Look at Me by Jennifer Egan on my last night at home for a few weeks. I started reading this in November but put it on the back burner so I could attend to a few other commitments but I was determined not to let it run into a third month. I wasn’t sure I would take to it but it grew on me the more I saw how richly layered it was in its treatment of the theme of identity. So here I am on the first of the month with a new book to open. And I can’t decide which it will be. I have with me Sovereign by C.J Sansom which is the third in his series about the lawyer turned detective Matthew Shardlake who has to navigate the political turmoil of the Tudor era. I also have Winifred Holtby’s most famous work, South Riding, which is a portrait of a Yorkshire community dealing with the effect of the Depression. Both have the advantage of being long enough to sustain me through an eight hour flight. I suspect the decision will be a sour of the moment thing just before my bag goes through check in. Of course if the ultimate choice doesn’t work out I have plenty of Net Galley titles on my e reader including the latest Helen Dunmore novel Exposure. I wasn’t impressed with the on,y other title I read by her, The Great Coat, but since that wasnt the genre she normally inhabits I thoughts she deserved another try.
On my car journey up to the airport I listened to the final chapters of The Vanishing Point by Val McDermid. It’s not one that features any of her detective creations but is a stand alone thriller about the abud toon of a child from an airport while in the care of his adopted mother Stephanie Harker. She is a ghost writer who compiles the autographies of celebrities. Her relationship with the boys real mother Scarlett Higgins, a foul-mouthed reality TV star known to the nation as the Scarlett Harlot, began on a professional level but soon lurched towards the personal. To discover who addicted the boy, Harker has to delve into the past. This is the first time I’ve experienced fed Val McDermid which is odd given how prolific and highly respected she is. I suspect this is not one of her best, though it was good enough to get me through the drive even if I did find the actress playing Harker had that very irritating habit of the upward inflection at the end of every sentence.
The hotel tv channels didn’t offer too much in the way of entertainment tonight – practically every channel had a tribute to Terry Wogan and all more or less said the same thing. The best option was a dramatisation of the relationship between Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth 1 told through through the correspondance they maintained for about two decades. It did a pretty fair job of showing the rivalry between these two and how cunning Elizabeth was towards her cousin.
According to Philip Roth, The Little Red Chairs is “a masterpiece”; the best novel Edna O’Brien has ever written. I wonder if Edna greeted the accolade with a gleam in her eye and her trademark mischievous smile. It is, after all ironic that her status as a novelist is recognised more on the world stage than in her own country. Her early years as a novelist were marked by scorn and derision in her native Ireland. It’s taken more than sixty years for the country to take her back into their bosom. Last year (long overdue) O’Brien was honoured as a Saoithe of Aosdána, Ireland’s highest literary honour, and with it came a presidential apology for the pious disdain which led to a ban on her books for decades and accusations she had a too-favourable attitude to the Provisional IRA.
But O’Brien has never been a lady who sought a quiet life or opted for the safe topics in her books, despite attracting the soubriquet “a “bargain basement Molly Bloom” at one time. In The Little Red Chairs she turns her attention to the monstrous acts perpetrated by a tyrant and to his innocent citizens who are forced to take flight and become stateless refugees. It’s a tremendously haunting novel delivered by someone who has a keenly observant eye and understanding of human nature.
The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien was published in the UK by Faber and Faber in 2015. Thanks to the publishers for providing me with a free copy via NetGalley.
If you’re interesting in discovering why O’Brien came to write this book take a look at this interview with The Daily Telegraph.
A few years ago I’d never heard of the bucket list. And then when I did hear the term, I was mystified. Why would anyone need a list to go and buy a bucket ? Surely its easy to remember just one item on your shopping list? Or was it a way some people used to control their purchasing habits – they could buy only what could fit into a bucket? It wasn’t until the film The Bucket List came out that I got the ah ha moment. Now I see these lists everywhere. For biblioholics, the Bucket List often involves delving into the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list .
I’m taking the road less travelled with a Not the Bucket List reading list. The five classic books I never want to read. No matter how much you tell me how wonderful they are. No matter that they are all on this 1001 Books List. They are just not for me. You may detect some patterns in my choices.
The Master and Margerita by Mikhail Bulgakov. Book number 609 on the 1001 list is one I had on my ‘to read’ list for years. But felt I needed to do some warm up with other Russian authors before tackling this big one. It wasn’t until last year when I read Andy Miller’s The Year of Reading Dangerously, that I realised Bulgakov’s novel contained elements that I find deeply off-putting in a novel. The fact The Master and Margerita concerns a visit by the devil to the Soviet Union was a big red flag since I struggle with mythical, unreal characters usually. Worse was to come. One character is a mysterious “magician”; another learns to fly and somehow, don’t ask me how, Pontius Pilate gets in on the act. This recipe had far too many elements I don’t like and I can imagine I would read it with teeth clenched, just waiting for the moment when the ordeal was over. Not what you want to spend your twilight years doing.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Yes I know this is considered a Great American classic but this is 700 pages about an obsession with a whale. Where’s the fun in that? I imagine there are plenty of dramatic moments but when I’ve peaked into this tome in the bookshop all I seem to find are lengthy descriptions of the natural history of the whale, how they move; what they eat; how to hunt and kill them and then extract the oil. If I was that interested I’d just go and find a natural history book wouldn’t I? Seems to me that Mr Melville is one of those authors who does extensive research and then absolutely cannot resist showing off about it but including every last fact and piece of info in his book. The best part of this book is the opening sentence “Call me Ishmael.” (It’s fun to think how, by meddling with the punctuation, you could get a totally different meaning from just three words).
Lord of the Rings by J R.R Tolkien
My dislike of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit has endured for decades. It dates from my time at university where a sizeable number of friends became totally enamoured of these books and, it seemed, could talk of little else. Posters of some of the characters soon replaced those of David Bowie, Led Zepplin etc on bedroom walls. They even started to go to meetings of a newly-formed Tolkien appreciation club. Was I missing something special I wondered. Fifty pages of The Hobbit was enough to tell me that a gulf had opened between myself and these friends. I found another set who had also formed an aversion to Middle Earth and never went back.
The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
I made an effort to read this much vaunted example of the Gothic novel, even managing to get half way through the escapades and misadventures of Emily St. Aubert. I think I kept going because there was a promise of a seriously creepy episode in a gloomy castle and a dastardly villein. But it was slow – slow – going because before we got anywhere near the castle we had to endure Emily’s long and meandering journey in a mountainous region of France. And after all that the episodes at the remote castle of Udolpho, failed to live up to their promise. I abandoned the book and don’t plan to pay a return visit.
Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
Book number 718 on the 1001 Books list is another ‘cult’ from the 1970s that I never latched onto. Didn’t watch the TV series, never listened to the radio program; didn’t go to see the film and have zero interest in reading the book. Why? It’s science fiction which doesn’t get my heart rate going anyway but add to that it’s comedy which is another genre I struggle with. It has to be brilliantly clever humour otherwise I’m not interested.
Frankenstein – Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
I have actually read this but only got to the end because it was a set book on a university module. The best part was the scene fairly early on in the novel where Victor Frankenstein sees the result of his labours. Instead of beholding a beautiful creature he is confronted with a monstrous tall figure (hereafter called The Creature) with yellow eyes and skin that barely conceals the muscle tissue and blood vessels underneath. Shelley’s description of this scene is outstanding. Then it all goes downhill and we end up with the Creature and Frankenstein chasing each other around the Continent, Scotland and the North Pole. Yes there were some moments where we are asked to sympathise with the predicament of this Creature who never asked to be brought into the world and now longs for a mate. But parts of the book are simply ludicrous – we are asked to believe for example that the Creature learns to speak by listening to a family living in the next room of a remote cottage and teaches himself to read after discovering a lost satchel of books. Full marks to Shelley for the idea and for cleverly balancing elements of Gothic and realism but I so wish it had been less silly.
So there you have it. I know some of my choices are ones which some of you might love and even count as your favourites. What would you put on your personal Not the Bucket List, perhaps some of them are ones I love.
Usually at this time of the year I’m frantically adding upcoming newly-published titles to my reading wishlist. Maybe I’m in a peculiar mood but this year I’m struggling to find much to excite me among the forthcoming books. It isn’t as if there is a dirth of new stuff coming out but nothing so far that has really lit the fire.
One bright spot on the horizon is news that Maggie O’Farrell will publish her seventh novel in May. Just wish I didn’t have to wait so long. According to the blurb “This Must Be The Place crosses continents and time zones, giving voice to a diverse and complex cast of characters. At its heart, it is an extraordinary portrait of a marriage, the forces that hold it together and the pressures that drive it apart.” With O’Farrell I am certain this will be enjoyable but I’m rather perplexed by the marketing puff on the front cover. How can this be described by the publisher as a “Sunday Times best seller ” if it hasn’t been published yet?? I just checked this weekend’s copy of the newspaper and there’s no mention of it and certainly no appearance in their best seller listing… Supreme confidence in their author or blatant hype??
So far I just have five other 2016 titles on my wishlist.
Olduvaireads pointed me to French Concession: A Novel by the renowned Chinese author Xiao Bai.This is the first of his works to be available in English and is a story of espionage set in 1930s Shanghai.
From The Millions List of Most anticipated books I have taken a shine to
The Happy Marriage by Tahar Ben Jelloun which is about the dissolution of a marriage between a renowned painter and his wife. That synopsis on its own wouldn’t be enough to get my attention but the setting and historical context make it more appealing – its set against the backdrop of Casablanca in the midst of an awakening women’s rights movement.
Am I the only person in the world who hasn’t read Elizabeth Strout’s Burgess Boys or her Pulitzer Prize winning Olive Kitteridge? Ok so maybe there are a few people who missed out on both of these and I was going to complete the hat trick by giving her latest novel, My Name Is Lucy Barton a miss. But then I read this description from a blogger whose opinion I value. “… a book that is so close to perfection,” is how Thinking in Fragments described My Name is Lucy Barton. Now it would be utterly foolish of me to ignore perfection wouldn’t it?? Onto the list it’s gone.
I’m not absolutely sure about this next choice. It’s The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel. Like his Booker Prize winning Life of Pi this is described as an allegory, told in the form of three intersecting stories and three different points of time – 1904, 1939 and 1989. Has Mantel produced something as magically bizarre as Life of Pi? One disappointment before I even open the first page “there are no tigers in this fabulous new book” announced the publishers Canongate. I call that mean….
And finally, a debut novel Shelter by Jung Yun, a young author originally from South Korea. I’ve been looking for an author from that part of the world and when I saw that Yun names J.M Coetzee as one of her influences, my interest level shot up. Shelter is about a husband, father and college professor who gets into such deep financial trouble he can no longer afford his home. His parents, whom he hates because they never showed him warmth, move in with him. Tension mounts, anger comes to the surface, deep seated resentment boils over..
So that’s it. Fairly lean pickings unfortunately.
What am I missing? Do tell me if you’ve spotted a gem.
Remember how at the end of last year I invited you all to join in with #readinto16 by sharing what you were reading at the turn of 2015 into 2016? As an incentive I offered a giveaway where one reader would win one of the seven books I enjoyed most in 2015.
After much deliberation amongst the jury members (the entire Booker Talk household) and with the aid of a highly sophisticated algorithm we have a winner.
The prize goes to Cleopatra who blogs at Cleopatra Loves Books – at the midnight hour on December 31, 2015 she was reading The Lake House by Kate Morton. Here’s her post on the topic. She now gets to choose one of these books:
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac
Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
The Snow Kimono by Mark Henshaw
A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar
The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
Thanks to everyone who played along with this. It was good to get a glimpse of what you were up to on that date.
Can a poem help you get through a stressful time ? Would reading Jane Austen give you an insight into ways of dealing with grief? Those are some of the questions posed in a fascinating course I just read about today.
It’s apparently the world’s first free online course in “Literature and Mental Health” and explores how enjoying literature can help us to endure life. It’s offered by Future Learn in conjunction with ReLit, a charitable enterprise in the UK to research and practice something called bibliotherapy. I’d never heard of this but apparently it is an ancient art of book-healing.
This week sees the publication by ReLit of Stressed, Unstressed, an anthology of 150 poems to “ease the mind”, edited by Paula Byrne, a biographer whose works include a study of Jane Austen. The collection, which then spawned the course, originated when Paula’s young daughter was critically ill and not expected to live. Byrne turned to poetry to help her through the traumatic experience.
The book is being used with prison inmates serving sentences for serious assault. In future copies will be donated to hospitals, schools and medical centres.
The Literature and Mental Health course asks how poems, plays and novels can help us understand and cope with times of deep emotional strain. It’s delivered in conjunction with Warwick University.
Enrolment is open now for the start date of February 1. Anyone care to join me???
Your choice of reading for health
Some leading actors and literary figures nominated poems that have played a significant part in their lives – Ian McKellen and Melvyn Bragg both chose Wordsworth while Stephen Fry opted for that other big Romantic, John Keats.
Bragg’s choice was Michael, a poem about a shepherd and his son
McKellen selected Composed upon Westminster Bridge
Fry went for Ode to a Nightingale
I’ve been thinking what my own suggestions would be. Of course it depends on the circumstances but one I’ve gone back to many times when I felt vulnerable is W. B Yeats, The Cloths of Heaven.
Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light;
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
Any suggestions from you?