January 21, 2012

Additional notes on reading

It's hard to tell sometimes, but I am—or, at least, used to be—a voracious reader.

As a young child, I'd read anything I could get my hands on, from classic literature (The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland) to modern children's literature (Walter Farley, Gordon Korman or Beverly Cleary) to genre fiction (the Bobbsey Twins or Hardy Boys). I'd blitz my way through three mystery novels in a summer afternoon. I'd have to make two trips to the library. My parents would worry for my eyes and suggest that I watch more television.

It's not my fault. They taught me to read before I set foot in a school.

This is a habit that I kept all the way through to the end of high school (having once read the entire curriculum of a grade-13 English course on a school field trip, including the optional books). It was only once I was away from home and at university that I found the pressures of my required curriculum seriously eating into my recreational reading, which was more or less limited to summers and co-op work terms, when I had sufficient free time (or plenty of time on the bus). Paradoxically, transferring to the English department from Engineering made it worse: my reading workload increased, but not necessarily becaue of books I wanted to read.

In my last year, I got sick of this, and in September 1996, I resolved that, come hell or high water, I was going to read one novel per week over and above my required reading for that year. And I managed it, although I don't know what had to give way. Sleep, maybe.

This is a habit that I kept up for a number of years afterward. I wasn't in school, but I was in the workforce, and for a significant number of years I lived and worked on opposite ends of Ottawa—which meant two hours every weekday of otherwise-useless reading time.

And yet, starting in about 2005 or so, my reading volume took a nose dive. I don't know why, but somewhere along the line I stopped being a reader and started being a viewer, getting my entertainment more from movies than books for the first time. And, then, starting in about 2008, I discovered that podcasts had taken over from movies as my primary source of information or entertainment—again, at the expense of the printed word.

This year, I plan on reviving the one-novel-per-week policy. It's been far too long, and there are too many books going unread. My "rules," such as they were back in 1996 and onward, go something like this:

  • Each calendar week, I will start and, if possible, finish a novel.
  • Selections should vary somewhat in style, genre, authorship, etc. from week to week. (For example, don't read two Stephen King novels consecutively, unless there's a good reason.)
  • The week starts on Monday, to allow Saturday and Sunday for catching up, if necessary.
  • If a novel is finished early, use the remaining days of the week to read non-fiction instead of another novel.

These rules served me pretty well, and managed to keep a balance between genres and subjects. I've added one more task to the curriculum: blog something about everything I read. Sometimes this will be a full review (of 1000 words or more), but for the most part will be "lightning" reviews: roughly speaking, whatever I can write in about 250 words and/or half an hour. This isn't meant to be a detailed book review or analysis, so much as a first impression and an excuse to write. I've posted a number of these over the last few weeks, as I work my way through the Christmas reading blitz.

If you'd like to follow along with my reading, the most recent books in my list are in the sidebar, or you can follow the entire year in my Google spreadsheet. If you want to know what I recommend (or don't), I have a master blog post indexing all my reviews: not only books, but also movies and the occasional album as well.

And, of course, in September I'll be doing my usual moratorium on science fiction: this year, I plan to revisit the Canadian literature I didn't get to when I used this theme back in 2005.

Finally, CBC's annual Canada Reads debates will be broadcast February 6-9 on CBC One. For the first time, the annual search for Canada's must-read book focuses on non-fiction. I will be paying attention to the debates, though frankly the selections on the short list don't turn me on (although the thought of Alan Thicke defending Ken Dryden's The Game certainly is intriguing).

Happy reading!