Nicola here. Today I’m musing not on what we read but how we read. I first started thinking about this last month when we did the Word Wench “What We’re Reading,” when one commenter, Sue M, was talking about her reading choices that month. She explained how she had burned through a couple of new books because that was how she read. First she wanted to get to grips with the plot, but after the first reading she would go back through the books in order fully to appreciate the writing and the character development. I found this fascinating because I had never really thought about the way in which I read and whether we all do it in different ways. It really got me thinking.
For avid readers (and I am assuming that is most of us here) reading is a bit like breathing in the sense that it often feels as though it happens automatically. I sit down, I pick up a book or e-book and I read. But there’s a lot more to it than that, of course. For a start, reading isn’t like that for a lot of people who may struggle with it in the technical sense or who may not find it a very interesting occupation. Not everyone is in agreement with Jane Austen: “I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything but a book!”
How we read also depends on what we are reading. Most of us will read different material in a different way. If I am reading my favourite fiction authors I will approach the book differently from the way I would a book on economics, for example. The first I will throw myself into, become engrossed, and forget to analyse in the sheer pleasure of losing myself in the writing. Approaching a non-fiction book, even a historical one, I would read with more of an analytical mind. So the way we read is determined both by what is read and also by the purpose of reading it. We all probably read novels differently from non-fiction but we also read differently if we are reading for pure pleasure or reading to analyse.
So let’s talk about non-fiction first. There are some authors I love reading, especially those who write historical non-fiction as though it were a page-turner. I am aware though that I don’t lose myself in those books in the same way that I do in fiction, no matter how much I enjoy them. Perhaps I am expecting to learn something actively from reading non-fiction as well as hoping to be entertained by it. Of course, we can learn from historical romance and fiction too: lots of authors, myself included, love to use authentic historical events and backgrounds in their writing and I love finding out new things in my fiction reading.
Which brings us to fiction. I’m sitting at my desk with one of my favourite books by Sarah Morgan next to me. I picked it up this morning when I should have been writing and found it very difficult to put it down again and make myself work instead. There are some authors whose writing I will always be able to immerse myself in and forget everything else, whether it’s Jane Austen, Susanna Kearsley, Sarah Morgan or the rest of my keeper shelf. Even these days, when in most cases my attention span is shorter than that of a goldfish (9 seconds) some books can still grab me and keep me reading regardless of distraction. These are the books I will never skip, taking in every word. Once I'e read them a first time I will probably read them again and get something different from them the second time through, taking pleasure from them every time I pick them up and re-read.
Although I don’t read in the same way as Sue M, getting the feel for the plot first and then going back to spend more time with the characters and the writing, I do have a habit a lot of other readers disapprove of! It's a tendency to want to read the end of a book first if it is a crime novel or thriller, in order to enjoy the way that the narrative unfolds as it builds towards the denouement. A lot of people see this as spoiling the story but I actually prefer to know where I’m going. I’m also an impatient reader, putting a book down if it doesn’t grab me within a couple of chapters. I suspect I've missed out on some great books because I didn't persist with them.
That’s my reading experience in a nutshell, but what about yours? How do you read a new-to-you
book? Fast, devouring it? Slowly, savouring every word? Do you read fiction differently from non-fiction? Do you want to be entertained and educated by both, either or neither? Do you persist with a book even if it doesn’t grab you? Tell us all about your reading!