Two questions for you today, lovely readers of Tor.com:
- How fast do you read?
I have a lot of friends who read. In some circles, I am the slowest reader, slotting 50-55 books per year while my comrades knock out 75-100. Insane! In other circles, I’m the reader, the guy who recommends books to everyone else.
The common thread among all my social circles is a diversity of reading speeds. As readers, we all go through the ebb and flow. One month the stars will align and I’ll read five beefy epic fantasies. Another month, I’ll trudge through two books, distracted by other hobbies or responsibilities. The only person I know who never wavers in his reading is my friend Andrew, who somehow manages having a child, running two D&D campaigns, and reading 100+ books per year. He is a monster.
Many conversations with reader friends of all sorts include at least a brief aside about reading speed. “I’m a really slow reader,” says one friend who thoroughly enjoys the hobby.
When someone says they’re a slow reader, I think it means one of two things (or a combination of them): 1) they’re slow at the actual act of reading, and their words per minute count is low, or 2) they don’t read that often. Both viable justifications to be a “slow” reader.
On the other hand, I almost never hear someone say they’re a “fast” reader. Sure, “I read a lot” kinda counts. And it gets us to the same place. As a self-proclaimed “fast” reader, I’ve lately begun to wonder: what makes me read a book faster, and when do I take my sweet time?
The answer surprised me: mediocrity. Middle-of-the-road books almost always become my fastest reads, and I’ve started to understand why.
Now, to be clear, I’m not going to call out any mediocre books directly. That’s far too subjective. Instead, I hope you read this and think about what influences your reading speed, whether it’s mediocrity, greatness, or some other intangible essence.
Two recent books spring to mind. One is an eARC of a highly anticipated release from a popular writer. Another is a novel by a newer author I’ve read before and wanted to support.
I started the eARC wide-eyed and ready for a return to form from the author whose work I’ve adored for years. Almost immediately, I could tell it wasn’t quite the book for me. Fine, good even, but it didn’t have the same raw, emotional magnetism of the other works I’ve read. My feelings solidified the further I read, and I found myself sneaking precious minutes between writing assignments to knock out a chapter or two. My wife was getting ready for a party; I was all geared up ready to go, so I snagged my Kindle and popped out a few pages. Normally, I’d never dream of such a quick reading session. I prefer reading in big chunks, or at least by the chapter. As I read, though, I realized I was reading to be done, not to enjoy the story I had longed for.
Quick aside: this probably begs the question—Cole, why don’t you just DNF and pick up a book you want to read? I’m not interested in getting into a DNF or no debate. I finish most of the books I read because I write reviews of them for The Quill To Live, even if they weren’t my favorites! I also enjoy finishing books I’m not crazy about because they offer interesting lessons for writers. Anyhoo…
Sneaking these quick moments with a mediocre book helped me cruise right through to the end, which was admittedly heartwarming even though the journey to it wasn’t all I’d pined for.
I finished the book, then moved on to greener pastures. I took my time with those, reveling in the familiar fantasy worlds of series I’ve been enjoying.
And then came an unexpected read. One I hadn’t put in my year-long reading schedule (which, surprisingly, I’ve stuck to quite well this year). I was ahead of schedule and this ~250-pager fell into my lap, a forgotten pre-order from months ago. I hopped on the treadmill and started reading it during my daily two-mile walk.
Hoo boy, was this book a disappointment for me. I knew within 30 pages I wouldn’t like it, and the feeling continued as I hit the halfway point after my walk. The next day, I picked it up once more, completing the novel in one marathon session.
Soon I started pondering this trend once more. I read books I find mediocre faster than anything else. Bad books are a slog, and I cherish my time with good ones, carefully reading every page so I don’t miss a detail. However, one crucial detail surfaced as I perused my recent reads and identified the reads I dubbed mediocre: length.
Most of the books I read quickly were in the 250-400 page range. A respectable page count, and I am by no means saying longer books are inherently better than short ones. Shorter books—“short” here meaning anything that isn’t a 500+ page epic SFF novel—are naturally quicker reads than their meaty counterparts. That’s just math. So when I start a book and realize part way through that I’m not feeling it, the incentive to finish (I’ll be able to write a review and add it to my annual count) remains even if I won’t emerge from the experience thrilled with or by the story. It’s short. Why not invest a bit more time to knock it out and seek a better book for my next read?
I realize, of course, there’s nothing stopping me from dropping mediocre books the moment I realize they aren’t clicking. But I enjoy this delicate dance I have with books I neither love nor hate.
No grand conclusion or unifying self-discovery today, reader. Though I would like to know: how fast do you read, and why?