We have a phrase in Geocaching that goes “it’s not about the numbers”. This means that it shouldn’t matter whether you’ve found a hundred or only one cache today, but instead whether you went for a nice walk or got taken somewhere interesting.
And I think this should apply to reading as well. If you want to write well, we are told you need to read a lot. And I agree with this… to a certain degree.
I’m an incredibly slow reader. I like to digest books, mull over them, rather than race over them. I used to read fast as a child but after a teacher found out I was skipping words whilst reading allowed, I was ‘conditioned’ to read carefully. This means I tend to scan very sentence three times as I read, and often if I get to the end of a paragraph and feel nothing has really gone back in, I’ll go back and do it again.
It means it takes me a long time to read a book, and in many ways it feels like a secret shame. How am I ever going to be a good novelist if I’m not reading over a hundred books a year?
But I think “it’s not about the numbers”. I’m reading The Passage at the moment and at the current rate I think it’ll take me a couple of months to finish (OK, so a self-imposed writing deadline doesn’t help). But I feel I’m getting a lot out of this book by reading slowly, that I wouldn’t get out of it if I was reading fast. I find myself enjoying the style of it, digging past the prose and into the construction, and I’m really enjoying it. More importantly, I feel I’m learning from it: the way Cronin uses exposition but stops it feeling flat is something I’m really, really enjoying.
Don’t get me wrong, I realise this approach doesn’t suit everyone. When it comes to Geocaching, I’m a complete numbers freak, so I’m not going to moan at people who are prolific readers. And how could you?
I’m just saying, there’s no shame in taking your time on a book if you feel you’re really getting something out of it. It’s not about the numbers!