Sunday Salon: Speed reading

The Sunday Salon

I have had wildly varying reading speeds lately, and this has set me thinking. Are the better books the ones that slow you down, that make you re-read sentences or even paragraphs? Or are the books that you read in one or two settings in an engrossed daze actually better?

In September I started reading The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon. It took me more than a month to finish. I worried that I had lost my reading mojo. And admittedly I did find it hard, but I thought the language wonderful. And so clever. I feel enriched for having read it.

In the past few days I read Before I Go to Sleep by S J Watson (review here). I was absorbed and raced through it, eager to get to the end. And once I did I felt satisfaction with the story. But the language had at no point caught my eye and I’m already beginning to forget the book.

In some respects I enjoyed Before I Go to Sleep more. And as a thriller it did for me exactly what it set out to do. But I would absolutely state that The Yiddish Policeman’s Union is the better book, without question.

So I’m trying to work out if this is a general rule or just these two books. Is there always more value in the books that slow you down, encourage you to notice the language and savour it, or can quick reads be equally good? I certainly know I like to read some of both. How about you?

6 thoughts on “Sunday Salon: Speed reading

  1. Unfinished Person November 4, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    I think quick reads can be equally good, maybe because I read mostly quick reads. However, I do have at least one or two savoring reads coming up…or potentially savoring reads anyway in that they’re longer than what I usually read.

  2. Laurel-Rain Snow November 4, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    I do enjoy both kinds of books…those that hold me in their grip and which I race through are certainly intense and leave my heart pounding. But I think you’re right; I don’t savor the language or much of anything about them.

    I like to mix things up, though, so I’ll probably continue to rapidly read and savor.


  3. lloyd November 4, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    Ive had exactly the same thing in reverse.
    Last month I read the novel of Battle Royale; the story zipped along, it was a high-concept novel, the type face and spacing were all set up (to me) for a quick read. But it was awful, really, really awful. It was from a terrible translation with lots of mistranslated phrases (I kept a list; “She nodded her face” was probably my favourite) and flat out mistakes like incorrect personal pro-nouns used midway through sentances. However, I finished it in a week (its 600+ pages) which is quick for me. It felt like a nasty, greasy burger; serving no other function than to satiate my reading urge.
    And now, Im reading Martin Amis’ “London Fields” where the narration creeps along but its engaging, it has ideas bigger than its story and the sentances themselves crackle and are a pleasure to read. However, Im reading this more slowly as I feel involved and am enjoying the act of reading rather than reading to just get to the end!

  4. Nose in a book November 4, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    Unfinished person Ooh, “savoring reads” is a great way of putting it!

    Laurel-Rain Yes, I think I’ll continue to read both, because the act of being engrossed in a quick read is really very satisfying but I also love to spend time contemplating a book afterward and thinking about its language, for which you need a slower read.

    lloyd Fast food is a good comparison. Not to everyone’s taste but most people enjoy that initial quick satisfaction while acknowledging that a gourmet meal would take longer and be better quality. Hope you continue to enjoy London Fields. I know I was impressed by it.

  5. Aarti November 4, 2012 at 11:41 pm

    I think a lot of my reading speed is based on the author’s writing style. A Suitable Boy is a massive book and took me a very long time to read, but it was also written in a way that made it easy to read parts of it and then put it aside and pick it back up again while I read other faster books in between. But I also have been in a reading rut for 3 weeks trying to read one book that I finally gave up on, and after that I finished two books very quickly!

  6. Susan November 5, 2012 at 3:38 am

    I don’t think it’s necessarily the general rule. I think beautifully written, slower books can sometimes be aloof or hard to grasp whereas fast books can be more immediate or entertaining. I think it just depends on the books. cheers.

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