January 27

On Reading

After four decades or so of reading, I may have finally unearthed what, for me, might be the perfect approach to getting the most out of a novel.

Following the latest airing of HBO’s Game of Thrones last year I picked up the box set of all five GoT novels, spread across seven volumes. 

Although they’re fairly easy to dip into, some of these books are monsters – clocking it at 800 pages or more. I’ve always found it a daunting task starting out on a book that size – indeed, much as I do love Alan Moore, I’ve held off from picking up Jerusalem (which supposedly had a 1m word count in first draft, although the published version is at 600,000 words, still nudging it into “the top 10 largest novels in the English language” apparently) for that exact reason.

Shorter books have a different appeal for me – and I’ve realised that a big factor of the enjoyment that I get from books is the feeling of completion.  And obviously that feeling comes around all the more frequently with shorter books.

Over time, I’ve begun to appreciate that my relationship with longer books is quite different, as I tend to start slowly and build up my daily page count, pushing ahead towards completion. Inevitably this has meant that, in some cases, I’ve partially speed read 300-500 or more pages in a single day, to the exclusion of all else – and ultimately neither enjoyed the experience nor found it particularly memorable.

So, the magic formula? Well, I’ve found that an exact 50 pages per day is the perfect balance of giving me an hour or so of reading for pleasure whilst keeping involved with the narrative (rather than crossing into ‘reading to switch off’ mode) and making steady, tangible progress through a big book without kicking into obsessive consumption. 

There were some days when I had to work to carve out the time and others to squeeze in another few pages to hit my daily total, when I really wanted to be asleep. But overall, I have to say that this approach has significantly enhanced my overall reading experience in the last month or so.

Clearly, no amount of tricks can improve a book which is ultimately, for one reason or another, just not that engaging. And perhaps this just suits either my current daily schedule or the relative density of the Game of Thrones novels (plus The Book of Strange New Things, which was also around 600 pages).

In any case, I’ll be giving this a go with the next few larger books – and if it is, as I hope, a winning formula, then this may well open up a world of longer novels that I would otherwise never have bothered to pick up.