I tend to read a lot, and I tend to read very quickly. I’m wondering if I should alter my approach.
I’ve thought about this for years. I’ve always been a fast reader, and while I can usually keep straight the details of a book’s plot and characters, I don’t think I remember books that well. When writing my “favorite books” posts for the years 1996–2000, I’ve had real trouble remembering the details of rather a lot of them.
They were enjoyable at the time, sure, and I probably take more than just enjoyment out of them. I often get absorbed in books, and find myself looking at the world in differnt ways because of whatever I’m reading at the moment.
But I start to think that not being able to remember much about them means that there’s something lacking. That I’m treating them too lightly, perhaps, or that I’m treating the reading experience too lightly.
It’s always been at least slightly escapist for me. But that’s not a problem, in my opinion. I think the problem is that I’m doing the reading half-heartedly, perfunctorily. This is the key: without full attention, focus.
How can I be absorbed but not focused? Usually by surrendering entirely to the pull of the book’s plot and atmosphere. I don’t exactly suspend my critical faculties, but I do tend to rush through so that I can see what happens next.
I say “rush through”, but I want to alter the mode of my reading, not the speed of my reading.
I’ve been considering, for a while, writing a short review of every book I read, immediately after reading it. I’ve done this a few times, but not regularly. It didn’t seem to quite be what I was after. More recently, I’ve considered writing a short summary of plot and characters for each book I read, immediately after reading it. I still like that idea, but it seems somehow like a chore.
Now I’m thinking about taking notes as I read, something I have been resistant to for years. Notes would make any post-reading summary rather less of a chore, however. Furthermore, they would push me out of that absorbed state for a few moments—and, I suspect, help me to better appreciate the text when I re-engage with it.
There is a parallel here with yesterday’s post. When playing MTG, something I enjoy a great deal, I often fall into a state where I want to rush through my actions for the turn. I don’t want to break out of the enjoyment-mode I’m in, I just want to continue in it. When in that state, I tend to make mistakes, and then it’s a lot less enjoyable.
That state makes me think of some kind of opiate haze. There’s some part of my mind that likes the complexity and intricacy—but only up to a point. I end up wanting that pleasurable state, appreciating what could be called the “middle complexity” of the game, but resisting the challenge of thinking critically, of pushing myself to comprehend higher degrees of complexity. On a moment-to-moment basis, while playing, I enjoy following thought patterns that I have laid out for myself during an earlier period of learning, but I resist actually thinking. That is, thinking critically and engaging with the full complexity of the situation—instead I prefer engaging with the less-challenging model I have already constructed.
That is very similar to the mode I am often in when absorbed in a book. The similarity between those states makes me think that I’m right to reconsider my approach to reading. I’m still all for the absorption and the escapism—but focus and critical thinking should making those more rewarding.