27.10.04

What's your WPM?

Yesterday Terry Teachout and Sarah Weinman blogged about how quickly they read. This ties into a discussion I've been having on TRP about how many books I have read (and cataloged) as well as how many are on Mt. Bookpile.

When I was younger I was tested at something like 1000wpm, but I think that's gotten considerably slower as the years have progressed. I usually manage to read about 100-150 books/year. Now, that total has gone down as I've become more professionally involved, and as my intake of magazines (professional and otherwise) and newspapers has gone up. The total for the summer, for example, was about 35 books in three months, but the number I'll be able to read during the school year will be less.

Some of the books are really short, YA/Child Lit books while others are longer (like Jonathan Strange...). The rate of speed really depends on the type of book, though. I mean, if I'm reading something "deep", something I really want to learn from, I'll slow down so that I can take in more of the ideas and think about them as I read. However, something "fun", like a mystery or the latest Cirque du Freak, I'll whip through in no time.

Does this mean I don't enjoy the reading? No. Nor does it mean that I read so quickly that all the plots and characters blend into each other. I may not be able to tell you in which Chalet School book Jo pulled what prank, but I can tell you what the books are about, why I like them and why they're worth reading (or not - there are books I really found a waste of time, effort and dead tree).

Reading for speed does raise the question of quality vs. quantity, though. I think that for many of us, the reality is that we read. Period. The fact that we read faster than some doesn't mean that we're going for quantity; in fact, it may mean that we also read a lot of dross. I do know that I enjoy the majority of what I read, whether or not it is considered "quality" by other readers. And ultimately, isn't that what matters most? The enjoyment of the book should be paramount, not how quickly you can plow through it and get on to the next one.

UPDATE: "Thomas H. Benton" writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the correlation between owning books and being an academic. He also reminds us of a New Yorker cartoon ("A couple years ago a cartoon from The New Yorker depicted a man in a book-lined study sipping a martini and talking to a woman in a black party dress. The caption: "These books represent the person I once aspired to be."). For me it's almost the reverse: my books represent the person I aspire to become.

1 comment:

Aravis said...

I agree with you. I read at varying speeds depending upon the subject and how much it absorbs me. Ultimately though, for me, it is the reading experience and not the rate at which I read which matters. For some it is as though the rapidity with which they read is a commendable end in and of itself; it's an ego thing. It doesn't hold the same importance for me. I may read 8 books in a week, or one book in 2 weeks. As long as I am enjoying it, what difference does it make? At least, that's how I see it.