Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things

Bad Habits?

on June 2, 2012

If you ever look at my blogroll (further down, to the right), you’ll know that a little while ago I came across Jane’s blog about reading.  This happened because she was kind enough to “like” one of my recent posts (piece of advice – it would appear that if you want to generate a lot of interest in a blogpost you need to include a Friends clip and a Coupling clip and talk about books and philosophy in one fell swoop!) and since then I’ve enjoyed reading some of her past posts as well as subscribing to her new ones.  Last weekend she blogged on her Very Bad Reading Habits.  The perfect reader, she asserts, would buy a book and then read it from cover to cover in total silence, but she has many habits which deviate from this ideal. I am not so sure about this image of the perfect reader.  Firstly, I am certain that that kind of reader does not exist, and that we all have our own foibles and idiosyncrasies which characterise our reading habits.  But are they bad habits, or are they merely habits?

Certainly, if I were an author (and by that I obviously mean an author of anything being read by anyone other than myself) I’d be delighted to know about the multi-taskers who were so absorbed in my book that they couldn’t put it down, even to eat meals or to travel to work (or sneakily at work, whenever possible!).  I’d probably be quite pleased about the devourers and the skippers who were desperate to find out what happens next and needed to rush by, or even have a guilty peek a few pages/chapters ahead (although I’d hope my writing would be good enough for the reader to know which love interest to be rooting for from the start! – the really good love stories, I always think, give you an uneasy feeling about the “wrong” guy, even if there’s no real reason you can put your finger on).  And as for the judgers, followers, abandoners and non-sharers – well, I think that’s just people’s way.  I don’t know if there’s a wrong way to respond to a book or even if an author has a right to expect a certain response. But anyway, in response to that post (and mainly because my message in Jane’s “comments” got ridiculously long!), here are my Bad Book Habits.

Like Jane, I’m definitely a multi-tasker: as you’ll see from my Goodreads box to the right of here, I’m “currently reading” three books.  If you look closer into my Goodreads profile you’ll see that since I started those I have read no less than 16 other books.  Sometimes this is from necessity (book group) and sometimes out of choice (a book comes into my life – won in a competition, spotted on a shelf in library/second hand shop, unearthed from the loft after many years – and I want to read it straight away).  But I usually have at least two books on the go that I’m actively reading, and another one or two that I started and haven’t officially given up on (I feel that not-quite-abandoning behaviour ought to be given another title but I can’t think what!).  I also multi-task with reading and other activities, especially cooking, eating and TV watching.

Jane also describes herself as a skipper, as I outlined above.  I don’t do this as often and wouldn’t look ahead in a book I’m enjoying, as usually I want to be surprised (unless I’ve been disappointed by an author in the past, in which case I sometimes look to make sure I’m not setting my sights too high!).  But if I’m struggling with a slow-moving book (e.g. I have to read something for book group, and it has to be this week even though I’m full of cold and what I want to do is curl up and re-read my way through my full collection of Katie Ffordes – not that this is necessarily a real situation I’m describing, or anything!) a quick look at the final sentence is enough to challenge me to read at least enough to make sense of that.

Related to the skippers, however, are those I’d like to name the cherry-pickers, of whom I am one, and I’ll explain how I became one.  Some people never re-read books.  I have a friend who doesn’t even keep them once she’s read them (how weird is that?!).  There used to be very few books I would re-read, until I had children.  Since then my memory has become such that I own books I know I’ve read – and enjoyed – but can’t remember anything about.  Even if I do remember what happens in a book, it’s likely to be a general memory of the overall plot rather than any real detail, so I’m delighted to say that I can now read most books several times if I want to (I recently even bought a Catherine Alliott which I read years ago, with no recollection of the title, back-cover synopsis or first chapter.  The story seemed vaguely familiar from then on but it was as if a friend had once told me about it, rather than a personal recollection).  There are particular favourites which I have read at least four times each and loved every time.  Of course, once I have read them so many times, the finer points of the plot are more firmly lodged in my memory and I don’t forget any more, but by then it’s something I can enjoy in a different way and that’s where the cherry-picking comes in.  If I haven’t much time and want to cheer myself up, I’ll pick up one of my tatty old Victoria Corbys or similar and leaf through to all my favourite passages, skipping over the rest and filling in the gaps from memory.  It’s a lovely thing to be able to do.

I am without doubt a judger, to the extent that it prevents me from being a follower.  As much as I’m likely to avoid a book which has met with much literary acclaim (as I mentioned a little while ago), I’ll equally ignore something which is universally popular, just for that very reason.  I have never read The Da Vinci Code or The Hunger Games.  I avoided the Harry Potter series for a long time – the fourth one was about to come out before I began reading them, when a very cheap box-set of the first three was made available in our staff-room at work by The Book People – which, with hindsight, was foolish behaviour for a newly qualified children’s librarian seeking work: “What do you think of Harry Potter?” was a common interview question, and I don’t think my anti-bandwagon principles scored me many points.  (In my defence, I have to say that that series was the first decent piece of Young Adult fiction written for a very long time, raising the bar for everything that was to follow, and the previous decade or more of dross which had been churned out for teenagers had led many people to believe that the only sensible place to look for good YA reading material was in history).  The strange thing is that I have no idea why I’m so averse to following the crowd, and the majority of times I do investigate something that’s achieved such enormous popularity I really enjoy it.

Another of my strange book-related habits is that I’m a visualiser.  As I’m reading, the whole narrative plays out in my head like a film.  “But that’s normal,” you might say.  “Loads of people do that.”  But the problem is that I don’t just visualise, I cast.  I assign the roles to real people – sometimes to people I know, or have known, in real life, other times to actors.  And this can create resentment later on, especially if the books are televised or film-ised: returning to Harry Potter for a moment, I stopped watching the films when they cast Gary Oldman as Sirius Black, and not Rufus Sewell whom I had imagined from the very first time I encountered the character.  This problem was made worse by the fact that some of my choices had in fact coincided with the filmmakers’ (Geraldine Somerville as Lily Potter, for instance).  But books don’t have to be translated onto stage or screen for my imagination to cause confusion: if an author doesn’t give me a very early physical description of a character, then by the time they think to mention hair-colour, height or whatever, it is often too late.  For example, the character of Rachel in Victoria Routledge’s Friends Like These has blonde curly hair.  By the time this was made clear, however, she already had brown pigtails, after a girl with the same name I knew at university who would be about the same age and character.  It’s frustrating, because when I do come up against a description it jars and confuses me, but there’s no way of stopping myself as these pictures just pop into my head!

Finally – and probably the worst of my reading behaviour – I’m an obsesser.  If I’m enjoying a book there are times when I’m so engrossed that I won’t even multi-task – because it won’t occur to me that anything else exists beyond the world I’m immersed in.  I’ll pick up a book first thing and then suddenly find it’s lunchtime and I’m still not dressed.  I’ll sneak off upstairs when we get in from school and become oblivious to my children until they appear beside me and say “It’s 6.15: are we having any tea?”  On occasions I’ll do anything to get back to my book as soon as possible.  And of course, when I finish reading it, I’m bereft – the people I’ve spent all that time with are suddenly gone from my life and I don’t know what to do.  These are two reasons why that kind of behaviour is Not A Good Idea, and thankfully I’m getting more restrained about how much time I devote to such books and how much time I spend focusing on my responsibilities.  It’s also made slightly easier by the fact that my household is entirely made up of obsessers and we all drive one another mad trying to tell each other about what’s happening in books when nobody else has a clue what we’re talking about.

So those are my habits, bad or otherwise, depending on your point of view.  I think that most of them (probably not the last one which really does require some modification and restraint) demonstrate that reading is a part of life, which is as it should be.

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3 responses to “Bad Habits?

  1. janereads says:

    Wow, great to read your opinion. I admit to being slightly sensationalist by naming my blog post ‘Very Bad Reading Habits.’ Like you say, there is no such thing as a perfect reader 🙂 Though I think my habit of skipping ahead in a story is akin to cheating. I’m cheating myself out of letting the story take me where it will and it’s a bit unfair to the author.

    I was interested by you being a visualiser and actually casting the roles of characters as you read. Rufus Sewell would have been a fine choice for Sirius Black! I sometimes like to not know too much about the character’s physical appearance. If the male ‘hero’ is blond haired it’s not as exciting to me (I prefer brunettes). Or if an author says every five pages that a character is very beautiful or reminds me yet again that they have blue eyes and a strong chin that kind of annoys me and gets in the way of my imagination.

    I think what I find interesting about the whole ‘reading habits’ is that reading is such a solitary exercise. It’s just us and a book and our habits. It’s interesting to find out how other people engage with stories.

    Great post by the way!

    • northmum says:

      I agree, it’s strange to find out that other people read in a different way or do different things when they read, because you can only ever experience your own response.
      One thing I forgot to say is that unlike you I’m a compulsive sharer, constantly trying to persuade people to borrow my books because I want them to love them as much as I do! But then I used to be a librarian, so I suppose it’s only natural!

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