The speed that an individual reads a book is highly personal. For some, it takes time with the words before they divulge their meanings. Others prefer a meandering approach. Not minding the gaps but noticing – pondering – them. Taking note of the small details; colours, setting, names, imagery, language choices and structure, and filing them to be attached to new knowledge and recalled for a greater understanding later on.
The group that I assign myself to reads quicker, devouring the book. We are still able to admire skill and detail, but maybe some of the subtler points are missed in our consumption of the plot and the characters who have taken us in and will keep us there until the very last line of the very last page.
I used to be immensely proud of the speed I read. I would take online speed reading tests and would revel in the occasions when I could finish more than one book a day. Now, however, I feel embarrassed. As life moves and we get busier, hobbies and leisure activities are expected to take a back seat. The announcement that the 63rd book of the year has just been finished, when previously that number is rarely met over the entire 365-day span, does not correlate with expectations of adulthood, of moving forward – at least not in my head.
I read during my spare time; currently, I have quite a lot of it. I work, on average, two and a half days a week, I have one other, out of the house, regular commitment.
I could be doing more, as I am regularly reminded by the little voice in my head, by social media, and by my parents, friends and peers. I wish I was.
The world can be wonderful and welcoming but it is also full of obstacles and things that scare us. It is big and full and we are expected to conquer it with what feels like Ikea instructions. Books are easier, safer, more friendly. They are made up of a beginning a middle and an end and we are allowed to approach them at our own speed.
Am I hiding in the books I read, in this chain-reading approach that I appear to have adopted in 2018? Maybe. Do they make me feel accomplished? Yes. I enjoy spending my free time with my nose in a book – or watching an episode of Friends – occasionally surfacing to write about reading books and to make contact with my small but perfectly formed group of friends, but I am also aware of a presence over my shoulder, a small shadow over my enjoyment. Guilt, pressure, fear of being left behind.
I want to be doing more, I want to stop hiding in pages of ink and print, but it’s tough. I don’t know where to start, or even how to find out. I don’t know how I’ll get to places when I can’t even leave my garden unaided. So, I go back to reading because it’s safe and for those hours removes me from my life into the world of someone else, someone who I relate to and who usually finds success and fulfilment in the end.