Once & Future

Charlotte Ashley – Book seller, collector, writer, editor, historian

January 6, 2010

Reading by the Inch

On final tally, I determined I read exactly 21 books last year – not an impressive total.  Speaking with a coworker I identified another part of the “problem” – my fatal attraction to epic, dense, 1000-page door-stoppers rather than more modest reads.  My coworker likes her fiction “sparse” and blew through most of J.M. Coetzee’s oeuvre last year, by comparison.  Such choices mean she out-paced my reading 2 works to 1, while still keeping to worthwhile literary reads.

Naturally I resolved this year to read shorter, but still worthwhile, books.  I have been meaning to read more Martin Amis, Coetzee, Julian Barnes, Orhan Pamuk, Alice Munro, Chinua Achebe and whathaveyou.  How slight an investment, after all, to read a book which actually fits in my purse.

This resolution lasted about ten minutes.  I can’t help it.  The books that really turn me on are best measured in pounds.  I want to read Wolf Hall, The Children’s Book, Foucault’s Pendulum and Don Quixote.  A University of Toronto professor is offering a very tasty course in romanticism this term and I’m already drooling at the thought of reading Lorna Doone and The Laodicean.  I’ve been waiting all year for the paperback release of Dan Simmons’ Drood.  It has been a full year since I’ve read any Dumas, and I have been itching to read La Reine Margot.  Not a volume under 500 pages among my treasures.

My saving grace is Canada Reads Independently, the Canada Reads alternative cooked up by picklemethis’s Kerry Clare.  Having read most of the CBC’s picks, I was thrilled to have five genuine discoveries to play with.  Only one – Wild Geese by Martha Ostenso – could be found on my bookstore’s shelves, but it appears to be of a reasonable length.  With luck the other four – ordered as of this morning – will share the trait and intersperse the otherwise epic year of reading I have ahead of me.  With luck I’ll get through more than a dozen books this year.

I know numbers don’t matter and it isn’t a contest, but it’s still disheartening to see everyone around me chewing through 50+ books in a year and feel myself out of the loop with my handfull.  This is a pep talk for myself, this post.  Maybe I’ve read fewer books than some, but I bet I am in the running in terms of sheer yardage.  A reader by the foot, that’s me.

2 thoughts on “Reading by the Inch”

  1. Susan says:

    I loved Ostenso – I think we have it here somewhere, Char. But why do I remember her as Margaret Ostenso?

  2. John Mutford says:

    I too was more than a little reluctant to post my last year’s totals after comparing to everyone else’s. But, everyone’s schedules are different. Some are faster readers, some are retired without 2 young kids at home, so it’s all good.

    Unlike you, I steer clear of the lengthy novels as best I can. I try to rid my shelf of about two 800+ page books per year, but that’s it.

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