Reading

Just recently I finished editing a novella for an author friend. While I was working on his book, I noticed several things about how I was reading it and did some thinking about the way I read.

I’ve always loved reading. The family story is that I was potty trained by being placed on the toilet and handed some books. If true, I’m sure they were suitable for my age.

In Junior High and High School, I quickly devoured every SF book in the school library, as well as other literature. SF, however, was my go to when looking for something to read. As to Westerns, I think I’ve read maybe six or seven in my lifetime. I’d also hit the base library (AF brat) and read just about everything SF they had. It was at this time that I also found Fantasy and began reading that genre as rabidly as I did SF. I was probably 14 when I read Lord of the Rings.

This love of reading almost got me into trouble in high school but thanks to a lovely English teacher, turned into a benefit instead. In the second week of a new school year, my English teacher caught me reading in the back of the classroom instead of paying attention. So, she sprung a pop quiz on us, based on the story she had been going over. The story was in the school textbook, and hadn’t been assigned to us as reading yet. I was one of the few to pass the quiz with a 100 grade, so she had me stop by after school. She then asked how I had done that and I explained I had already read the reader from cover to cover. After a few questions to verify I wasn’t just claiming that, we talked about moving me to her advanced reading program instead. The carrot for me was being able to read and the icing on the cake was learning how to speed read. By the end of the school year, I was pretty much reading one paperback a day on the bus to and from school and was reading at around 880 words per minute, tested.

Even now, I will read rather than watch TV. There has been a time or two when I’ve repeatedly told the family that there was a show on in 5 or 6 days that I wanted to watch, to make sure they were aware of my plans to watch it. Then that day I’d find a book and start reading. When the show came on, they tried to tell me and I told them I’d rather read this than watch that. That’s after reminding them for five straight days that I was going to watch this movie or whatever on Channel X at 7:30 PM. I’m sure there were some frustrated or dirty looks cast my way then!

I can read several books a day if I’m allowed to. That’s one reason I like ebooks: I only need to take my tablet with me and I have multiple entire series as well as stand-alone books readily to hand. Heck, I have an entire library with me. No risk of getting to book 2 in a trilogy and having to run around to find book 3. Or carry a stack of books on vacation. And yes, I still very much enjoy reading physical books, turning the pages and having that weight.

That’s my background. I’m a reader, born and bred.

So, to the point of this blog post. It turns out that I have different reading modes, at least four that I’m aware of. No surprise there as I think everybody does, actually. After thinking about how I read and the different “modes”, I find the differences intriguing.

If I’m reading for my own pleasure, I pretty much zone out everything but the words before me. I’m still aware to some small extent what’s going on around me; being deaf I tend to automatically be aware of my surroundings, at least to some extent, as a safety measure. And, yes, I do get irritated when my reading is interrupted.

Speaking of getting interrupted, my wife has this uncanny knack of always interrupting me when I’m in the middle of some battle scene, engrossing dialogue or other action. I logically know it’s not premeditated, but I can’t help wondering why she never seems to interrupt in the boring parts of the book.

Anyway…

The first mode is typically reading at full speed. Some books, especially non-fiction, I read the fastest. I’ve not tested in a long time, but I’m pretty sure I’m not reading at my original 880 WPM now, but more likely closer to 500 to 600 WPM. In this mode I will slow down at certain parts, such as detailed descriptions of interesting techniques or explanations. I also use this mode with heavily embellished fiction, such as where they describe what someone’s wearing down to the thread count or every leaf on every tree in the park the characters are in. Those sections, I read as fast as I can without actually skipping them entirely.

The second mode is reading at a slower rate, probably down around 300 to 400 WPM. This is reserved for books I’m really enjoying, books that I’m savoring. Even with these, I’ll sometimes speed up over what I consider unnecessary detail, as mentioned previously. This is probably where I read most SF and Fantasy, especially my favorite authors.

Those two modes above, I start at the first word of the book and read straight through to the end. I’m simply reading for enjoyment or education.

For mode three, I’ve noticed that when I do a preliminary edit, whether my own writing or someone else’s, I read at a much slower speed. It’s not so much that I’m reading as it is I’m looking for discrepancies. I’ll read a ways, then see something that doesn’t click, read it again, mark it up or verify the discrepancy then mark it up. In this state, I’m also marking up misspellings, typos, grammar that really stand out. Right now, I’m not necessarily looking for particular wordsmithing problems, I’m looking for issues in the story itself. I am, however, not willing to put up with glaring English errors, either. While in the previous two modes I would grimace and keep reading, momentarily irritated with the author for not doing his work, this time if it jumps out at me I won’t hesitate to write it up. On the whole, though, I’m almost reading like I do for fun. Just more deliberately, and with an eye out for glaring story line or grammatical errors. At this rate, it can take me a couple days to get through a book.

The final mode is a full on editing mode. This is the slowest mode of all for me. It’s also one of the more intensive reading modes, a point that surprised me. Here, I’m doing all that I do in the preliminary edit, but where there I only go back to check something, here I’m constantly going back a paragraph or page and re-reading from there. I’m constantly unconsciously asking myself questions: Did this flow properly? Could this really happen this way? Didn’t she sit down a couple paragraphs ago? Can a ship really do that? Would he really speak like that? Does this read like an insert by the author trying to explain something directly to the reader? Is this grammatically correct? Would the reader understand this reference? Is this spelled right? To vs too vs two and other such critters.

As an example of reading progress while editing, consider any consecutive pages of a book. I’ll read page 1 halfway, go back a couple of paragraphs, study a sentence or two, figure out what’s wrong with it that grabbed my attention, mark the correction, continue reading from that point. After several times doing this as I work my way down the page I’ll eventually finish that page and start on page 2. Then I go back to that last nagging paragraph on page 1 and resume from there. When I get that taken care of, I continue reading anew from that point. After a few paragraphs, I’ll go back to a previous paragraph and study it…why did that demand my attention now? I’ll even read ahead past some error to see if it’s explained or accounted for in the next several paragraphs. If not, I go back, make my comments, and resume reading there even though I’ve already read ahead. And so it goes for the whole book, constantly going back and forth by sentences, paragraphs, pages and chapters until eventually I reach the end of the book.

When I hit something that I think is wrong, I’ll look for the answer and try not only to comment on the error, but suggest a fix and provide helpful information to avoid that error in the future. I’ll spend several minutes on two sentences, trying to see what made me pause and see how to fix it. It might be voice, it might be tense, it might be grammar, or it might be English. Maybe it’s inconsistent based on a previous book or drawing or model. Perhaps it’s illogical, written that way to accomplish the author’s goals. Maybe it’s physically impossible. Something made me pause here, and I intend to discover what it was. By the time I have finished the book, I have probably read every page three or four times on this one pass from the first to the last words of the novel. This mode of reading can take me at least a couple of weeks, if not more, to read the same book that took me a mere couple of days in the preliminary edit.

I guess it’s to my advantage that I can “forget” most of what I’ve read last time when I re-read a book. I like re-reading a book and being able to enjoy it all over again. I always find something new, some new insight to the characters or some new appreciation for some action or dialogue that comes from knowing but not necessarily consciously remembering what’s going to happen later. This also comes handy when editing as it allows me to maintain a fresh perspective rather than having in the back of my mind that nagging that I’ve already checked this once. Since I never really forget what I’ve read, mention of something at odds with previous pages, stories or books related to what I’m editing tends to pop into mind when needed.

Well, there you have it. I don’t know if this is interesting or useful to anyone else, but it was fun writing up how I read.

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One Response to “Reading”

  1. Poetryqn Says:

    Ah, puddles of consciousness…
    As I read your post I was reminded of an old Robert Klein skit about speed reading. As I recall, he talks about having taken a speed reading course, and then he imagines Dostoyevsky warming his hands over a candle in some winter Russian garret. He is holding a quill pen and working feverishly on his manuscript.
    “…and,” he writes, and then violently crosses it out.
    He nods, satisfied.
    “…but,” then his brow furrows and he strikes that out as well.
    “…and,”
    He lifts his pen, frowns in contemplation, then finally nods in approval of his original choice.
    At this point the comedian drops his Dostoyevsky impression and chastises his audience:
    “And here you come, rounding around the corner at 75 miles per hour — and, but, what the hell do you care?”

    I laughed then as now.

    Some things I read for plot, some things for craft. Most of the time, a bit of both, fascinated with how an author either succeeds or fails at manipulating my emotions. I, too, re-read books, but almost always with years and years between readings. I find my experience of the book changes, depending on where I am in my own life. I could re-read The Once And Future King or Anna Karenina several times and come away with an entirely different/deeper understanding.

    It’s what I love about great poems, the way I can find different layers in them as time passes. And Shakespeare? Damn, that can change with a simple delivery. I was listening to Emma Thompson talk about Much Ado, delivering lines in several different ways – amazing difference in the subtext.

    Anyway, interesting post! Thanks, Bill!

    Like

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