There’s a meme floating around the Internet now — a program that ostensibly measures how fast one reads. I took it twice — the first time, it told me that I read 84% faster than the average American, but I guessed at two out of the three reading comprehension questions (and happened to get them right.) The second time I read it, I slowed down considerably, parsing the section better, and finding the reading comp answers. My second score placed me at 4% faster than the average American — which is probably about right for me.
I’ve always argued that I am an *avid* but relatively slow reader. And, as I age, I find that I retain a lot less of what I read — I tend to remember the feeling and the sense of a piece, but not the specifics of plot. (That is very frustrating for me, actually, because I primarily read for plot — I become intensely frustrated when people spoil plots for me.)
Why am I boring you with all of this?
Because I believe that my reading rate influences my Book Discard Rate, and Book Discard Rate is an important thing for writers to consider, as we work to extend our authorly horizons.
When I was younger (and a faster reader, presumably, with greater retention), I finished every book I started. That was a point of pride for me — *other* people were wimps and walked away from difficult/boring/poorly-written books, but I persevered. (Of course, when the books were along the lines of “Frog and Toad are Friends”, perseverance wasn’t saying so much…)
When I was an academic reader, in university classes, I couldn’t finish every required book. I was an English major taking two departmentals and a computer programming classes each — a typical week’s workload was one or two novels, two plays, and writing the email component of an operating system (along with work for whatever fourth and fifth class I was taking, in addition to stage managing and other extra-curricular activities.) I learned how to skim, how to read for meaning, how to absorb the necessary and move on.
Now, I read the beginnings of books closely. I attempt to submerge myself in them. I reach for that feeling of total involvement, that sense that I must keep reading, that I have to stay awake, or forget about cooking dinner, or abandon writing my own chapters, or whatever. Recently, I’ve received that “gripped” feeling from a broad array of books — Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Wind-up Girl (post-apocalyptic SF), Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry (contemporary fantasy with a side of ghost story), Victoria Dahl’s Real Men Will (spicy contemporary romance.)
But if a book doesn’t get me by around 50 pages, I set it aside.
Occasionally, I come back to those set-aside books (especially when people known to me have raved about them, or when I know my own reading is off for one reason or another.) Occasionally, I give a book 100 pages, instead of 50. Every once in a very rare while, I ditch a book after 25 pages.
It still feels wrong to me, abandoning books. But there are so many out there that I want to read. And so few minutes in each day that can be spent reading.
So? What about you? Do you have a rule of thumb for when you set aside a book that just isn’t working for you?