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May 05, 2005



you are the kind of reader who doesnt read bad books? slap yourself across the mouth for making that statement, please. your pretension is stinking up my cubicle.

Justine Larbalestier

Lovely post, Gwenda.

So you're a book serial monogamist? Or does that just apply to fiction? I tend not to read more than one novel at a time, but I will read a non-fiction book at the same time as a novel.

Can you read while walking? A few days ago on, I think, Broadway, near Union Square Park (in New York City--it's a busy part of town), this woman walked out of a chemist with a hardcover book held in front of her face. She was in her late 30s/early 40s and I followed her for a short way just to see how long she kept reading and to maybe prevent any possible collisions. She kept on reading for three blocks. Didn't bump into anyone, didn't get hit by a car, just kept on reading and walking.

I used to try this when I was a kid, but I would always walk into something, fall over, or otherwise come a cropper. But I admire it when done successfully by others.


Because I never, ever have enough hours in one day, I'm the kind of reader who feels guilty when I read when I should be doing a zillion other things, including writing. So it's like forbidden pleasure and I savor it. But I'm afraid I don't read as much as I should or want to, as a result. I also have a penchant for finishing a book (usually) even when I'm not enjoying it all that much. I got thru Moby Dick this year and 100 Years of Solitude. It was painful, but I was pleased to finish because it was worth it. I don't buy bad books (knowingly) so I've got your same pretension apparently. :-)


One of the best things about taking public trans is the chance it gives me to read in the morning and evening. 40 minutes every day of gauranteed reading time. And that doesn't count lunch hours on rainy, cold days.


What does pretension smell like anyway? (wink)

I wish I could read while walking or while driving. (I wrote this post while driving, actually, on a notepad en route to pick up Mexican food.) Christopher, however, is still known in his hometown as "the kid who reads while he walks."

I will cheat with nonfiction and take far longer to finish most nonfiction books, but if I abandon a novel while reading it for another, it's usually a permanent abandonment.


As a writer, I read far more non-fiction books than fiction to get my brain on history, psychology, sociology, etc. I read fiction that stimulates me.

If someone, anyone, book snob or not, came into my house and checked out my bookshelves, I'd think them rude freaks and they probably wouldn't be invited back. It would be akin to a fashion horse inspected one's closet for brandnames.


Oh, but books are so much more a window into someone than clothes. Don't you think? Aren't you curious the first time you go to someone's house what kind of books they read? It's bookstore/library conditioning. If books are present, I must look at them.

Mileage obviously varies.

David Moles

I'm the kind of reader who lets the brilliant nonfiction he asked for for Christmas pile up on the coffee table while he dawdles over old favorites and blows through mediocre mass-market genre paperbacks bought in desperation from airport bookstores.

Dan Wickett

I'm with you, Gwenda, on the bookshelf policy. If they've got them out in a living room or kitchen, I assume they want them noticed and peeked at.

I always have two or three books with me - one time being stuck in traffic long enough to finish the only book I had with me because I knew I wouldn't be able to finish it at lunch that day taught me a little lesson.

I will read more than one book at a time, but it's rare.

I will absolutely give up sleep if I'm caught up in a book late, late at night.



When I am studying, I read several books at once out of necessity. As soon as a semester is through, I read one book at a time (though, like Justine, I will read a non-fiction book at the same time as fiction, since it takes me longer to get through non-fiction).

I read all the time, sometimes when I should be listening to someone. I read on the metro, sometimes while walking, or at the park with my dog. When I go back to visit my family, I re-read all the books I read as a kid, finishing 4 or 5 in a day sometimes. I have elaborate methods for reading magazines and newspapers, and I read each one differently. No back-to-front or front-to-back reading.

I check out people's bookshelves, and comment on them, too. I don't look in their medicine cabinets, though.


Then my bookshelves would be a sore disappointment to most. Next to my bed are poetry and fiction books I am currently reading or will soon. Next to my desk are books that I use often for reference (Writer's Market, dictionary, A Handbook to Literature, etc.) also in my bedroom are philosophy and religion books I frequently revisit. In the kitchen are recipe books. In a separate room are the majority of my books which are mainly non-fiction and which I occasionally use for reference. As for my fiction stuff, I read it and donate it to a library. If I know I'm not going to reread, I don't think there's a point in keeping around to impress my friends. Sorry.


I'm the kind of reader that reads over your shoulder.

No, actually, I always try to come up with these elaborate plans where I'll read one newly published book for every older book, or one work of non-fiction for every three novels, or a minimum number of short stories per month. But in practice it's a very organic for me (where "organic" is meant to be read as "random"). I re-read a lot, even of my fiction stuff, and sometimes I worry about that and sometimes I don't.

A lot of my reading choices are purely haphazard. The book in my manpurse right now is an anthology of the "minor" Transcendentalists (aka "not Thoreau or Emerson"). It caught my eye at the library because for reasons known only to librarians, it was shelved just down the way from the Photoshop book I was looking for.


I have to agree there is no harm in not owning bad books. And you do have a choice, you don't have to read them unless you want to.

This is a funny thing to say, though, Gwenda. How are you so sure that the books you are reading are any good if you never read bad ones? What do you compare them with? Little bit tricky. And looking for 'The One' - so most of the books you're reading are not quite cutting the mustard. Which I agree is often the case for me too.


Actually, at this point, if I don't love something at least a little, I don't keep reading it.

But the whole "bad books" thing was tongue-in-cheek. (As I obviously failed to imply.) My definition of bad is a post for another day and just my own taste... what I was trying to hint at is something more along the lines of how people can match up readerly tastes on first assessment. I knew exactly what C. meant when he said it.

I've definitely read what I think would be conventionally termed "bad books," I just try not to anymore and have never felt a need to keep them.


I'm the type of reader should I put this? Oh, yes, I'm the type or reader who READS.

Bad books?

What the hell is a "bad" book--and more importantly, how do you know it's "bad" if you haven't read it?

I own in excess of 12K in books (and read every damn one or 'em--good and bad). Add to that total another 5 or 6 books per week purchased and read, plus another dozen or so library books per month.

But, I'll ask again--how do you know a book is bad--especially if you haven't read it?

Simon Owens

I'm the kind of reader who reads way too many short stories and articles and always feels guilty for not reading many novels. This stems partly out of being an English major-- because I read so much for my classes it's hard to get involved with a long-term project like a novel while I'm reading all these other things. Like Gwenda, I like to give a novel the professional courtesy of being the only thing I'm reading, but whenever I try to dive into one, it's always interrupted by other readings I have to do for class.

I also love audio books, and for those of you who haven't tried them, I urge you to give them a try, especially if you have a decent drive to work. If your drive is only 20 minutes one way, that means you can get up to 40 minutes of reading done a day in your car alone through audio books.

Meghan McCarron

Hello, my name is Meghan, and I'm a binge reader. I know, I know, it's a problem. But lord help me, I can't stop myself. If I pick up a novel, I probably won't put it down for another four to eight hours. I read most books in 2 days. I get so drawn into the world that I can't make human conversation or even very tasty food. I get horrible eye-strain headaches. I wake up the next morning unable to see straight. I keep reading.

As a result, I haven't quite figured out how to read short stories in book or magazine form yet. Because when I pick up a book-like thing in my hands, my instinct is to hold it for the rest of the day. But I read one story, maybe two, and I start to feel finished. Full. So then I put it down again. And forget about it for weeks. And then feel bad about that forgetting. This is why I like the online, where they give you one story, and then you feel no guilt about moving on.

Don't tell anyone, because I'm a film major, but if someone said to me, Hey, you want to watch this awesome movie or read this trashy book? I would chose the book.

Like I said. I have a problem.

j. wombat fishbone

I'm a serial monogamist too, Gwenda; one book at a time. I feel like I can't sustain the narrative in my head if I'm switching between books. There's a slight chance I'll do so if both the books are collections (such as today, when I read the first chapter in Calvino's Invisible Cities, before I'd finished Borges' Ficciones), but even that chance is small. (The only reason I did it today was that I was behind a dealer's table all day, and wanted something light and slim instead of a hardcover.)

However, while I'm reading a novel, I'll also read short stories (I'd never get through my subscription copies of The New Yorker if I didn't), as well as graphic novels. For some reason, these don't kick me out of the narrative of the novel like it would if I was reading another novel at the same time.

I try to read at least one book per week. And I've gotten in the habit recently of selling many of my books back to used books stores, whether I hated them or not. My wife (who likes to live and travel light), is big on keeping the size of the home library down, so unless it's a book that's out of print, unavailable at the local or university library, or is one I absolutely know I want to keep, I'll sell it.

So far, the only audiobooks I really listen to are from Neil Gaiman or Stephen King. (Although I've bought more than a few back interviews from Fresh Air on iTunes.)

Like Justine, if I read whilst walking, I'll inevitable trip over something, crash into something, or otherwise make a fool out of myself.


>I'd never get through my subscription copies of The New Yorker if I didn't

People get through those things? For values of 'get through' that include 'read all of?' I am in awe. This is me being in awe.

Okay. I am, for the last year or so, a comfort reader. I don't mean by this that I only read comforting stories and books. I read comforting stories and books, but I don't read only those. I mean that I read most compulsively when stressed. I'm very good in a crisis and under short sharp shocks. I'm less good under constant mid-level stress and so I read to switch that stuff off for a while.

I am, for always, a lazy reader. Individual works may demand my full attention, but full attention is not my default. I very often can't, a week after finishing a book, explain to you how it ended or what went on. What went on is not so much among the things for which I read. I'm the kind of reader that probably dislikes something more than shoddy dialogue, but can't imagine what. I'm the kind of reader that is fickle and will put a book down halfway through if its sins begin to outweigh its strengths, assuming I get past the first few sentences at all. I'm the kind of reader that skims, and cannot be redeemed. This is because I'm the kind of reader that has a large and changed stack of books-to-read and, when I see the end of one in sight, wants to rush madly on to the next.

I'm the kind of reader that always has a book to hand. Maybe two. Or three. I'm the kind of reader that brings more books on a trip than changes of clothes. Just in case.

I'm the kind of reader that absolutely does not see the story like a movie in my head. Not the least little bit. This is only partly a lie. I sometimes have a feel for a space or a quality of light or for the way that a character moves through the world. But that's a feel, and a feel is different than a picture. I am the kind of reader that is not visual. Instead, I'm the kind of reader that cares very much for language and for the author's ability to turn a phrase.

Mostly, I'm the kind of reader that realizes, with every book read, that there are at least three other books that I absolutely must read. And is made to feel desperately inadequate. And also desperately pleased.


I read the NYers start to finish, or at least I have over the past six years--I may have skipped several articles that I just knew would have made me insane, like the profile of "Justice" Scalia--and the way I do that is to hold the movie reviews as a reward. It's not much of a reward if they're written by David Denby...but Anthony Lane? Yum. And Alex Ross' music reviews also prove to be winning carrots. The fiction? Eh. Sometimes the NYer could stretch a little more, don't you think? Anyway, my peers in a nonfiction graduate program teased me for my strictness about this, but I figure if I can't take the longer pieces, I can't reward myself with the nuggets of critical joy at the end. (No, I never was the type of child who ate dessert first!)

I read many books at once, though that's easier to do if two or three of the books are (as they are currently) short story and/or essay collections. I read two or three young adult novels (yes, like Valiant--when I can get it from the library) during the time that I'm reading one Big Important Literary Novel.

One of the reasons I fell for my partner is that she has zillions of books, mostly different from my collection and mostly amazing. We often cross-pollinate but keep our libraries separate.

Finally, as a writer, I read differently now than I used to. I take mental notes about how different authors handle first-person narrators, unreliable narrators, dialogue, close third-person narrators, pacing, etc., etc., etc. Reading YA novels sometimes takes my mind off of the analytical side because they're so fast to read, but I have noticed that since I began outlining my own YA novel I'm starting to do the same thing. It's not less pleasurable, but it is a different experience than reading without thinking about the craft.

I'm sure Gwenda knows this, but (YA authors) Holly Black and Cecil Castelluci answered the "What kind of reader" are you question on their respective blogs (Blackholly and Ribinder on livejournal). This question is guaranteed to interest readers and writers alike. Good one!

ben peek

I have one rule about fiction novels: if by fifty pages I don't care, you're gone. That's it. If I'm told that a book doesn't start to pick up until page two hundred, then that book isn't going to be read. It's that simple. If an author produced two hundred pages that gave you nothing, then you're reading the wrong book, or the author did a shit job. And if we're talking a short story, I give it a page (or one page down scroll). No more, sometimes less. I mean, if I open a piece of fiction and the first line repels me, I'm not going to bother following it, unless I find myself compelled by that repelling nature. It happens. But anyhow, the reason for these limits with fiction is because my time spent reading for pleasure is something I protect. I read all the time, from blogs, to news articles, to academic research, to books that come under the dubious title of Keeping-Aware-of-Your-Peers, and a bunch of other reasons. When I have time to read for me, just me, that piece has got to be something I want like I do my girl, and it's got to be something I want to consume, that I lose yourself in for hours...

That said, I can and am consumed by multiple things, so I have to force myself to keep a bit of loyalty to a book so I don't lose interest. Slim novels work best, and I find that if I read large, sprawling epics, that I'll ditch out for a couple of days into something small, then return to it. I use short stories a lot like that. Of course, I'm particularly bad at it when I get anywhere near non fiction. I jump like you wouldn't believe in non fiction, from one book to another, to back again, to chapters near the end and chapters near the middle, without having read the ones at the start. (Depending, obviously, on the kind of non fiction book. But I love the ones you don't need to read sequentially.)

Lastly, I read everywhere I can, except on transport. Trains, buses, cars, planes, and even unicycles--about ten minutes into reading on one of these (less with others) I'll begin to get nauseous. It's sufferable only on trains, which I occasionally read on if I've no other choice (usually non fiction--for some reason it's not as bad). I have no idea if I can read on boats, mind you, since it's been years since I've been on one, and I've never been on any kind of boat with a book. But my favourite place to read is in the corner, lying on the burnt orange couch I've got, and just reading until I've got no more time till read. Just me and the book.

Joshua Kronengold

I do read bad books, though I read a -lot- more good books, and will happily put books down if they aren't cutting it and haven't kept my interest. I don't have any need to -keep- bad books, and try to get rid of anything I have 0 chance of re-reading (but re-read very rarely).

"How do you know it's bad if you haven't read it?" You know. You know even more if you've read the first 15 pages, or flipped to page 117 and know the book isn't going to cut it; that it's nothing more than a fomula wrapped in cardboard.
I think a lot of how you avoid reading bad books (which I do try to do; I just occasionally pick up books from authors who often write not-so-good novels) is to prioritize the really good stuff.

I read while I walk -- all the time, really. I've occasionally had a bit of disconance when I ran into a book I -couldn't- safeuly read while walking -- one that had a few pages in mirror reading, which just required too much concentration to be able to keep my eyes up, frex -- but in general, it isn't a problem; I use peripheral vision on sidewalks, and turn my verbal brain off while crossing a street and pick up on the other side without missing a perceptual beat. (OTOH, I've been doing this since I was 12 -- for over 20 years).

How'd you get a copy of Valiant? I'm Jealous.

Jonathan Strahan

I'm not sure I’m the sort of reader you should listen to. Before things went awry in early 1997, I was a good, loyal reader. I would only read books that I wanted to, that attracted me for some reason. I felt no compulsion to read the right book or make the virtuous choice. Comfort reading was fine with me. I would only read one book at a time, and I finished EVERY book I started, without ever checking the end first (I still don’t). I was the kind of reader that became totally immersed in a book, often walking down streets, bumping into signs while reading. I didn’t particularly think about what I read, I just consumed, voraciously. It was simple literary gluttony, and it was all about unconditional love.

In 1997 I became a book reviewer. Suddenly I had to think about what to say about what I read. I also, gradually, began to stop having to buy so many of the books I read. This changed things. I became opinionated, judgemental, non-committal and unfaithful. I realised I didn’t HAVE to finish a book. I often don’t. I also formulated my only rule of reading: if it’s over 400 pages long and says book one on the cover, don’t read it. I don’t stick to it religiously, but it’s a guide.

What else? I am a planner. I am always intending to read this or that fascinating piece of non-fiction; to read so many stories or books in a certain period of time; or even to read everything by someone or on a subject. I never do. I am a peripatetic reader. I have become a pretentious wannabe reader. I want to have read this or that. I feel like I should. I mostly don’t. I always check out what other people are reading or have in their homes. I am judgemental and feel free to disapprove, but not to say so.

I have developed terrible prejudices about books. I often don’t like a book simply because of the way it looks, who it's written by, the paper stock, how I feel on the day, or how I imagine it may be given no particular evidence whatsoever. I struggle to overcome this, but often fail. There are books and writers that I love, and those I admire and want to love (but don't really). I feel guilty about this, but cannot overcome it. For example, I love Terry Pratchett. He is so enjoyable to read, it's just a delight (his Tiffany Aching books are magical). I like and admire Gene Wolfe. It's a bit like eating bran or doing homework - I feel virtuous when I read him. I'm not sure it's fun, but reading something like The Wizard Knight I feel like I'm being a good, responsible reader, reading 'good' books. Doing something that I should. I also get impatient when I read. If, for just about any reason, I find myself still reading a book after about a week, I'm likely to lose interest and move on. Sometimes I just lose interest, and stop. I no longer feel bad about this.

On the plus side, if I love a book or writer, I am both passionate and loyal. I fall deeply in love with the books that I do fall for. I want to tell EVERYone about them, hector people about the wonder of a book, to read everything the author has done, help make them incredibly successful. This doesn’t always work, but I want it to. For example, I just read Neil’s Anansi Boys. I love it. You will. I know you will. I also loved Geoff Ryman’s Air last year. It’s the best. Every time I walk past my copy I feel good. I want to go on and on about it, make sure other readers read it. I am an evangelist.

In 2003 something else happened to change my reading and the kind of reader that I am: I began to edit year’s best anthologies. Suddenly I had to read, or attempt to read, every piece of new short fiction I could lay my hands on. It’s a responsibility I take VERY seriously. I look for books and stories; get emailed stories, magazines, collections and anthologies. I’m still working out how it’s changed me as a reader, but it has meant I am even less committed to finish what I read, and more committed to overcoming my irrational prejudices, to be an optimist. I will give any story a page or maybe page and a half to impress me, and that’s it. If it fails in that time, I’ve moved on. But, I do start everything and, no matter how much I may have disliked something by an author before, I always try to start with the view that this story is the one that’s going to blow me away, that this one is the start of a fabulous love affair. When it works, when I read something like Chris Rowe’s “The Voluntary State” or Jeff VanderMeer’s “Three Days in a Border Town”, I’m sold, a convert. In fact, as a reader of short fiction, I’m a little like a badly dehydrated man swimming in the ocean. Everywhere you look is water, but nothing to drink. When there is something to drink, I’m voracious, passionate – evangelical, I guess. Oh, I also try to be fair, to not be tired or annoyed or whatever when I read for anthologies. I always want the writer to get the advantage (if that’s what it is) of the best possible reader I can be.

What else? I read a lot of magazines, but am a ridiculously inconsistent magazine reader. I read fiction and non-fiction magazines, but the only non-fiction magazines I read are music magazines. I don't read any magazine in published order, no matter what it is. I rarely read all of any magazine, and I mostly read genre fiction magazines as printouts. Hmm. I also think the digest magazines are annoying to read. Don’t like ’em at all, but I’d read them if that was the only way to get the fiction.

I don’t know what else to say. What kind of reader am I? Lucky, but fickle. Irritable, but passionate. In love with the moment when the story hits, passionate about sharing it. A little guilty I’m not reading what I should, but in love with what I am reading.


Re "bad books," I've always loved Sebastian Yorke's recollection of the reading habits of his father, high-falutin' literary modernist Henry Green:

"Nor can I recall him reading anything by his professed idols: Gogol, Turgenev, Doughty, Celine or Faulkner. He only liked novels -- he would not read poetry or biography. He loved thrillers and magazines, particularly Time magazine. When as a teenager I was interested in motor racing, he used to read aloud a weekly article called "Pit Stop," written by a mad car buff and full of quasi-technical jargon, which he had found in one of my motoring magazines. He would shake his head over this and howl with laughter."

Rayne of Terror

I guess I'd have to say I'm a slut reader. I'll read just about anything at anytime. Since I'm home nursing my son a million hours a day and taking a break from law school I read all the time and NOT law related. Who knows what I'm reading right now. Something called Pickle Beach I think. WHen I had Henry my mom brought a huge canvas bag of books so I'm working my way through that. WHen we first figured out reading and nursing I had a great position for books. Not so great for the baby. So I revised my nursing position according to "The Baby Book" but that was no good for reading. Now we've found something in between though I have to hold the book and turn pages one handed. I read mom blogs, law blogs, book blogs while nursing using my toes to scroll through down.

Since we moved none of our books are on display. At the old house we had large built in bookshelves on either side of the fireplace. Now our friends who come over want to know where the books are. But the friends who helped us move know. Joel said we had more boxes of lead than anyone he knows.

To pick a book these days I pull 2 or 3 out of the canvas bag and read the first couple pages of each one. Whichever one captures my fancy at the time comes with me and the others go back in the bag. Sometimes I read my books out loud to the baby because that slows down the reading process. So little Henry has been exposed to Wallace Stegner, Alice Hoffman, and bits and pieces of Wicked.

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