I must confess that I’m a slow reader, not special-ed slow mind you, and my comprehension is fine (I’m particularly baffled how, way back when, I scored higher on the Math side of the SAT), but I generally plod along at a rate of 2 minutes for your standard, dense page full (think “Moby Dick”) and, of course, more like a page a minute for more breezy reads. Sadly, though, for someone who’s turned himself over to a love of language, and is playing catch-up to all those young, hip English majors who still think they can make a living in the pursuit, my reading rate seems a distinct disadvantage.
One doesn’t need to go far in classes, books or magazines about writing to find the recommendation to read all you can, particularly within the genres that you most enjoy to write within yourself (I do know of one well published professor who insists that when writing a story or novel he only reads material as much unlike what he is writing as possible). This I do: 90 to 120 minutes daily is put aside to read, and, of course, I keep a notepad handy to write down those words or phrases I can’t help but steal. But even this dedicated time is not enough; I’m always hopelessly behind on reading the stack of books that grows in my “on-deck” area with, seemingly, every New York Times Book Review.
I’ve accepted the fact of my languid reading pace (I wonder of there’s a correlation between reading and typing pace) and found a place to, at least marginally, increase my access to the written word: my car. Now I won’t pretend that the spoken word, in this case via audiobooks, is on par with putting eyes to ink, but it’s not terrible either, and, for me, has allowed the “reading” (okay, listening) of genres, most notably—non-fiction, but also the occasional thriller (I’m currently listening to John le Carre’s “The Honourable Schoolboy,” his follow-up to “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”), that would otherwise enjoy far lower reading list seniority. And while I only putter around town in my car for 20 to 30 minutes daily, this is still valuable time that over the span of weeks, months, years adds up to a significant increase in language absorption (and in summer, when my driving increases among the peaks and valleys out west, the audio books selected are even longer and more rapidly devoured). As with my daily reading, I keep a notepad and pen nearby in my car—only used at Stop signs and traffic lights, of course.
There is, as you can imagine, an inevitable sacrifice from spending all this time hearing books: music. And I do miss it so…