Thursday, February 4, 2010

Answer: The Number is Not Important

I am as usual a tad late on these discussions, but since I started it for a change of pace, I will present my take on the posed question, which is ‘How many is too many?’ posed by Gav. The origin story for his question precedes my meddling, but it has to do more or less with our bet to nail six novels each month as a preemptive strike against the Leaning Pile o’ Shame, which led to Mark Charan Newton’s reply:

I admit some are gifted with the ability to read quickly and in enough detail – and I’m jealous all of you who can do that!

But there are many who skim-read in the need to meet review deadlines etc, and that is surely doing reviewers, fans, and writer no favours at all? You can take in information on the surface, but miss a million subtleties beneath it.

I completely agree with him on this instance [because he is British and he is after all Mark Charan Newton], but what I meant by reading more books in a month via the well crafted goal Gav and I along with Michael and now Mark was not meant in the sense to manage a bigger number of pages in an hour, but manage more hours in the day, more days in the month and more books in total for a month. Individuals that have a passion for anything that counts as art usually has time management issues [in various degrees and I do not rule out the possibility that there exists the perfect time efficient person]. So mark, you misunderstand what I mean, although you have a good basis to assume that we try to fit more pages in the hour by skim-reading.

We, the obsessed, usually fall short from our goals, mainly because we cannot utilize our time the best way. My bet [or goal] acts like an extra motivation to help with the doom of unread books and we all know that for some in our midst the list has hit three digits. And because the market has publishers, who only supply quality fiction in the genres we love in industrial quantities, we can barely keep up. So this leads me to agreeing with Mark Charan Newton’s next statement:

There seems to be a culture these days to read as many books as possible, which I don’t think does the reader or the writer any justice…

However, I am not sure whether the context he is implying that reviewers [in this case] read at desperate paces to provide content for their blogs is true. Reviews don’t catch the attention as strongly as we would like and the sheer number of reviews reviewers provide as content will not bring the readers. The smart boys and girls have learned that early on [apparently I am not smart a boy] and do quite well for themselves with varied content that has to do a lot about the desired books we all crave for. Prime examples here are Patrick from Stomping on Yeti, who I think charmed Aiden Moher into complete adoration and The Speculative Scotsman, who is also doing hellishly okay for the first month he has gone online. There are other rising stars on the horizon such as Floor to Ceiling Books and Book Chick City, who way outperform me for my two year run and it is because the additional content rather than the reviews.

Sadly, Mark Newton, I’ve to say that we reviewers read as fast as possible, because the focus has shifted to us [after all Gollancz invited several of our British colleagues to their party] and our addiction has evolved, because for once, we’re getting our much needed crack at the price of a testimonial.

But I still have to answer Gav’s questions:

So I guess I’m wondering how many books do you think is too many? What makes you raise and eyebrow? Is it a disservice to the writer if you don’t spend the time on it?

The answer is simple. The number does not matter. What matters is that the reviewer reaches his or hers ultimate number of books per month without suffering burnout in the process and in the given individual circumstances, time available and normal reading speed.

Am I right or am I right?
[Undoubtedly, I can be wrong as well.]


Unknown said...

I think you are right - it is completely individual and of course it doesn't matter how many books one reads. My reading goes up and down, month in month out. It also depends on the book I'm reading and how conformable I am with the writing style which determines how many pages I read an hour.

To be honest, my blog is about books, authors and reviews, not just reviews. I like a lot of different content in a blog (as long as it's book related) and there's nothing wrong with that. It keeps things fresh and interesting.

Also, I'm not sure why it bothers some people so much regarding how many books other people are reading. Does it really matter?

Bryce L. said...

I completely agree with you. It's not really a number issue. If you have the time/ability to read 100 books in a month, more power to you. I don't think I'll ever be able to read that way.

I even have the ability to get rid of the inner monologue (subvocalization),but not when it comes to leisure reading. I savor every word because this is my time. No matter how many pages I can read in a given sitting, that's exactly what I want to be doing.

As a reviewer, it's only a disservice to the community to read just to review, I think. If you don't love it, drop it and tell everyone you dropped it. If you enjoy it, savor it and have fun. This is a free service most people provide, why make it work?

Be true to thyself Hamlet.


Harry Markov said...

My motto is simple: 'Give my best, shoot for the stars and see where it leads me.' The number for me is not that important, but I do try to not waste time and push the envelope as far as possible to a point I am comfortable with and go with that. It is individual for everybody as you said and differs from book and format.

Harry Markov said...

Bryce, lovely to see you here and not making enemies with me. And yeah, I agree with you. It is all about time and ability.

I have a problem with the Internet, which wastes my time, so I need to keep reminding myself and do these daily to-do lists and do my best as far as reading goes.

Bryce L. said...

First, I think the enemies thing is still up for debate. :)

But yeah, I support making goals. I can waste way too much time on the internet (I'm actually in class right now haha) and I have to do the same thing. It's weird that I have to because I'd much rather be reading anyway.

I heard somewhere that if you reach 80% of your goals then you're doing a good job, not only of reaching the goals, but of setting goals that make you stretch.

Unknown said...

Also, just another point. I don't feel pressured to review books, I do it because I love reading and I will read what I want. I don't rush through books just to get the review up on my blog. My blog is a hobby and for fun, it's just a perk that I get sent books, but I would have a blog regardless.

I also agree with everything Bryce said - well put!

Cara said...

It's not just the number of books read each month that matters, but the actual content. Some books take a lot longer to read than others, even if they have a similar number of pages.

For example, Mark Charon Newton's Nights of Villjamur is fairly complex, with several POV and a whole new world to grasp, so took me several days to finish, whereas I already knew the back story and many of the characters in Stephen Baxter's Ark therefore it was finished in a lot less time. So the content can determine reading time and thus impact on total books read per month.

It's never good to play the numbers game as that can lead to rushing a book and missing some of the underlying themes, which of course can come through in a review. I have read some reviews where I thought 'was I reading the same book?'

My view is that I would prefer to wait a day or two to read a full and thorough review than one where the reading is rushed to meet a deadline.

Harry Markov said...

@ Bryce; Hah, did I mention I like you? Cause you rock, man. And you nailed it. I haven't actively formulated it in a sentence, but what you say about the 80% and the goals is a step into the evolution of goal making and achieving.

@ Book Chick City: Same as me, but I have this thing about symmetry, so when I start a certain pattern I have to repeat for every week or I am pissed at myself. But there is no pressure other than me knowing that I could have done it a tiny degree better.

Harry Markov said...

@ Ammonite: Yes, I agree that what I do may potentially be harmful for a certain type of books. This is what it means to play with fire, but I can just as easily back off and give a specific more demanding novel the attention it deserves.

Patrick said...

Thanks for the kind words (I think).

I've wrestled with this topic myself and I'm definitely jealous of people who are able to read more books through speed reading and/or simply having more time to devote to reading. I can't quite manage a book a week (my typical goal) and for every book I do read there are two or so that I can't.

Despite wanting to read more and cover more books, I'm not going to sacrifice my enjoyment level for the sake of the blog. I don't get paid for this. I read because I like it. I talk about books because I enjoy it. If blogging makes me compromise either one of those ideals, than I'm doing it wrong.

Skimming is something that would compromise my enjoyment of the book and something I feel is unfair to the author. If you are going to skim the work, the author might as well just provide you a plot summary and maybe a chapter or two.

And on a separate point, you are right that reviews actually don't attract that much attention. But then again, neither do interviews. The only things that attract real attention are making fun of GRRM and meltdowns.

ediFanoB said...

Harry, as you mentioned me I want to add my two cents.

I agree it doesn't matter how many books you read BUT read and enjoy.

Like a lot of other people I'm a slow reader and in addition to it my time for reading is limited. That leads directly to the question how can I get the most of my reading?
I found my solution. At the end of a month I choose six to eight books which I definitely want read. Four of these books I will review. And then I read whenever I find an opportunity.
Surprisingly I mostly find the books which fit to my mood.I'm neither sad nor frustrated when I fail to read the selected books.
In January I read "only" three books. BUT one of them belongs now to my top reads in 2010 (DROOD by Dan Simmons). That may show you that it doesn't matter how many books you read. The important thing is to enjoy what you read.

"People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading."
Logan Pearsall Smith,
Afterthoughts (1931) "Myself"
(1865 - 1946)

Harry Markov said...

@ Patrick: There are meant to a compliment, so yeah, you thanking me is correct.

I am like you. I both read slow and shiny things distract me, which is why I am fricking envious, when all reads so much. I personally manage a book a week on my uncoordinated week days. However, I try to pair this drive to read more with fulfilment and pleasure, rather than to just can boast with sheer numbers, which I did not get the chance to explore.

Dude, what will happen when GRRM jokes are mixed with meltdowns? I bet that the sitemeters will collapse under the pressure.

But seriously, I love doing interviews and with a high profile author like for instance Clive Barker, it can bring attention, although you would need a deal with Stephen Deas to have the opportunity.

Harry Markov said...

@ Michael: I support that decision. I do the very same with my books and it helps me immensely with my goals, because I give my best to help and find the time to meet that deadline.

Carl V. Anderson said...

The number truly doesn't matter to me, it is the enjoyment of reading that counts. I think skim reading is really a worthless activity when it comes to reading fiction, what's the point? I know some people read an enormous amount of books and if they are truly reading them then that is great. We all have different amounts of free time, different things we like to do with our free time, etc. Reading is a fantastic thing to do with that free time, so for those who can get a bunch of reading done I am truly happy for them. For me personally, I don't set any goal for the number of books read. I read when I want to and I read for pleasure and that is what makes talking about those books in the book blogging community fun.

Harry Markov said...

Also, this is how it is supposed to be, but sometimes we take sth that we like and we make it into sth that we don't. Just my thought, not that I turn reading into work. But I love to finish books and have someone to talk to about them, so there more books I have read, the more I will be able to talk with other readers. That is my logic and it is all hedonistic in nature and geeky as well.

Bryce L. said...

@Harry: That's exactly me. Ever since I started surfing the forums and blogosphere, my "to-read" pile gets ever bigger, but at the same time I feel the need to finish more and more to be involved in the convo. It's a devlish cycle.

@Book Chick City: Thanks, you're a pal. :)

Magemanda said...

Thanks for the mention - appreciate it! I entirely agree that the number doesn't matter at all. I very much concur with BookChickCity actually - my blog is a hobby that I would be doing anyway. I read. Always. I have done all my life. It's just that in the last few months or so I've been deciding to publicise the fact. If my blog closed tomorrow I would still be reading and considering what I thought about the books I had just read.

So, however many books I get through in a month - well, that is okay, whatever the number is. Some months will be high (I guarantee whenever I go on vacation there will be a sharp uplift because I clear a *lot* of books while on holiday); some months will be very low (November, I'm looking at you, when I once again tackle Nano). I'm happy with either.

Harry Markov said...

@ Seak: Very true, my friend [or evil arch nemesis].

@ Amanda: Just know that this is a favor I will ask you to return to a forthcoming time and occasion. *g*

As far as your two cents on this goes, I agree completely. That Book Chick City always nails it. :) What I want to add again is that it is also easy to get obsessed with this and start outputting way more than it is sane. I get these spurts from time to time.

Mark Newton said...

Hmm. I still don't think you've any obligation to read faster or more books than you feel comfortable with. You guys don't *owe* publishers anything. You do what you do because you enjoy it - in your own free time.

And if you want to review more books, well, why not do what magazines did and farm out to other reviewers and you become a reviews editor?

There are ways to cope with the pressure, but the pressure is as fictitious as the stuff you're reading.

The culture of reading as much as you can to catch up is, ultimately, damaging. If you're a food reviewer, you don't cram as much down your chops to review more meals, do you? Take your time and savour the food. You might find you taste more ingredients.

Adele said...

See when you put it like that Mark. I feel better.

Harry Markov said...

That was profound and yes, on this note I can full heartedly agree that we stand on the same ground. What I did talk about was optimizing in the borders of enjoyment. Anything beyond is unhealthy. To each his own as the wise man said.

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