When Reading Wide isn’t Reading Far

Remember the days, love, when I committed to one novel at a time? They were not long ago.

I still purchased new books, but shelved them, windowsilled them, till I’d stepped from The Great War in The Wars, from Chester’s Mill, or post-apocalypse Florida – post-apocalypse anywhere, really – or a mountain where no one hears a tiger’s low groans anymore, and I could arrive somewhere new: the midst of a Waterless Flood, another war, a tour of southern homes and gardens. And so I’d beat on.

Then I became a real reader, which I’m sorry to say is not, in my case, a serial one. A real writer, who reads for no particular reason but all the reasons. Reading its own variant of writing, the scrutiny and absorption of technique, structure, flare, in parallel to and sometimes even elbowing out full narrative absorption. And also to immerse in the other side (reading) of the craft, and for stimulation, as well as raw entertainment (most post-apocalypses).

Now I read between a dozen and half dozen books at once (yikes). This makes the going slow, slower yet with every additional novel beyond two-hundred pages. Last fall, ma fleur, I began Moby Dick, Anna Karenina, and Ulysses all while juggling several other “short” books. I’ve since thrown those particular three to the wayside, for another occasion, – for as soon as I finish The Crimson Petal and the White (834 pages), The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (607), Midnight’s Children (the audiobook thankfully), Catch-22 (likewise) and a mostly new batch of several “short”-ies. Give me some credit though: I’ve consumed The Grapes of WrathThe StandThe Narrow Road to the Deep NorthThe Bonfire of the Vanities and many more in the last six months. This is considerable considering I read slower than I go, and I know not how to quicken the flow. I also have chronic fatigue, so I tend to fall back Nestea®-like into a cloud of truly vacuous daydream, and have to retread sentences, whole paragraphs.

No, I’m not making excuses! Truth be told, I honestly don’t read as much as I should, or better said don’t commit myself quite enough in any instance of reading to the instance, and instead drop in and out of different universes for ten minute or half-chapter vacations. If I juggled just half of my current-reads per week, and spent double the time on each one within those seven days, I would surely finish with due haste the Sound and the Fury‘s and City and the City‘s and Sun Also Rises…’s, as I did The Great Gatsby. Then again, Gatsby is Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald, old sport.

A few years ago after I’d become impatient/insatiable, I used to contend there was no real danger – I’d discovered – of losing plots or characters to reading wide, and I believed stories were unique enough to differentiate without much or any weighted effort on the reader’s part. Which is and isn’t true; either way, the fault lies with the reader if the brunt of their intake is too large. I can’t tell you any of the characters’ names in The Sun Also Rises; I’ve met too many in too quick succession, through reading wide, and it’s caused an intersession, several in fact. I also noticed Faulkner was really, really taking the ‘stream of consciousness’ idea to heart, but I can’t remember who was paddling, drowning, or taking an exhausted, sit-down pee break in an eddy (does the book have eddies?).

I might as well confess the fact I never, never re-read, which real writers stress is essential, so I do worry I miss a lot while I try to keep up and catch up on a lot else. As far as reading-as-writing goes, I force the optimistic notion on myself that I still absorb the most important things, the tangibles and intangibles alike, which will beget my growth. And I’ll try to focus on and enjoy the journey so long as I know the destination isn’t receding before me, but remains where it is, though it grows as tired as I do anxious.

Take a smoke break, world! I’m running behind, here, and no taxis in these pages can fit me.


  1. It can be instructive, and I think it’s a useful annual-or-so practice to remind yourself of your genre proclivities, and test whether they’ve changed or evolved, but if you’re a seasoned reader, you also know by now what feeds you, so there shouldn’t be any guilt had over steering your reading accordingly. That’s my perception of it anyway. Thanks for stopping by Ava!