Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Weekly Poll 11/11/09: Reading style


Which best describes how you typically read a novel?

  1. I skim the pages, usually only focusing on dialogue.
  2. I read it all quickly.
  3. I read it all and slow down on parts I want to digest.
  4. I read, re-read, take notes, underline, and re-read again.

After a week of voting, the results are in: the majority of my blog readers fall into category #3: "I read it all and slow down on parts I want to digest."

I originally became interested in the topic when I was speaking with a friend who went through books at what I can only describe as lightning fast speed; I was amazed at how much she could read in a single weekend while still managing to get other tasks done.  When I asked her how she did it, she said, "I'm a fast reader."  I nodded, thinking, "Gee, and I thought I was above average on reading speed."  We started talking about a book we had both read, moving on with the conversation, when she finished her answer to my question: "Oh, and I usually only read the dialogue."

My exact reaction was, "Wha?"  Yes, I was so shocked I couldn't even get the t out on the what.  And yet, the more readers I speak with, the more I hear about people who utilize this technique of skimming (or completely skipping) the descriptions, the background information, the "fluff" in some people's minds to get to the heart of the story: the dialogue.  My first point of interest is that I would assume that would limit the types of books those readers can enjoy.  I know some of my favorite books have entire chapters with no dialogue, which makes me question whether interaction-driven readers would tend to stay away from those kinds of books or if they bend their own rules if there is no dialogue for a number of pages.  This also points to something authors need to think about: there is a possibility that readers are picking up their books and judging the content based solely on the quality of the dialogue.  I hear the whir of computers firing up as authors frantically revise any awkward dialogue.

Beyond dialogue-divers, there is another subset of readers that skim everything.  I call it "skimming" because reading quickly is, in essence, skimming.  My husband is a skimmer to such a degree that I will hand him something to read, and he'll look up at me not even a minute later claiming he's read the entire five-page document I handed him.  Once I start questioning him, though, the reliability of the skimming method is severely called into question.  I've found, as a reader, that I've leaned the art of selective skimming for reading academic materials.  When it comes to novels, though, I fall--along with the majority of my voters--in the third category.

I can't skim books because I want to make sure I get every detail.  If I forget a name or think I remember something similar happening before, I can't just shrug my shoulders and go on--I have to go back and find out what that name was or what that similar thing was.  If I come to a sentence that is beautifully written, I slow down and read it a few times and close my eyes to let it sink in.  If a paragraph is complicated, I can't rush through it--I have to slow down and work my way through it.

As you can imagine, sometimes I also fall into the fourth category because sometimes I go so slowly through a book that I end up re-reading parts so much that I begin thinking more deeply and trying to find other connections--even ones outside the book--which in turn makes me want to take notes and underline and re-read sections.  A book has to really speak to me for me to fall into this category, and the odd thing is that I can never predict when I'll become this type of reader.

Because we all have our own reading styles, I wonder if we think they are "better" than someone else's.  I tend to think that the dialogue-only camp is missing the 'joie de lire' while the reading-quickly camp is also likely to miss the deeper meaning or subtle connections.  On the other hand, though, readers in those camps just might think readers like me waste time fretting over the smaller details and end up missing the broader picture.  It makes me want to do a study on reading styles to find out what determines reading style; the first possibilities that come to my mind are the end goals for the reading session (e.g., reading for a test, for fun, or for a specific amount of time), the ways we originally learned how to read, and length of attention spans.

Sometimes I wish I could skim--when I'm in a hurry and trying to finish the last few pages before I can do something else, I wish I could turn off that internal voice of mine and go full speed through the material.  But I just can't.  And even if I do, I end up going back later to re-read it to see if I skipped over anything important.  Maybe I'm just too anal retentive...

As a last note, the new poll question for the week is in the left-hand sidebar.  This week I want to know what attracts you most about the cover of a new book--what makes you want to read a book you had never heard of before?  Is it the blurb on the back cover?  The picture or design on the front?  The font used for the title/author's name?  Make sure you cast your vote by Wednesday, November 18, when I will post about the results.

Happy reading--whatever your reading style may be!

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