Monday, April 24, 2006

Binge Reading

Once upon a time, Dr. Crazy, before she was awarded the doctorate and when she was just a little tyke of a Crazy, had her first argument with a librarian. The problem, as Crazy's Mommy tells it, was that Little Crazy wanted to check out more than the allowed number of books for pre-school kids. I believe the number was something like 3 books at a time maximum, and, well, we only went to the library once a week, and that just WAS NOT ENOUGH. NOT ENOUGH BOOKS TO LAST AN ENTIRE WEEK AT ALL.

In high school, my problems with librarians increased, mainly due to the fact that I would check out a large number of books, read them very quickly, and then forget to return them by the due date, thus racking up large fines. This tendency lasted through my undergraduate years, and well, I don't want to talk about how much I spent on library fines as a graduate student. That said, from about the age of 12 on, my reading habits transformed away from the voracious habits of my youth (MORE BOOKS! MORE! ANYTHING THAT LOOKS INTERESTING!) to more steady and considered habits in which I wanted more than anything to read books that were "important" or "worth reading." In other words, while I still had conflicts with librarians, they weren't so much about wanting to get more reading pleasure but rather about scheduling and draconian practices related to fining people. (Example: why would you fine me when I'm the only person who has taken out this book for 10 years? It's just ridiculous. Nobody else wanted that book. And remember: these were the days before one could renew online or over the phone - one had to take all of the books in to get them renewed.) This is when I began to eschew the library in favor of buying books (at least whenever it was possible).

But so anyway, I rediscovered the public library last summer, and one of the things that's been so awesome about that is that I've also rediscovered the pre-school-aged me who picks books out that "look good" - regardless of quality or reviews or whether I've even heard of them - and I read them as quickly as possible the minute that I get home. Yes, I always end up getting some "good for me" books, and no, I never read them. No, instead I binge on the "fun" books, feeling guiltless for enjoying them because I did not buy them, but feeling guilty in the pleasure that I take in these books that are the equivalent of a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken to a bulimic. What I'm consuming - quickly, in huge gulps, paying no attention to nuances or subtlety - is the equivalent of literary fast food. And I LOVE it. And I LOVE not savoring every morsel of the books, but after I finish I feel vaguely sick and tired (partly because, for example, last night, I end up staying up until like 4 AM and I know I'll have to pay for it in the morning).

It's strange to me that this is the way I take the most pleasure in reading, given my chosen career. Yes, there is intellectual pleasure in poring over a book and reading it carefully, but my favorite way to approach a book is in this gluttonous fashion, in which I read without a pen, and only for plot, and I skim the lame parts, and I read an entire novel in one sitting without taking any breaks - at all. And somewhere around the age of 12 I lost this, and it's only in the last year that I've really gotten it back, but I'm not sure if it's good for me. And wow, do I need a nap.


jo(e) said...

The public library my mother took me to every Tuesday when I was a kid would only allow TWO books per child. So by Wedenesday, I would be done with my library books. The only good thing is that I had siblings who each got to take two books too and sometimes they would get stuff that was worth reading.

Jill said...

Oh. I've got that. And had that. Amazing how studying literature actually weirdly enough stopped me reading for just pure enjoyment - I mean, I loved reading the novels we were studying, but it took years after my MA for me to really read for pure enjoyment again without feeling like I should be filling out the holes in the canon or something. I still feel rather guilty about it. And I sigh knowlegdeably at the bad writing and the obvious plotlines yet I read on. I sort of pretend to be less gluttonous than I am when I'm around literary friends, heck, even to my boyfriend ;)

Don't tell.

Tree of Knowledge said...

Me too! Only I tend to put off my reading to the weekend so I feel less guilty. But this means I end up reading four books in two days. But I find that reading the "fun" books inspires me to write more, and that often I come up with unrelated research ideas when I'm in a fiction groove.

That said, I don't read books whose back cover description begins with "when," as in "When Darla begin her new job as a research assistant, the last thing she expected was to be embroiled in an international scandal." Those books are usually cookie-cutter (hence the cookie-cutter description), and I just can't finish them.

Larry said...

How to tell which books you must absolutely not waste your time on:

Any book "destined to become a classic of our time."

Any book with a colon in the title (Bulgaria at the Crossroads: The Illusion and the Dilemma)

Any book titled Notes On...

Any book by someone who has personally known Henry Kissinger, Judy Garland, the Kennedys, the Reagans, the Clintons, or Hugh Hefner

Any book that promises to raise your consciousness or lower your weight

Any book that "reads like a veritable Who's Who of show business."

Any book by an author who has inherited the mantle of either Damon Runyon or Macaulay

Any book by Norman Mailer that purports to be about women

Any book illustrated by tarot cards or signs of the zodiac

Any book by an ex-nun or an ex-prostitute, especially if one has become the other

Any compilation of the wit or wisdom of anyone

Any book by an author over thirty who has his picture taken wearing jeans

Any book on philosophy by a manual laborer, or any book on manual labor by a philosopher

Any book on the funny things kids do, especially Adrian Mole

Any book that is soon to become a major motion picture by Oliver Stone

Any book set in a tumultuous period of American history...or any book that is described as being tumultuous anywhere

Any book that quotes a line from either Robert Frost or James Joyce in the title

Any book of fairy tales for adults

Any searing novel that finally brings homosexuality out of the closet

Any book that promises to fill every moment of your life

Any novel set in a plane, bus, train, ship or any other conveyance where people from all walks of life meet and share one climactic moment

Any novel that spans the life of three generations of a mighty family whose compelling story is told amid the holocaust of war

Any novel that is "this generation's Catcher in the Rye"

Any book that "shows how parents can take back control of the schools"

Any book with a swastika on the cover

Any book whose cover depicts a shirtless man with a bigger bosom than that of the woman he's kissing

Any book whose cover has a hole in it that reveals an image on a second cover

Any book that claims to be the secret diaries of Hitler, Stalin, or anybody else famous and dead.

Any with titles stamped on in shiny pink foil.

Any book that claims to explain women/men. Like "Women are from Venus, men are from Mars."

vivian darkbloom said...

i call it brain candy :)
it is absolutely necessary once in a while...although i'm not sure either if it's good for me. and, unfortunately, i like the cookie-cutter books that tree of knowledge doesn't like - it makes for even less thinking on my part!

phd me said...

Yes, yes, I do this, too! I usually binge on certain authors. A book catches my eye at the library, I realize it's #4 in a series, which means I have to check out the first four books to get #4 (can't start in the middle of a series!), I read them all asap, and make my way through the entire series before I read anything else. I love that "it's 6am, I just stayed up all night to read a book, and it was completely worth it" feeling.

michelle said...

Guilty. I am also a binge reader and like Phd me I tend to binge by author or by subject.

Lately though, Grad school has beaten the urge to read right out of me. I am hoping that summer weather and vacations bring back my need to consume piles and piles of books just for fun.