July Wrap up – and some thoughts about how much and what you read and if it really matters

For July I read books about houses and homes and was surprised how many of these I could find, although I used quite a loose definition. I was amused too that two of the books were biographies where each used the houses that their subjects lived in to tell their life stories – I wonder how many more books are out there that do the same thing ?

For August I want to read books either related to or with a title that mentions items in our landscape. Those that I have chosen so far are mainly about a rural or wild landscape but I shall have a look for some about urban locations as well.

As before, I shall continue to add books to the themes of previous months as I come upon them. As my retirement from paid work is now imminent I am really hoping that I will read more and blog more for the rest of the year – there are so many books and so little time !

I was talking about the number of books I read each month (28 to 30) with someone the other day who suggested that maybe I should read slower and then I would take more in. There was an underlying assumption there – that I don’t take in a lot of what I am reading. It is an assumption that others have made but my observations and talking to others about books leads me to believe that I understand and retain as much as anyone else does about what I am reading. I certainly enjoy what I am reading.

A large proportion of my reading diet is genre novels, mainly crime, romance and fantasy. I suspect that it’s the main reading material for most people and the reason for that is that it’s enjoyable and there’s plenty available. It is also not “bad” writing – it’s not literary but the majority of this sort of novel is easy to read and engaging and when you do find one which is badly written you can see the difference immediately. If you think it’s easy to write as well as read you should maybe try writing some yourself – it is nowhere near as easy as it seems. Genre novels are usually between about 330 pages and 400 pages long but there are some outliers – Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novels are all about 1,000 pages long or even more and really ought to count as three books !

When I read more “literary” novels they do take longer although the books themselves may have the same number of pages as genre fiction. To me a “literary” novel is one where the story and characterisation are as important as they are in a genre novel but where the writing itself and the theme of the book are part of the reading experience. Sometimes these books are written in a non-standard way, the language may be particularly beautiful, or the plot very complex. Often these books could also be defined as genre fiction but more often they are classics or contemporary fiction and don’t easily fit into standard genre descriptions. When I read a popular genre novel I know what to expect but a book I define as literary fiction will have something different about it. I do read plenty of these books but they aren’t the only books I read and I often prefer a crime novel or romance which is written to a format – although genre authors love to do things differently too on occasion.

In addition to fiction I also read factual books, mainly history and biography. These always take longer to read than a novel because you have to absorb and remember more names, places and facts. An event that takes up a paragraph or two in a factual book might be the subject of a whole novel. Factual books are usually, on average, longer than fiction but vary widely and, in my experience, have smaller print than novels.

So, what type of books I read probably determines how many books I read in a month. A month with lots of genre fiction will mean more books completed compared with a month with lots of history books, even if I only have the same amount of time to read. What I read in any given month depends on my mood and what is happening in my life. How long it takes to read it depends on the type of book it is and also the number of pages – I count books and not pages although I know that lots of people keep spreadsheets that show both.

Does any of this matter ? I don’t think it does. I enjoy a varied reading diet but others read only in one genre or one type of book or even graphic novels. It doesn’t make me a better person than them and my penchant for cosy crime novels isn’t a moral failing. Read what you want. Read as many books as you want. Take as long as you want to read it. But keep reading !!