Time to read

book collection
Vintage copies of Girl’s Own Annual in Cardiff Castle’s library

When do you read? And what do you read whenever it is when you’re reading?

I ask this because I find that, almost unconsciously, I’ve slipped into an odd habit in recent months. Before your imaginations leap to unwarrantable conclusions, I hasten to qualify this statement: I’m finding — increasingly — that not only am I reading two or three titles simultaneously, I’m additionally selecting what time of day to read them.

Here’s the thing: I tend to read in bed. Because I can. Because I have the leisure time to read then. Because I enjoy not being distracted by visitors, television, electronic gizmos or the bad news in the papers or on the radio. (For the sake of prurience I refrain from mentioning the other obvious distractions.) And I read before going to sleep and again when waking up.

The pattern I seem to have developed and that appears to suit me is this: I read fiction at night, non-fiction in the morning. Recently nighttime reads include novels by Patricia Highsmith, Owen Sheers, Joan Aiken, Charlotte Brontë and H Rider Haggard. Non-fiction numbers a collection of counterfactual narratives by noted historians, a study of Victorian surveyors involved in the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India in the early 19th century, and a series of essays on the art of fiction.

I’m not entirely sure why there’s this division when, not so long ago, I was happy to read either category at either time. Maybe non-fiction, with its bite-size chunks of info-dumping or discussion, often chopped up by chapter or by subheading, suits the gap between waking and the start of the morning’s routine (opening the curtains, feeding the cat, drying up last night’s washing, scaring the pigeons off the bird feeder — you know, essentials like that). Perhaps fiction, where the pace of the narrative often courses over chapter divides, encourages me to read till dropping eyelids confirm I’ve not taken in the previous paragraph.

Everyone has different imperatives in their life, and I’m sure your reading habits may radically differ from mine or only overlap to a limited extent. Are you a creature of habit following a distinctive regime? Or do you read as and when, at any time whenever you feel the urge or have the opportunity?


33 thoughts on “Time to read

  1. I tend to get my daily non-fiction reading (newspapers, blogs,…) out of the way first during spare moments in the day. Only after that, I read fiction in my leisure time. When I read non-fiction books (I read less and less of them – at the end of my studies and after them, I’ve had a period of about 10 years I only read non-fiction books, without any fiction, aside from the occasional poetry), I do read them as I read fiction: it’ll be the book I read that week, without reading any other books. When I read non-fiction, I used to read 2 or 3 titles at the same time, but I don’t do that anymore: one book at the time, aside from a few poetry short story collections that linger in the house to dip in once in a while in between books, or before going to sleep.

    1. Just one book at a time sounds very abstemious but makes absolute sense. I’m afraid I have a rather grasshopper mind, leaping from one text to another and often back again! Like you I went through a very long phase of mostly non-fiction (with the odd SFF thrown in) but now hope to be more omnivorous where books are concerned.

      By the way, I’ve just looked at your site properly and happily have found there’s lots to like! And a lot of reviews to catch up on …

      1. It doesn’t feel really abstemiously since I do lots of other reading everyday, grasshopping online a lot, it’s just only one fiction book at the time. thanks for kind words on my blog, hope you keep on enjoying it.

  2. It’s interesting how things change over time. As a kid I read all the time. We used to have books on our laps under the table at meals. Then as a full-time worker I read in bed, like you, and for long stretches of weekend afternoons. Now I see reading as just one of the the many things I have to do in a day and I read in shorter bursts in between other things. In part I do that deliberately to try to stop myself galloping through things. I feel a bit sick when I give in to that and read the way I used to as a kid. Still read in bed but these days I allocate that time to working my way through Proust in French. It’s a mishmash of novels, poetry history, biography the rest of the time, but I like to read one thing at a time and not mix them.

    1. Proust in French? It’s all I could do at 17 and 18 to read Leconte de Lisle and Baudelaire, and then all I recall is how obscure it was and how foreign to my experience up to that point; it would be a very different matter now, I think. Fellow blogger Lizzie (http://lizzierosswriter.com/) is currently ploughing through Proust (in English) and I’m therefore enjoying him, if somewhat vicariously! I see that, like the previous correspondent, you’re a one-book-at-a-time reader — it will be interesting to see how many others follow the same practice.

      Incidentally, how should I address the two of you, albeit that you respond individually? Is ‘Gert’ the accepted form? Gertrude? I get confused too because ‘gert’ or ‘gurt’ is West Country dialect for ‘great’ (whence I learned the extremely useful term metathesis for the swapping of components in a word. I believe George W Bush’s ‘nuckelar’ — for ‘nuclear’ — was a prime example of this).

      1. It sounds better than it is. I’ve read it in English and also listened to an abridged version, so I know what’s going on – and I can always check the English version if I get lost.
        We are Gert, or rather, Gert is Gert. The Australian national anthem has a line “our land is girt by sea” and we’ve always liked the idea of having a seaside cottage called Gert-by-sea.

  3. Writing has changed the pattern. I still keep a fiction going and I have a stack to “to be’s” that eventually will be worked through. However, now it is mostly research reading for the current or next fiction project. Oh, and the editing. Seems endless but necessary. I suppose reading your own stuff counts but maybe only for partial credit.

    1. I think you may have a point there, when you suggest reading your own stuff could count — after all, going over drafts is really putting yourself in the place of a potential reader and therefore you get to see your written work for what it is. I suppose it’s the same as suddenly being aware of dirty carpets, unwashed dishes and chipped paint when somebody important comes to visit!

      And I think research also counts as reading too!

    2. Reading one’s own stuff and getting enjoyment out of it so that one gets carried away and neglects the editing function is an occupational hazard — but, hopefully, also an indication that others will also become absorbed.

  4. Right now, I’m in a phase where I have multiple books going on at the same time! Probably because I like to lean in the direction of what I can feel is ripe for reading—so a rainy day calls for a story with perhaps gothic tones, a clear sunny day for a journey into the medieval ages and night time definitely for words that help in unwinding and relaxing. This leaning in the direction of what feels like the right choice in the moment always adds to my overall reading experience, making me enjoy the book even more.

    For me fiction is squarely a thing for day-times. Night times mean non-fiction—though I imagine the non-fiction I’m referring to differs quite a bit from what you were talking about here (I’m thinking more along the lines of John Muir’s Travels in Alaska). . . Or poetry. Or fiction of a slower cadence, like Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. Reading things that inflame the imagination right before I fall asleep is something that I actively avoid!

    Oh, and for the sort of non-fiction that you refer to—the one that leads to all sorts of thinking and stimulation—I’ve recently turned to audiobooks, something that makes it easier to “read” for when I’m cooking or doing chores around the house.

    1. Audiobooks are a whole new area, Juhi, aren’t they? I can see how useful they can be when doing chores. I use the radio when washing-up or decorating, for example, though it’s mostly current affairs or magazine-type programmes — never drama or serials or books because I find they require commitment. Classical music is my other option — because of my academic training I find I can follow the ‘narrative’ of a composition more easily and simultaneously be carried away by any emotional response.

      Interesting that your requirements for when you read fiction and non-fiction are the opposite of mine. The reasons you give make complete sense even though the rationale runs counter to my own! Also the occasions when you go for particular genres sound like a variation of the classic ‘pathetic fallacy’ — instead of the novel’s weather presaging what happens to a fictional protagonist it’s your choice of reading matter that is determined by the seasons, time of day and so on. Fascinating!

      1. “Narrative of a [musical] composition”—what a lovely thought to ponder on! I have no musical training, classical or otherwise and am captivated by what you said here.

        And ‘pathetic fallacy’ sounds very much like me.

        I’m always surprised at my husband’s ability to fall asleep to a book. I can never understand it. I’ve yet to come across a book that will put me to sleep that literally!

        Fascinating, as you say, the way we relate to the stories we read!

  5. My reading habits have changed over the years, and not for the better. I don’t read as much as I used to due to my writing schedule and poor eyesight. Now that I wear reading glasses I notice I don’t read for long stretches of time as my eyes tire easily Not happy about this. Hopefully eye surgery will correct this.
    When I do read it’s usually in bed. After a long day I like to grab a book and head to the bedroom. I read mostly non-fiction, it is very rare to see me anymore with fiction. But, if I do manage to find a novel that grabs my attention, I have a weekend ritual that sees me cleaning or doing what needs to be done in the morning, and then I curl up with a cup of tea and my book for a quiet afternoon of reading.

    1. Worsening changes in one’s eyesight are especially awful for an avid reader, Sari — I sympathise. How Borges managed with being librarian, academic and writer while becoming blind (or Beethoven with becoming deaf, for that matter) I can scarcely imagine.

      I see that you’re another reader who reads fiction during the day and non-fiction at night — chacun à son gout as they say! Whatever the case the thing is to keep on reading …

  6. I’ve always read in bed – it’s a habit I’ve brought with me since childhood, and I used to be like you – juggling several books at once – but stick to the one novel at a time now. While I was doing my history degree, I spent years just reading non-fiction. Now my night reading matter depends on how tired and fuzzy I’m feeling – if I feel lively enough I read fiction, if I’m shattered I’ll read a bit of a history mag before dozing off. Not sure why, but it feels most comfortable with me. During day’s off it’s all blog posts, writing and re-reading my own work – though in the evening, if the TV’s on and I’m not really watching, I will read Writing Magazine or even fiction.
    We’re all creatures of habit aren’t we? Even if those habits vary a great deal 🙂

    1. For me the fiction title has to be really gripping or absorbing for me to give my total attention to it — for example, I’ve just finished Patricia Highsmith’s The Two Faces of January this morning even though a counterfactual what-if essay was what I intended to read. Often, however, I’ll have a slow-moving classic on the go at the same time as, say, a YA novel or an Enid Blyton, just to vary the mood.

      Interesting that you can read a history mag even when you’re shattered at night, Lynn: I hadn’t ever considered perusing Current Archaeology then but, as I seem these days to read it less avidly than hitherto, perhaps I might give it space on my bedside table for a change.

      1. I used to like having two books of contrasting moods on the go – but now find it more comfortable to stick to one. Not sure why – probably my mental faculties are failing me!
        There’s something soothing about reading my History Mag at night – I feel I can stop and start more easily with a non-fiction article, that my doziness doesn’t affect the flow as much as it does with fiction.
        Reviews of history books, the true story of Owain Glyndwr, Tudor bathroom habits – they’re a comfortable read for me, very soothing. 🙂

          1. Well, not specifically bathroom habits, but hygeine in general – such as how the chaps didn’t wear pants, they just tucked their shirt tails between their legs! I love this social history. One of my favourite history books is Hubbub by Emily Cockayne, a study of how Early Modern England coped with its own mess, from mending pavements to laundry, to dealing with noise pollution and body parasites. At times revolting, but entirely fascinating – or am I a bit odd? http://www.theguardian.com/books/2007/mar/24/featuresreviews.guardianreview7

            1. No, not odd — really! I remember the moment I first copped what the word ‘midden’ meant when — after half a morning’s diligent trowelling through dark earth piled up against the wall of a Roman villa — the dig director told me precisely what it consisted of!

              This was in the days before one used protective clothing on such sites, before we were really conscious of the risks of contracting centuries-old diseases when excavating. I didn’t enquire too much but had a strong inkling that the mud on my fingers wasn’t what I thought it was …

            2. Yes, I don’t suppose you’d be allowed to do that now – far too dangerous. There are some diseases that last for years in the soil, aren’t there? I’m sure I’m right in saying that there’s a traffic island in York, near the train station that’s surrounded by iron railings and has signs up telling you not to walk there, because it was a plague burial site and is still a risk to health. Would that be right, or am I just making things up? 🙂

  7. I seem to have run out of time for reading, lately, when at one stage I would read about five books a week. I used to read in bet a lot, but with actually going to bed later and later have had to give that up.
    I have often been inclined to take two or three books of a contrasting nature, and alternate between them. When I had no computer and a couple of days to spare on a recent weekend away, I bought two books and read them about a quarter each at a time. One thriller and one humorous.

    1. You’re a man after my own heart, Col, though I’m sorry that circumstances mean you read less and less. I often wonder if I spent less time on Instagram and WordPress whether my rate of book consumption would rocket up. But then, who would I share my reading experience with?!

      1. I do feel that I am losing out by not reading as much as I used to. I should replace a less productive exercise with a return to staying in touch with a wide selection of writings – as a person who personally scribbles, I should.

  8. I used to read avidly as a child and a young adult, read less fiction when I started work as I had so much to non-fiction to read for work to keep up to date…..now I find myself a sporadic reader…mostly news, blogs, photography information. That said, I have several books on the go, and read whatever I’m in the mood for!!

    1. “Whatever I’m in the mood for” sounds right to me, Sue, especially if there is less pressure from work to consume only non-fiction. And having a variety of books of suit your moods — well, what can I say but that’s an ideal situation to be in if one can wangle it!

  9. Christine

    I try to alternate between French and English (and it’s lovely to hear Gertloveday is also working through it — I’ve been at it for about two years, it’s quite relaxing, a bit like people-watching in a nice chair). Work monopolises my time, I’m afraid, so I always carry a book to read a few chapters at a time, or maybe an hour or two during the weekend. But I do read at lunch, it’s a welcome rest. I also have a bad habit of reading several books concurrently, so right now, it’s Ondine by Giraudoux, a biography of Countess Greffulhe, Volume 4 of Proust’s Lost Time, a Daniel Pennac novel in French, and Police at the Funeral by Margery Allingham. It’s not as chaotic as it sounds, I tend to switch when the story in one book takes a breath (but sometimes I do get carried away by pushing on and it wreaks havoc on my schedule afterwards).

  10. Like you I generally have two or three contrasting books going at once, sometimes as many as five or six, though that begins to feel excessive and then I need to finish some of them. I always read at night in bed, sometimes in the morning if I have time, and at odd moments whenever I can. I read while doing other things like washing dishes and brushing teeth, but I’ve realized it’s not a good idea to do it while walking down the stairs — too dangerous! I haven’t noticed a pattern of which times of day I tend to read which book, but with books that require more concentration I would tend to read them when I’m not doing other things and have at least a chance at being uninterrupted for some length of time.

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