When my Dad picks up a book he typically turns to the last page to see how it all turns out. Does the guy get the girl, does the underdog win the trophy, does the nuclear bomb get disarmed in time?
At this point you’re either recoiling in horror or nodding along in agreement, thinking to yourself – “Doesn’t everyone do that?”
It’s interesting that among the many devout readers I’ve met over the years, we tend to spend most of our time talking about what books we read without discussing the nuances of how we read.
Do you dog-ear pages, make notes in the margin, and crack the binding? Do you smell your books, buy or borrow your reading material, and skip to the ending first (like my father)? Do you have multiple books going at once, read in your bed or in the bathtub or in a specific corner armchair? Do you read books in paper format or on a screen? Do you re-read? Do you belong to a book club? Do you read the acknowledgements section and endnotes?
I thought it would be fun to run through some of these questions – little quirks that make individual readers…individual. Our answers to these questions (and many more!) allow us to add a unique flair to the content we consume.
Feel free to chime in via the comments section below with your own take on any (or all) of the questions posed! I’m genuinely fascinated by this stuff…
1. do you read the LAST PAGE first?
I try, largely, to resist this urge, but have definitely been known to do this on occasion.
Usually I give in to temptation if I need to return a book to the library and can’t renew it or if I desperately need a good sleep and I’m in the middle of a cliffhanger. I think I skipped to the end of The Great Alone and A Gentleman in Moscow at about the 3/4 point in each book, but I can’t remember for sure…
My Dad does this regularly. My Mom would never dream of doing anything of the sort.
2. Do you skim or read every word?
I am a skimmer. I will read every word of certain sections (and often return to read parts of a book in more detail when I can tell I’ve missed something critical) but tend to read a paragraph at a time.
Do I retain less information than people who read more slowly and digest every word? Probably, but that’s just the sort of reader I am.
Also, I take notes from almost every book I read – key phrases, favourite quotations, even book suggestions the author might make.
3. Do you smell your books?
Some of the time. This question might seem highly unusual to some of you reading and then, for others, this might seem like a no-brainer. Books all smell different and the variety of papers, inks, and binding adhesives all contribute to a unique scent profile. My Anne of Green Gables books smell strongly of glue (think Elmer’s); my One Line A Day journal smells like magazine paper but is decidedly thick and non-glossy.
I ALWAYS smell old books; that musty smell of a book that has been sitting in an attic for 25 years is an experience I just can’t pass up – though it can set off my allergies. It’s a risk worth taking.
I’d say I smell about 25% of the books I read, but when I was younger that percentage was much higher. And you can all now conclude that I am officially crazy. Or you can go off and start smelling all your books and thank me for recommending that added sensory layer to round out your reading experience.
4. Do you dog-ear/take notes?
I do dog-ear books (if you’re not familiar with this term, it simply refers to turning down the corner of a page to mark your place and/or highlight a spot you want to come back to).
That said, I tend not to leave dog-ears in place. I will make very small dog-ears throughout a book and then go back and type out the quotes that left an impression, removing the dog-ears as I go.
If it’s a library book I’ll usually just take pictures of the quote with my phone and then type those up at a later time.
I tend not to write physical notes inside of books I own and don’t underline or highlight passages very often (I used to do this a lot more than I do now).
5. Do you re-read books?
Yes, yes, yes. I love to re-read books. Classic fiction and favourite works of non-fiction – but only my absolute favourites.
I really appreciate something James Clear (author of bestselling book Atomic Habits…which I’ve read twice and did insist on owning) said: “A recipe for getting more out of what you read: Start more books. Quit most of them. Read the great ones twice.”
6. Do you buy or borrow?
I almost exclusively borrow. I’m a minimalist at heart and just don’t have any desire to own large quantities of books; this also applies to picture/chapter books for the kids (of which we borrow hundreds from our local library).
I do browse the stacks, but about 75% of the books we get from the library I order through their holds system. I visit the library once a week to pick up a giant stack of books.
I have started asking for favourite books for Christmas or I’ll use gift cards from my birthday to buy the occasional gem I want to have on my bookshelf (mostly so I can re-read whenever the urge strikes) – so I have a small, but happy, stash of books.
7. Do you read multiple books simultaneously?
Yes. I can’t imagine reading one book at a time!? I typically have 2-3 books on the go. Sometimes one is “denser” and I am working through it slowly and want a faster read to help compensate for the mental headspace being consumed by the heavier material.
More generally, I just like having different books to suit different moods!
This week I have three books on the go – Everything is Figureoutable, Anne of the Island (now finished!), and Into the Wild. Some days I’ll read from only a single book; other days I’ll read sections from all three.
8. Do you read on a tablet Or Listen to Audiobooks or is it paper all the way?
I am 100% Team Paper. I have listened to a handful of books in audiobook form and have read about the same number on a tablet.
I just don’t love any medium other than good old-fashioned books. Not sure why and I have thought before I might come to love reading on a Kindle. But, honestly, I appreciate that reading hardcopy books keeps me off a screen. And, if something’s not broke, I’m not going to try to fix it.
9. Where do you read?
Hmmm. This has changed over the years. When I was younger, I read everywhere. Most times now I read at night and so this happens in bed.
While I love the thought of lounging on the couch all Saturday morning reading a book, that just isn’t feasible – both the timing and the fact that if I am on the couch, a child will smell my availability and come running.
My reading with the kids – which totals 30 minutes or so a day at this point – predominantly happens around the table. I read while they eat breakfast, or I’ll read to them after we finish our supper meal. A few times a week we’ll read a handful of picture books or a chapter of a longer book in bed (last night, actually, we snuggled up and read a chapter of The Hobbit; their obsession with J.R.R. Tolkien continues!), but now that the kids are older, we tend to do less bedtime reading.
10. Do you Read the acknowledgements SECTION of a book?
Yes! I love reading the acknowledgements.
I put a quote in my quotes book from the acknowledgments section of Hillbilly Elegy: “Last, but certainly not least, is my darling wife, Usha, who read every single word of my manuscript literally dozens of times, offered needed feedback (even when I didn’t want it), supported me when I felt like quitting, and celebrated with me during times of progress. So much of the credit for both this book and the happy life I lead belongs to her. Though it is one of the great regrets of my life that Mamaw and Papaw never met her, it is the source of my greatest joy that I did.”
I love that last part.
Of everything I wrote in my entire Master’s thesis, the acknowledgments section was my favourite. Fun fact: I ended up sharing my thesis with a student a few years later so they could get a sense for formatting requirements (our topics were quite different); when I read over their thesis prior to submission they had PLAGARIZED my acknowledgements section almost verbatim. I gently explained how these things work and made sure they wrote their own acknowledgments section, but it did make me feel slightly elated that they thought my acknowledgements were so good they wanted to use every word.
Though, let’s be honest here, the more likely explanation is they were just being lazy and they hadn’t even paid attention to what I wrote…
*I realized I had spelled acknowledgements two ways (with and without the ‘e’); turns out the British version does include the ‘e’ and the Canadian/American preference is to drop it. American readers may have noticed I spell things like flavour and neighbour with a ‘u’…because that’s how we roll up here in the frigid North.*
What about you? Any fun reading “quirks” you want to mention or any surprising answers to the questions above? Anyone else a fellow skimmer and smeller? I know there are a lot of die-hard Kindle fans out there; please tell me someone else is proudly sporting the Team Paper jersey?