how do you read? in which my reading habits unexpectedly change

Librarians like to ask readers about their reading habits.

How do you read?

What format do you most prefer? Do you have a secondary format?

These days, most avid readers have found a use for e-books -- travel being the number one reason -- but generally prefer print. But some people read only e-books, and some only print.

Many people listen to audiobooks in their car or during their commutes, often listening to one book and reading another. Some people are audio only, especially now that most audiobooks are available digitally.

One book at a time, two books, multiple?


Every day, or how many days per week? What time of day?

Where? Bed, couch, outside in good weather?

How long do you give a book that you don't care for -- how many pages or chapters? (Please don't say you force yourself to read books you don't like! Life's too short and there are too many better books for you!)

Do you ever go back to a book you didn't like... and does your opinion ever change?

* * * *

This is on my mind because my reading habits have suddenly changed. I've been a voracious reader my whole life, and in my late 50s, I am suddenly reading differently.

After a lifetime of reading one book at a time, I now find myself cycling back and forth between one nonfiction and one fiction, or sometimes two nonfiction and one fiction. I don't know why, but suddenly having more books on the go is helping me read more.

I've been walking on the treadmill a lot, and have started to read lighter fiction (which for me means a crime or detective novel) while walking to nowhere. Ticking two boxes at the same time, how great is that! This week I'm going to try reading nonfiction on the treadmill. I'm skeptical but I might as well try it.

Another change: series. I never read series. If a series sounds interesting, I would often read the first book to get a taste, and stop there. There are just too many books I want to read to get stuck in a series. Plus, I find the writing quality of most genre books disappointing at best, and I never bothered to search for higher-quality series among them.

Over the last few years, I've been reading the Wallander series by Henning Mankell. I loved the TV adaptations, so I tried the books and was very pleasantly surprised. I read them in between heavy nonfiction tomes, over the course of several years. (I do the same with YA.)

Now, on advice from a friend, I've discovered the Martin Beck series by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, a married-couple writing team with an abundance of umlauts. This is said to be the original Nordic Noir; I'm really enjoying them. Allan reads the Parker series by the great Donald Westlake, writing as Richard Stark. These books are crime potato chips -- fast, delicious and completely addictive -- and I plan to go for those, too. I'll probably read them in random order, in between other books. The recent death of John Le Carré made me think of reading the George Smiley series. I read a few as a teenager, and think I would really enjoy them now, so I threw them on The List.

This is very strange to me! How can I suddenly be reading series?!

Like most avid readers, I mostly read print, but sometimes read e-books. They're great for travel, or for a portable version of a giant tome that I can't carry around, or when lighting is poor. I read e-books on my phone.

However, unlike most people I know, I cannot listen to audiobooks (or podcasts). I simply cannot concentrate. I either end up thinking of something else, or if I'm in a car, watching the scenery, and end up missing big chunks of the story. On our drive from Ontario to BC, we had a few audiobooks and radio interviews lined up. If Allan was driving, they just put me to sleep.

As for when and how often, for many decades I read in bed before sleep, but fibromyalgia made me give that up. I also read on the subway... but moving to the suburbs made me give that up! After these changes, I was always dissatisfied that I wasn't reading enough.

Now in my intentionally less-busy lifestyle, I've made reading part of my personal habits checklist (my stripped-down version of a bullet journal). I try to read for an hour or so after dinner, and always on the weekend. I usually read four or five times per week, but adding treadmill time has increased this. I also try to read on my lunch or dinner breaks, but usually end up playing games on my phone.

I usually read sitting at a table, with the book flat in front of me. In nice weather, I read on the deck or previously, in the backyard. (This is the best part of living in a house rather than an apartment.) If I'm reading an e-book at home, I prefer the couch, in the dark.

Your turn.


Unknown said...

99% of the time I read series. When I read a good book, I get disappointed when it's finished, hence series reads.

I usually read fiction (adult and YA,fantasy, historical mysteries, steampunk) and read one book at a time.

The past few years, I have basically read ebooks, not too often a physical book unless I can't get an ebook version. This is because I can increase font size and take breaks from reading to play a few games, then return to my book.

Plus downloading ebooks ensures my books are not returned late. I also sign up for tons of free ebooks from Bookbub, etc.

If I am not enjoying a book, i will read 2 chapters. Still not enjoying it, I move on.

I read every night in bed, and sometimes on my lunch/dinner breaks at work.

I too cannot do audiobooks. I miss too much, same as you either enjoying the scenery, daydreaming, working out issues in my head and so on.

I can't imagine not being a reader. In fact it's a sad thought. I was taught to read through phonics, not sight words.

laura k said...

Another person who can't do audiobooks! Cool.

I also love being able to change the font size. That's an advantage I forgot to mention.

And I also feel sad when I finish a great book. I love that a book can do that.

Thanks, Unknown!

North Van's Grumps said...

At the beginning of Covid-19 I read Nevil Shute Norway's depressing 'On the Beach', but, it was still entertaining because IT was brought on by a Nuclear War. That would never happen today! Little did I know then, that there would be so much of rattling of swords by the Super Powers.

On a much lighter note I read here that you are a knitter. My wife, and her co-author, just finished writing an update for a First Book of Knitting for Children which was first published in 1997. https://www.wynstonespress.com/

A knitting book with a difference! Rhymes and photos combine to bring a thorough introduction to knit stitch and purl stitch, followed by simple, enticing patterns for animals.

Happy New Year!

laura k said...

Hi NVG! I haven't read On The Beach but I know the movie well. I should check out the book.

Re knitting, you must have me confused with another blogger. I don't knit or do any craftwork. My mother is a champion knitter but I haven't mentioned that in a very long time. Sounds like a great resource, though!

Rural said...

An interesting discussion Laura, there seems to be a number of ways we each read and absorb the content of a book or screen. In my own case being an avid reader of fiction for 0ver 60 years now it seems i-do-not-read-each-word but 'absorb the whole sentence and its meaning almost at a glance, if I do slow down the content becomes almost meaningless and must be reread several times. Not enjoyable for relaxation! On the other hand in technical books needed for my job I speed read to the general content and then slow down to get the exact meaning need to fix that problem. However neither method works particularly well on the computer screen with these old tired eyes so I seem to be loosing the desire to read for pleasure having read my extensive collection several time over (including all those Nevil Shute novels).

John F said...

I have been buying the University of Chicago Press editions of the Parker novels. I have the four Grofield novels (supporting character in the Parker books) on order.

Since I know you like a good graphic novel, I recommend you check out the Parker adaptations by the late Darwyn Cooke. He was only able to adapt four of the novels before he died. Each one is a perfect gem.

laura k said...

Oh wow, graphic Parkers!! That is a must-have! Thank you!

(You'd think I'd know about these things eh?)

I believe those are the editions my partner gets, too. He's a big one for collecting series.

laura k said...

I just fixed about 20 typos in this post, mostly missing words. Bah.

Amy said...

I am about to learn if I can listen to audiobooks. We are driving to Florida on Tuesday (with our three cats) and decided to try and listen to a book since it's such a long trip. I am a visual person, usually hate being read to, and, like you said, get easily distracted if I don't have something visual to focus on. I shall report back.

I read one book at a time unless I am reading something non-fiction for researching something, not just for "pleasure." I would say most of my reading for pure pleasure is fiction with occasional non-fiction----mostly biographies or memoirs. I can't read something really heavy unless I am wide awake, sitting up, and underlining. And most of my pleasure reading is at night in bed before I got to sleep. It has always helped me clear my head before I go to sleep.

These days I do most of that reading on my Kindle. It allows me to read without having a light on, meaning I don't disturb that person sleeping next to me. But any serious non-fiction, whether for pleasure or for research, generally requires me to have a book so I can take notes. At this point, if I don't do that, I don't remember anything I've read. Facts just blur together, and nothing is retained for more than the time it takes to read it. That's part of aging. It wasn't always true.

laura k said...

Thanks, Amy! I love these stories. :)

If you don't like being read to (I also share that dislike), I wouldn't think you'd like audiobooks. But I hope it turns out you do!

I also like to take notes for certain books, especially if it's on a subject that is important to me. I'm sure I don't retain much of what I've read, but that doesn't bother me. My 89-year-old mother is still reading nonfiction, even if she only enjoys it in the moment.

M@ said...

When I was younger I would often have several books on the go at the same time. I still do that; I just tend to forget that I began them and start new ones. Im definitely a casualty of the modern malady of being unable to concentrate as much, but I'm sure it's a matter of the mental muscles not getting exercised as much.

I don't really like audiobooks, though I'll listen to them when I'm on road trips. I probably read more ebooks than paper books nowadays, but that's just because it's easier to remember where I left them (and where I left off) if they're on all my devices. I have a nice tablet for reading ebooks that is the perfect size and shape to hold, so I often use that; recently I've also been reading more on my phone, something I never used to do before.

I mostly read in bed but I can read almost anywhere. (I tried reading on the exercise bike and I found that I didn't like it.) I am trying to read more these days... I should make some kind of resolution maybe?

I think back to when I was in university. I must have been reading a couple of hundred books a year then. Sigh. Those were the days.

Amy said...

I just wanted to add I don't read series, though I did when I was younger. James Bond, before that Nancy Drew. I also no longer read mysteries. I just find them boring and forgettable, as I do with television mystery series. I like to read fiction that is more character focused, and I read more for that and the language than for plot though, of course, a good story is also important.

And when I turned fifty a while back, I decided I no longer had to finish a book I wasn't enjoying. That usually happens when the characters are unlikeable, the plot is stupid and obvious, or the writing is dreadful. My taste in fiction is pretty similar to my taste in movies and television---not violent or scary, not too dark, characters I can empathize with, and a story that holds my interest. I also have no interest in fantasy.

allan said...

I have the Grofields also. Do not forget "Lemons Never Lie" (a Grofield from Hard Case Crime). I actually have not read all the Parkers. I read up to when Westlake thought he was ending the series. (He picked it up again after 23 years.) I started "Comeback", but stopped for some reason unrelated to the book.

I actually discovered the series because someone left a copy of "Nobody Runs Forever" in the lunch room of the law firm I worked at in Toronto. I liked it and read the next two, which ends the series. So I went back to the beginning with "The Hunter" - and was instantly jolted by how hard-nosed the writing was. I tore through the first 14 books. I want to start again and read them all, straight through.

I have used a Kindle, but am a hard copy guy all the way.

laura k said...

What makes a good read for each of us (character vs plot vs writing vs empathy) is separate from how we read. And for many people, what we enjoy watching is very different from what we enjoy reading. I'm not going there. :)

I suffer hugely from the inability to concentrate, both from my fibro brain and from modern life. At some point, maybe 10 years ago, I was very dissatisfied by how little time I was spending reading books. I consciously decided to read less online (less anything online) and more books. I saw a payoff immediately. I actually felt better -- calmer, more focused -- when I read more books! So I continued. This is also why I got off Twitter, and why I limit my Facebook time.

One negative consequence of this is I'm less informed, or I'm informed in a more shallow way. But that is far outweighed by my delight in reading more books.

It is sometimes VERY difficult for me to concentrate on what I'm reading. I am constantly fidgeting, looking at my phone. I often think, I should have finished this book 2 weeks ago, if I could just focus more... But I get there, eventually.

John F said...

allan: So "Lemons Never Lie" is only published by Hard Case? I will buy it, of course, but I am really loving the uniformity of the University of Chicago Press editions. I guess I'm obsessive that way.

As I said, I cannot recommend the graphic novel adaptations enough. Darwyn Cooke was the sort of comics creator that other creators were big fans of. He summered near Halifax, so I was fortunate to get three of my Parker graphic novels signed by him at local events. He even did a quick sketch of Parker in each one!

If you do plan to buy them, I would recommend the two-volume "Martini Edition" recently published by IDW. They are slipcased hardcovers with lots of extras.

John F said...


And when I turned fifty a while back, I decided I no longer had to finish a book I wasn't enjoying. That usually happens when the characters are unlikeable, the plot is stupid and obvious, or the writing is dreadful.

I feel the same way. I guess that's why I bogged down recently when trying to read the Old Testament. :-)

allan said...

I have enjoyed almost everything I have read from Hard Case Crime, but I hate that one Parker-Grofield book does not match all the others, in cover and spine design, size, etc.

laura k said...

I guess I'm obsessive that way.

You are not alone! :)

laura k said...

Oo, signed editions plus a sketch!! That is AWESOME!

Also lol re reading the bible. :)

laura k said...

... Although I actually love the writing style of the KJ version of the Old Testament. I took a wonderful "bible as literature" class in university, and really enjoyed it. And, to paraphrase George Costanza, I say this with a unblemished record of staunch atheism.

John F said...

I am reading the Bible through a phone app. It contains multiple translations, and I find myself flipping between King James (for literary style) and the NIV (for clarity). I too am an atheist. Ironically, the Bible app I am using is published by an evangelical church, and I now get weird emails from them. They want me to commit to a daily reading plan to deepen my faith...

While reading, I consult my copy of "Asimov's Guide to the Bible". The Good Doctor is always informative and entertaining.

laura k said...

That sounds interesting. I love knowing people who do things like this.

Hopefully the church will respect your unsubscribe requests.

allan said...

Last week, I took out a book about Jesus and a historian's account of his life. By Maurice Casey, who appears to have no agenda. It's 540+ pages and I will not read every word, but I have wondered what exactly exists that leads independent historians to say "this guy existed".

WAIT WAIT WAIT ---------- Lemons Never Lie is also published by University of Chicago Press!!!!

But you might want the HCC edition, too.

allan said...

. . . But I cannot order it from Canada? Are you fucking serious?!?!?

John F said...

Allan: Their site only seems to offer Lemons Never Lie as an ebook. All the other titles are ebook and paperback.

laura k said...

I have used a Kindle, but am a hard copy guy all the way.

For someone who uses technology every day, you are a very low-tech person. A pencil and paper guy.

Also you read many books at the same time.

impudent strumpet said...

I used to read about one book a week, but that decreased significantly when I started working from home (no commute, other things to do during my lunch break), then decreased again with my head injury (both because head injury and because 40 minutes of reading time a day needs to be spent on vision therapy, which slows things down) and then again with the pandemic, which seems to have slowed everything down.

I let randomness decide what I read, in that I add everything that piques my interest to my library list and read it in the order it comes in. The randomness scratches some kind of weird itch in my brain. Whether I have one or multiple books on the go depends on due dates and renewals - if I don't finish a book by its due date and I can renew it, I start in on the next one in my pile. Right now I have three books in progress.

I read new library books in hard copy, but keep old rereadable favourites in ebook format on my phone. (This is an artifact of working in the office and isn't necessarily the optimal approach for my current life, but also I haven't felt the need to change it.) Although it just recently occurred to me that borrowing hard copy books from the library during the pandemic is one of the ways I'm falling into the "It's allowed therefore it's safe" trap - strictly speaking, I should be using ebooks to avoid entering the library and interacting with library staff and handling objects that other people have handled and will handle. But I also dread the work of rebuilding my entire hold queue in Overdrive.

The other thing that is part of my reading life is fanfiction, which serves a different purpose than reading or rereading books. I've recently realized that my fanfiction use functions as my psychological immune system (a concept I previously didn't believe in), in that I use it to manage my emotions. The combination of predictable settings and characters and AO3's very robust system of tagging and archive warnings means I can basically seek out the precise emotional experience I need at a given moment while still reading a new story. (I find the emotional impact lessens when I reread a book, so rereading old favourite books doesn't necessarily have this effect.) In the aftermath of Babcia's death, I found myself reading as much as 100,000 words of fanfiction a day, and I am unapologetically embracing this development.

I read sprawled out ridiculously on the couch or floor when I'm reading a hardcover book, catching a few stolen moments waiting for a light to change or waiting in line when reading an ebook, or sitting at my computer reading fanfiction. (I started out reading fanfiction on a computer long before mobile devices exist, and I never changed the habit. Now that I think about it, I started reading books sprawled out ridiculously on the couch or floor long before anything interesting to read on the computer existed, and I never changed that habit either.)

I can't really use audiobooks for the same reason you describe - they go in one ear and out the other. Eddie Izzard did an audiobook of Great Expectations, and I've listened to it a couple of times for Eddie's soothing voice and still couldn't tell you a thing about the story of Great Expectations

laura k said...

Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment.

I love that part of your reading is therapeutic. I find that from music. At certain rough times in my life, I know exactly what music will work, and I listen to it over and over. Watching baseball used to do this for me, too, but I don't think it does anymore.

Plus another person who can't concentrate on audiobooks. :)

You are one of three people I know who are dealing with the effects of head injuries, long after the event. I feel for you.