There is an article in the weekend Globe & Mail by Joe Queenan about his year of trying to read a book a day. (An interesting exercise in stunt journalism given his over-the-top railing against A. J. Jacobs’s The Know It All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World, in which Jacobs chronicles his year spent reading the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica. Hats off to Jacobs for his humorous rejoinder to the hatchet job.)
In order to be able to meet his goal, Queenan decided he’d have to limit himself to books of less than 200 pages. He discusses the many wonderful books he discovered simply by virtue of having to scan the library shelves for slim volumes, including Penelope Fitzgerald’s book about books, The Book Shop. He fell off pace six months into the project, so has not met his goal, but he does meet like-minded readers. Queen Elizabeth II speaks for him on the pages of another book about books, Alan Bennett’s The Uncommon Reader, a wonderful little book about the queen and a bookmobile, when she thinks,
one book led to another, doors opening wherever she turned, and the days weren’t long enough for the reading she wanted to do.
No. They never are.
But how, even when not keeping up the pace of a book a day does one keep up the enthusiasm?
I loved these books. They were in my life for only a day–two days at most–but that made those days special. Reading longer books, no matter how good they are, can turn into a chore. Reading Moll Flanders is hard work. Reading Germinal is drudgery. Reading these 250 tiny volumes was never drudgery.
How do the days stay special when there are so many of them? I loved reading the article, but as it drew to a close, I found myself feeling panic, of all things. It was a vicarious experience of sharing the rush and push to meet the goal. How can pleasurable reading happen when one is facing an entire year of a daily deadline of completing a book? Buried in Print is, amazingly, back to regular posting after taking part in Dewey’s 24 hour Read-a-Thon, and I can just about wrap my head around a weekend of non-stop reading, but it’s not a pace I could sustain for a year.
Have you read under conditions of extreme pressure, self-imposed or not? What were the advantages? Is it just about reaching a goal or are there some more long-lasting rewards?