Thursday, March 07, 2019

Reader Request

Ms. Ahart commented "Can you write up a post about how you maintain such amazing reading volume and speed? I just hit 350 books a year last year (not counting picture books) and I can't imagine breaking through that book a day barrier without staying up all night. I also feel like my recall really suffers at this rate; I remember the feel of the book and maybe certain key moments, but almost never a single character name after a week or two!"

Certainly, Ms. Ahart! My students ask about this all the time, and my easy explanation is that I am like a marathon runner of reading. If you read for 50 years so excessively it alarms your family, you too can acquire the ability to read three to five books a night!

In reality, I don't know. I have always read a lot, and while I've never taken any speed reading courses, I can scan a page in about five seconds and tell you about what is going on. I read Rich Wallace's Roar of the Crowd in 20 minutes and got a 100% on the Accelerated Reader test. On a good day, a 200 page middle grade novel takes me an hour to read, and I remember enough details to write a review. When it is not cross country season, I get home about 3:30, run, read the paper, eat dinner, etc. and start reading books about 5:00. I read until 9:00. I even read while I'm walking the dog! I don't read a lot of picture books or beginning readers, although I read some, but I also don't read a lot of 400+ page books. It adds up.

It sometimes takes as long to write the reviews as it does to read the book! I tend to write those in the mornings. While I am rubbish at remembering character names and how books end, I do have a good file in my brain with one sentence on each book ("It's about a giant killer mosquito whose venom liquidizes its victims and the mosquito's psychopathic serial killer handler!" Man, was I sad when both copies of Dean Carter's Hand of the Devil fell apart, but how could they not?), as well as read alikes and a general feel for which books are a good fit for which students.

I can tell really good writing from bad writing, but honestly, my students are not picky about that. They are more concerned with topic, pacing, and whether or not things blow up. Am I occasionally blown away by Sonnenblick or John David Anderson's turns of phrase? Of course. I also don't read self published books, and by the time a book makes it through agents, publishers and editors, the writing will be decent. Honestly, some of the best writing I've seen recently is "Coco Simon's" Cupcake Diaries. So smooth, so easy to read, so effortless. Is it brilliant? No. Not going to win prizes. But it's like aloe on a sunburned brain at times.

For the past couple of years, though, I've been having a lot of trouble focusing. If the book is the fourth in a series, I may read it but not review. Sometimes, I don't read any books at all, but watch BBC murder mysteries. Unlike middle grade novels, where people are always ending up dead when they absolutely should not, I KNOW that murder mysteries will be sad! Plus, most British actors are just as wrinkly as I am!

Picky Reader in Ireland
This summer, my goal is to get back on track. For now, I'll blame Empty Nest Syndrome (Nell is having a great time in Ireland, but I miss her!), dealing with aged parents, some weird health issues, and a whip lash sort of school year that started with the threat of a new building that would mean possibly losing my collection and having to walk eight miles a day to commute! The immediate threat is gone, but it still feels possible.

So, Ms. Ahart, thank you for the kind words. Writing a blog is, to quote Don Marquis, "like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo," and it's always encouraging to know that there are people who benefit from my reviews!


  1. Thank you SO MUCH for letting us behind the curtain. Reading is definitely your superpower! My kids are still little (5 and almost 7) so I'm going to cut myself some slack for being in the more chaotic years of parenthood. I don't get big blocks of reading time unless I really schedule them (readathons have been great for this)... I spend my evenings reading too, but so often I fall asleep over my book by 9 pm!

    The one sentence book talk is so important, and I'm grateful for all the reviews that you do write. I let myself off the hook by just tracking what I read on Goodreads, but now I'm inspired to take the time to write up that one-sentence blurb so that I have a better record.

    THANK YOU and you rock!

  2. I think everyone runs into periods of difficulty focusing. I hope you can get your groove back over the summer. I certainly rely on your opinions about books (and I'll be needing your input more as my daughter starts to really read middle grade + early YA). I especially appreciate how your focus is on what kids will enjoy. Because that's what really matters, and what I think adult gatekeepers sometimes lose sight of.

  3. I hav been reading your blog regularly for years and have never taken the time to say thank you. As a middle school librarian and now an elementary librarian you have introduced me to many good books. I’m grateful! Chris Gustafson, Portland, OR