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It’s possible to read a book badly, and I’ve just done it

Does the reader have a responsibility to read a book ‘well’? And what does that even mean?

In the past, I might have argued that there was no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of reading a book, but having just read a past favourite, I believe it might be true that a book can be read badly.

I picked up Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude with excitement. I hadn’t read the classic novel for 20 years after having adored the novel when I read it as a uni student.

Two decades ago, I remember being swept away by this strange and wonderful world and I was looking forward to reliving the experience.

However, my good intentions were thwarted by reality.

My work happened to ramp up just as I was starting to read OHYoS, and so when I got to bed at night, I was too tired to read many more than a few pages.

Then, I remembered I had booked to attend an Anne Cleeves event, so wanted to read one of her books first.

I put down OHYoS midway through reading it while I finished Cleeves’ The Darkest Evening.

A bit later, my reading of OHYoS was again interrupted when I took my kindle on a holiday.

I returned to Marquez’s novel with a sense of disappointment that I really hadn’t done the novel justice.

The great novelists work still managed to break through and make my heart race at the beauty of the final sentence.

But this just made me more aware of my poor effort at reading this extraordinary book.

Reading poorly was an experience that a review at The Washington Post warned against when they reviewed Hanya Yanagihara’s latest book, To Paradise.

“… the way these disparate stories speak to one another across 200 years through a chorus of echoes makes their subtle coalescence all the more tantalizing. Keep that in mind: This isn’t a novel to be sampled 10 pages at a time before bed. Yanagihara makes strong demands on her readers; those who forsake all else and let this epic consume them will find it most rewarding.”

I know that the books that I have loved the most are often the ones that I have read quickly and without interruption – when I didn’t have several novels on the go at once. Usually, this was on holiday pre-children, when I had the opportunity to lie on a beach and read for hours on end.

Similarly, I know that I am unlikely to do a book justice when I am reading it as an audiobook. Usually, I am reading on a walk or while doing the housework, when there are other distractions that stop me from giving the book my full attention. While I can concentrate on an easy read, I struggle with audiobooks that are complex, with multiple characters and complicated plots.

It is for this reason that I didn’t get further than the first chapter of Eimear McBride’s The Lesser Bohemians but loved Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers.

It is also these novels that can tolerate being among more than one being read at a time. I often find myself with a few books on the go, when I’ve been away from home and taken my kindle, or have started a new book after forgetting to bring an existing read with me. For the simpler books, this doesn’t matter, but it can ruin the flow of other, more complicated, books.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why some books might be loved by some, and disliked by others, even among those with similar taste in books. It might be the case that one has read it ‘badly’, failing to give it the attention it deserves when life gets in the way.

So, I’m sorry, Gabriel. I didn’t read your book well. And for that, I am disappointed.

I would promise that next time I’ll do better, but I know that will be a promise I will struggle to keep. Perhaps I would be safer just promising to acknowledge that before I give your masterpiece one star on Goodreads, I will look more closely at my own role in  my bad reading experience.

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. I agree with you that it is possible to read books poorly. This may be why some people leave bad reviews on well-rated books because they never really gave them a chance. Sometimes when I am reading, I realize that I am very unfocused and am just skimming over the words without retaining anything. When this is the case, I know it is time to put the book down and come back to it another time. I, too, also prefer to not use audiobooks. Personally, I like to have a hard copy that I can put sticky notes in with key notes. It is important to find what makes reading the most enjoyable for you! That might look different for each person, and that is completely okay.

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