I was reading a book the other day

I don't think I read enough. Some of you who know me might think that's kind of a weird/untruthful thing to say. But I've been thinking about it a lot lately ('it' being how much time in a week I spend reading for pleasure), and I really think I don't read enough.

Last week I went to a book signing for fantasy author Raymond E Feist. As usual, I found plenty of things - from the practical to the irrational - to worry about beforehand: What if I bring too many books and he doesn't want to sign them all? What will I say to him when it's my turn? What if he asks me which book is my favorite (as if he cared)? What if all the first printings of his new book are sold out when I get there?

To ease my mind about questions like these, I usually try to do some advance preparation. I decided early on to take only five books. Who can be mad about signing five books? As it turns out, I could've taken all my Feist books - 12 hardcovers and 11 paperbacks - for him to sign. Apparently, people do stuff like that. I saw dealers and collectors there with two and three carry-all bags filled to the top with books for Feist to sign. The managers of the store where the signing was held decided that we'd all make a line (which I somehow always wind up at the end of), then we could have Feist sign a maximum of three books, and then we had to go around and get in line again. Next time I'll know.

I also thought up a question/remark that I could use when meeting Feist to fill in any possible awkward silences. Authors probably don't think silences are awkward. They probably welcome them. But I feel awkward. Anyway, I decided that a nice, bland, innocuous, all-purpose question to ask was, "How did you come up with the idea for the world your books take place in?"

Raymond E Feist

The signing was preceded by a short talk Feist gave about his current book and what he's got coming up in the future. During this talk, Feist volunteered that the world of Midkemia featured in his novels had its roots in a role-playing game he used to play with his college friends. I felt a twinge of panic as I realized I no longer had a viable question to ask him, not at least without sounding like a complete idiot. And I thought perhaps it would be better under the circumstances for me not to engage the author in conversation. I much preferred the awkward silence to his asking me which book was my favorite, because I have not read a single one of his books. I've been meaning to; they're on my to-be-read list, but I haven't gotten to them yet.

Once again, as it turns out, I didn't have to worry. On my first go round, with the first three books, Feist said nothing. All he did was pull up his coat sleeve with a finger and look at his wristwatch, then sign my books. We told each other "thank you" at the same time, and then I got in line again. On my second go round, he said, "How many more do you have?" and I said, "Oh, just the two. I'm done." Then he looked at the people behind me, the ones with the three bags full, and said half to himself, "Oh, it's moving along then. It won't take long."

In spite of the initial misgivings and gentle panic I may feel, I like going to author signings and book sales and conventions, partly because I enjoy listening to what the other dealers and collectors are talking about. I learn stuff that way. For instance, at this very signing, I learned that Connie Willis is going to be at the LA Times Book Fair at the end of April and that I am going to miss seeing her because I'll be out of town. I also learned that, if I ever do make it to the Fair in my lifetime, I ought to park in the North parking lot because it is nearer to the place where they have the signings and thus more convenient for lugging books to and from. I also learned that Easton Press printed a fine edition of Feist's first two books. And I learned that I don't read enough.

There's always some know-it-all type guy at the signings or sales or whatever, wearing a hat that he refuses to take off - even indoors - who strikes up a fairly loud conversation about some aspect of book collecting or book selling; and, although I find such people somewhat on the obnoxious side, I usually glean a bit of information that makes the inadvertent eavesdropping worthwhile. So this guy was holding forth as we stood in line, opining on a variety of books, and another guy said, "You've read all those books?" and the first guy says, "Oh, sure", and the other guy says, "You must read a lot!" And the first guy says, "I read two or three books a week." Everyone within earshot oohed and aahed for a moment, and I thought to myself, I don't read enough.

I've been reading the same book for the last three weeks and I'm just over halfway through.

Evelyn Wood, the speed-reading guru, used to have an office under the football stadium at BYU. I used to clean her office now and then when I worked as a janitor during my sophomore year at college. That's the closest I've ever come to speed reading.

But I'm not sure I really want to speed read. I just want to spend more time enjoying the book I happen to be involved in. I'd be happy finishing one book a week. So I've decided I need to rearrange my priorities a bit. I'm going to concentrate on making more time for reading. I'm going to stop spending so much time teasing the cats and spend it reading instead, and I'm going to read during mealtimes, like Ian does. And I'm going to be happy instead of annoyed when my favorite tv programs go on hiatus because then I can read instead. Until the programs come back, that is.

I know, sometimes I truly am busy. But I don't think it's good to stretch the reading of a book out for too long, because you can lose the effect the book is having on you, not to mention the storyline. Taking forever to read a book is kind of like having to get back in line time after time to get an author to sign your books, and then having him look at his watch every time you approach him. If you've decided to read a book (or sign one), you should give the process the time it's due.


Shannon said...

I think the guy was just showing off. Or else he has no life. I bet the hat he was wearing was one of those floppy gardening hats with the strings you can tighten around your neck so it doesn't fly off your head in a freak breeze. I bet you could've tightened the strings around his neck so tight he admidts he's never actually read most of Raymond Feist's books.

Jared and Megan said...

I need to read more, too. I also need to finish books I started about 3 years ago... There's this one called The Future of Life that I started exactly then, but I can't bear to start over. But then, maybe I'd find it less boring this time around.

Zach and Kelly said...

I can relate to Megan. Zach has a copy of On The Road by Jack Kerouac which I started reading probably six months ago and got about halfway through, but it's just so boring... I'll finish it someday...