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How The Time We Spend On A Book Impacts Our Review

A photo of a watch lying on the pages of an open book

A couple of months ago I had a commenter suggest to me, in reference to the 24 Hour Readathon, that I write about the experience of reading a book in a day. Such a subject could make for a very short blog post mainly detailing times, speed reading, caffeine, and snacking; but what the commenter said made me wonder if I could take her suggestion and put a certain spin on it.

So, thanks to Anndie, I am going to talk about how the amount of time you take to read a book, overall, can impact what happens when you come to write about it. These are of course observations from personal experience and will not be true for everyone, however I would expect that a lot of them do correlate across the board.

To begin with the following questions must be asked – why do we read a book in a day and what might make us want to do such a thing? We might read a book in one day if the book is short; this makes perfect sense. We might suddenly have a whole free day in which to read; we have the time. We might not have read much this particular month and want to push our count up (I do this when I can). Or we might do it because the book is so good we can’t put it down. Of course there will be occasions when more that one of those reasons are employed.

But what happens as a result of reading a book in a day? To be sure there are positives, positives that link up with the reasons we’ve just examined, but there are negatives also. Something that happens when we read a book in a day, and this has the most effect on us when it is a book we’re planning to review, is you find that reading everything at once in a short space of time hinders your ability to process separate themes and ideas. Yes, you could have been making notes throughout, but your mind is full of these notes all at once, it’s like you’ve just left a busy crowd of people who were all giving you information and now you’ve got to try and remember everything they said as well as what each piece of information meant. When you’ve not processed themes properly you start to forget them easier and you find your comprehension lacking. It becomes very difficult to write the review.

Yet just as there are reasons to not read a book in one day, you need to consider the other side.

Why do we take a long time over a book? A lack of time is probably the most widely-used reason, with people being so busy that they only have time for a chapter before bed. However we also like to savour what we read, to feel it has had an impact and that we’ve been emotionally invested – and that is more difficult to achieve through quick reading. And of course there is that other reason – if the book is too academic and confusing, or if we’re simply just finding it boring, we’re very unlikely to rush through it unless pressed for time (review deadlines).

Interestingly, one of the results of reading a book over a long period is exactly the same as the overall result of one-day readings. We inevitably forget things. But this time it isn’t a matter of having too many notes, it’s that, just like memories, over time we naturally forget some of what we’ve read before. This will cause us to have less of a grasp on the book’s themes because whilst you may have had a good understanding after your last time slot, you’ve now forgotten key parts of the story that helped to form your understanding.

While reading a book over a longer period of time may help you become more emotionally involved and attached, there is the chance that in taking so long you become blasé about it. Because even if it’s a book you love you will lose some of your focus, and this links straight back to lack of understanding of themes.

From all of this you might conclude that a scheduled reading might be best, a same time every day sort of plan. You’d be creating a happy medium between short-term and long-term readings of a book, but wouldn’t that simply make reading into a chore, more work than play? Many of us already read books with a work mindset – we accept free books in return for a review – and creating a routine could be very dull.

There’s no right way to read. And we don’t always have the luxury to read in our preferred manner so we may have to change our method at times, though it might not suit.

What’s your preferred way to reads in regards to what we’ve discussed, the way you find lends itself best to your reviews?

Today is a double posting day for me, I am guest blogging over at author/book blogger Andrew Blackman’s site, talking about why reading is a social activity. May I recommend that after you’ve read the post, if indeed you wish to, you have a peek at Andrew’s own posts because the combination of author and book blogger makes for a very informative and interesting blog. The post will be up by the end of lunchtime, British time, to coincide with Barbados resident Andrew’s timezone.



June 25, 2012, 1:26 pm

Judith (Leeswammes) read a book a day for a week earlier this month and said that it wasn’t much fun. I think if I had to do that, I’d find the same.

What works best for me is a book every 3 or 4 days, unless it’s for book club. We schedule those books at about 70 pages a week.

Jackie (Farm Lane Books)

June 25, 2012, 6:39 pm

I think it al depends on the type of book. Sometimes I will fly through a YA novel or a crime thriller in one evening. It is pure entertainment, unlikely to have any deeper themes I’m missing and my review will often be quite brief. Othertimes I will read more complex books over several weeks/months. Some books really need that thinking time to appreciate them. I normally have two or three books on the go at the same time – this means each will be spread over a longer time than if I were reading a single book. I’d say most books take at least a week for me to finish, but I look forward to seeing what others have to say.


June 26, 2012, 11:56 am

I must admit I rarely read in a book in one day/sitting. There are a few exceptions. Mainly because I just don’t have the time to do such a thing but also because I tend to find it a it of an overload for my head. As you said I like savour books I bit more and have to order my thoughts.

Up until recently I would read one book at a time and not start another one until I’d finished it. So I wouldn’t get stories confused however I did find that it meant I would read for so long in a day then give up. My new method is now to always have a variety of books on the go. Roughly I have one fiction, one non-fiction, and also some poetry on the go. My reading has really improved since I made this change. As I can now dip into three books during the day if I have time.


June 27, 2012, 3:24 am

What a thoughtful post! I have been at both ends of this extreme. It took me forever to read Middlemarch, and it is taking me forever to read A Suitable Boy, and I am having trouble continuing with the Seth book. That’s mostly because I started working and have limited time to read, so feel somewhat resentful of spending time on a book that I seem to make no progress with!

The only books I really ever finish in a day are graphic novels.


June 27, 2012, 9:24 am

I prefer to take a few days to read a book, but a lot of the time I find I just can’t put a book down – so if I decide to blog about it make time to pause and make notes.

I think as long as you aren’t skipping anything it is ok to read quickly. Some books (for example, A Song of Ice and Fire Trilogy) just can’t be read quickly as they contain so much information and detail. I think each book took me a week to two weeks to read.

jenn aka the picky girl

June 27, 2012, 5:23 pm

Interesting post. I have to say that, unlike many bloggers, I am fairly lackadaisical when it comes to my reading. I don’t follow schedules. If I tried to, I think it would really kill my love of reading. That isn’t to say I don’t read a lot; I do. I just don’t have a real motive as to how fast/slow I read.

I will say, though, that reading a book slowly over time does the opposite of what you say it does for you. Instead of making me feel more connected to the characters and story, I feel a big disconnect, and sometimes it takes me a bit to get back into a book if I’ve left it for a couple of days.

I read quickly, and as you say, for others it may vary, but I rarely have free time to read. The books I read over the course of the day take up the time I should be doing other things but just can’t because I cannot put the book down.

Often, if I read a book in a single sitting, the issues/highlights are very clear to me, and I sit down right away to write before the impressions have time to leave me. Of course, I don’t hit “publish” either because I’ve found that those impressions combined with the later thoughts about the book are a nice mix.

I love seeing how different we as readers are, though. We are a fascinating group.


June 27, 2012, 10:08 pm

Interesting to consider, I find it varies so much! Some books need more time, or more particular moods, or sometimes life gets entirely in the way of the reading and writing. But I am definitely not a book-a-day type, I’m a much happier reader and writer when working from a place of inspiration and enjoyment.


June 28, 2012, 11:06 am

Chris: I’ve read a few books in a day, and most of Peirene Press’s books get read in a few hours, but it takes a chunk of time and while it makes you feel you’ve accomplished something, you can feel a bit lost too. A book every few days is what I aspire to as well.

Jackie: Yes, YA is a lot easier sometimes even if the messages in it are difficult. And you’re right, some books do need that extra time. I find them in the minority, personally, but they are definitely around. As you’ve a few books on the go it makes sense that they will take you longer in literal time scale terms, though if you separated those times they’d be shorter of course. Seeing what others say is the reason I wrote the post, this is most certainly one that needs reader input.

Jessica: Yep, you hit the nail on the head, overload and time. You’re new method of reading is like my own – I only read one book until recently too, and it’s best if when I do differently it’s a fiction and non-fiction or ebook. There’s something about having a choice that makes reading better, and just seeing that you’ve got a few more books to add to your count helps speed up the reading I reckon.

Aarti: Middlemarch taking a while I can well imagine! I can totally understand where you’re coming from regarding time, if you have less time you want to spend it on better books. During my last study year I started being more picky about what I read and if something wasn’t working I put t back on the shelf for later. When you’ve little time, especially when the time has been lessened because of work or routine, you don’t want to make reading another chore. Graphic novels in a day make sense. I wish I’d thought to add those into the post!

Alice: That’s a good strategy, and would make up for the speedy reading. There’s something I find – often if I read a book quickly and loved it, if I leave a few days in between I’ll realise that maybe my extreme love was because of the speed at which I read it. It’s weird.

I agree, some books are very difficult to read in a day. You could do it, but you’d undoubtedly end up missing information.

Jenn: I like your attitude to reading, the few times I do that (I admit to forcing myself to read on an almost daily basis because I’m a literally slow reader) it really does work best and you never lose your love of reading that way.

Yes, there’s a issue with my theory, and I totally acknowledge that it is one-sided, a personal view. But then that’s where all the ideas come in, for everyone there will e a mix and match, or some parts of a point will be relevant when mixed with another part, and so on. It is odd how we can become blaisé about a book so soon after having loved it if we happen to not pick it up for a few days. It sort of overrules that concept of readers having longer attention spans, because when we do something a lot, in this case reading, even a short time away can have a bad effect, than, say, if we’re casually into painting and leave it for a year.

I do the same as you when writing impressions straight away, leaving publishing until later makes time to double check what you’ve written which is especially important when everything’s happened at once.

Jennifer: The right mood is all too often the reason for liking a book. I don’t know about you, but I find the concept scary, how we often say “if only I’d read this when I was ___, maybe I’d have liked it better”. It’s good as an illustration to how we develop and change as people, but it’s sad that we’re unable to do anything about it to make books more on an even level with each other as far as ourselves go. If there’s no enjoyment, no matter how good the book is, we’re not going to see it, so yes, doing what we find best is important.



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