Sunday Salon: Skim or Savour?

Personally, I advocate the savouring of books. Yet at times – particularly when I’m busy, or tired – I’m tempted to skim past the occasional page. Mostly where archaic verse is concerned and there are long-winded recounts interspersed throughout the text, but also when the author isn’t one that I’m fond of. It’s certainly tempting, but I still try to read consciously and deliberately, thinking about what I’m reading and trying to savour as much of the language and meaning as I can.

That’s why I’ve been making steady but extremely slow progress through Little Dorrit and The Odyssey. Although I’ve finished my exams, I only have a few moments of spare time where I can really sit down and allow myself to be immersed in a book.

I suppose another time I’m tempted to speed through books is when I have a growing TBR pile. I’ve been reserving books by the masses from the library, and they’re coming in faster than I thought they would. Either the people before me are fast readers, or they never get around to finishing the books they borrow. New books that have come in include Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri and Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, both of which I’m looking forward to reading.

At times I’d like to put Dickens and Homer down, and reach for the shiny new copy of The Enchantress of Florence on my bookshelf. But I won’t. Firstly because I have a long summer ahead of me, and there’s no need to rush through anything. Secondly, because I’m actually enjoying both books. Thirdly because I don’t read with the goal of getting through a certain number of books per year. I just need to remember where my priorities lie.

So I suppose today’s post is a conscience probe. If any of you book bloggers or readers out there are rushing through books to meet any sort of deadline, or simply skimming because you are not entertained by the book, I urge you to consider why you are reading –

Does literature serve only to entertain? Should books serve as a form of escapism from the monotonous routine of life, or should we make a conscious effort to relate literature to reality? After all, all literature circles around human nature, and the human condition. We can’t escape from the intrinsic values that define who we are as individuals and as a society. What do we learn from the books we read? Do we sigh with relief and tick another title off our reading lists, or do we pause to contemplate, and to appreciate the art of literature?

Let’s savour the books we read :)

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21 thoughts on “Sunday Salon: Skim or Savour?

  1. I felt the same way yesterday while reading The Graveyard Book. i felt like maybe I was rushing through it in a hurry to finish. I do feel the pressure right now to read as much as possible though finals are coming up. You’re right, it is better to savor a book than skim it. I plan on reading The Graveyard Book over again. Have a great week!

  2. I think that it is better to savor a book than to skim it. Sometimes I find myself skimming when the author puts in to many irrelevant details like in “Like Water for Chocolate” where the directions were laced in with the story.

    When I find myself skimming because I feel pressure to finish a book. I set it aside for a day or two, so that I can do other things and remember that my TBR pile will never be complete because there will always be books out there that I want to read or re-read.

  3. I do need to learn to slow down and savor more. There are a lot of books that don’t really suffer when I give them a quick read–I’m thinking of really light modern fiction, chick-lit and the like. But I’ve read plenty of other books (like the Hemingway I just finished) that seem simple but that require real thought while I’m reading if I’m going to get the full experience. I have to remind myself that there’s no point conquering the TBR pile if a rapid pace keeps me from getting as much as I can out of a book.

    Then there’s the related problem of not really focusing on my reading because I’m stopping constantly to check e-mail or reading in a noisy lunchroom. Hardly good conditions for savoring my reading :-)

    I’d like to start reserving skimming for books I’m not enjoying enough to want to savor but that I want know the ending to and nonfiction books that sometimes delve into aspects of the topic that don’t interest me. In those cases, skimming seems efficient and it doesn’t take away from the experience.

  4. Interesting post! I personally love books that take me to another place and time, let my mind go there when I’m washing dishes or folding laundry. So I would have to say yes, I think they are a great form of escapism and entertainment.

  5. What an interesting post. I’m definitely in the savour camp, but I don’t think one necessarily has to read a book slowly in order to savour it. I read quite quickly, by most peoples’ standards, but I still make a conscious effort to consider what I read. I often find that I get the most out of the books I can’t read slowly; the books that engage me on an emotional level and refuse to let me go. I’m more likely to delve deeper into the issues in play if I feel that I have some connection to the characters and their story. If, in short, the book is entertaining as well as intellectually stimulating.

    I don’t consider reading for entertainment and reading to know to be mutually exclusive concepts. I like books that allow me to do both.

  6. Your post is quite timely for me. I’ve been overwhelmed with review ARCS and trying to finish books in a decent timeframe, but I also want to read from my TBR. I’ve decided I need to slow down and accept less reviews. I need to get back to reading for my own enjoyment.

  7. Vasilly – good luck with your finals! I have never read The Graveyard Book, but it sounds very interesting.

    Monique – yes, that’s another reason why I can resist skimming: I know there will always be a thing called a TBR pile in my life :)

    Teresa – I agree that there is a time for skimming, and it isn’t always necessary to (particularly with nonfiction, I think)

    Scobberlotch – I suppose I object to instances where books are put down halfway simply because they are not “fun”. That’s just how I personally feel. Of course I’m not denying that books are a great form of escapism and entertainment – that’s invariably one of the reasons why we read.

  8. Memory – Thanks for the thought-provoking response. I suppose out of context, my post might seem rather one-sided, but over the last few months I’ve been battling with completing certain books (e.g. Henry James) and that’s sort of where I was coming from with the whole ‘entertainment vs completing the book’ thing.

    I read quite fast myself but in this particular case – Dickens is an author I have always had issues with – I think I would rather read slowly and complete the book, rather than skimming through it!

    And I quite agree with you that the books we get the most out of are the books that absorb us, but I just haven’t had the time to really sit down and read for longer than five minute intervals, and it’s really been hard to immerse myself in the books that I’m currently reading.

    Yvonne – wow, I’ve always admired people who accept reviews, because I have enough trouble trying to manage my TBR list on its own. It’s great you’ve decided to slow down and go back to reading for your own enjoyment. I think sometimes I undermine the importance of the ENJOYMENT/entertainment part of reading. The worst thing would be for reading to become a chore!

  9. I apologize if I came off as snarky; that certainly wasn’t my intention, but looking back at my comment I’m afraid that it could be taken that way. I focused in on the “Should literature be entertainment alone?” part of your post, and that’s a topic where I hold some strong opinions. I tend to get a bit carried away when I’m discussing it.

  10. I recently attempted “Possession” and “On Beauty” in the same week. Neither one of these books are what I would consider fun. However, “On Beauty” was entertaining enough that I could actually get through it and appreciate the issues it was trying to bring to light. “Possession” was so dense and dull to me that I had to abandon it. I felt guilty about it because I want to be a smart reader who doesn’t give up on a book just because it isn’t easy to read. I started out by skimming over the long explanations, but then I went back and tried to read it more slowly without skipping anything. Either way, I disliked the book. I could have forced myself to finish it, but I don’t think I would have gotten anything out of the exercise.

    All this is to say that I think it is OK for someone like me, who is long past her student days, to abandon books that aren’t entertaining. Some of us don’t have the time or mental energy to devote to books that require a lot of brain power.

  11. Such a thoughtful post, and it echoes some of my own thoughts re the “hurry up and read” mentality I somtimes find myself in.

    I rarely skim books – if I don’t like something well enough to read it slowly and carefully, I’ll usually abandon it. Occasionally I will get near the end of a book and find I’ve simply lost interest. At that point, I will skim my way to the ending – after investing so much time, I feel I need to at least determine how the story ends up!

    Sometimes I do feel the pressure of mounting TBR piles -so I move them into another room where I can’t see them :)

  12. Memory – oh no, I didn’t see it like that at all! In hindsight, my comment also sounded a little too defensive hahah! I’m actually really happy that this post has sparked some discussion; that’s one of the things I love most about keeping a book blog, and I always always enjoy hearing other people’s opinions.

    Dani – I have never read On Beauty, but Possession is one of my favourite books! The prose is rather dense, and at times I felt like I was ploughing through it, but I actually enjoy ploughing through books. Hahah! To be honest, I skipped the poems. I am not really a poetry person. But I loved Byatt’s ability to bring characters to life, and I was mesmerised by the language, the sheer lyricism of it. I didn’t particularly like the characters, but I was able to respect where she was going with the novel, if that makes sense.

    Strangely enough, though, I find I enjoy books more when I make time to read, rather than when I read to pass the time!

    Becca – hahah, that’s a great idea; moving the TBR books into another room. Mine are on a shelf right above my computer (I can see them as I type) so maybe that’s where the pressure comes from!

  13. I love to savor books too and I started blogging so I could better savor and ponder them as I read them. (I call a book that isn’t worth savoring, like some popular genre fiction, “page turners.”) But now I sometimes get overwhelmed as you say. Thanks for the reminder to slow down!

  14. I’m letting you know that you have won a copy of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro in my books giveaway. E-mail me your mailing address and I’ll send the book out to you. Congratulations, and thank you for participating.

    mattviews at yahoo dot com

  15. Rebecca – similar situation; I started blogging so I could enrich my reading experience, but then sometimes I feel like I have to be constantly updating my blog with reviews hahah!

    Matthew – woot! Thanks :)

  16. I am a savorer. I read too slowly in all circumstances! I pay too much attention on the words and language on the page, other than taking them as they are. I keep a dialectical journal when I read along, with page references and comments. Maybe I should just quit doing that depending on the nature of the book. It’s very rare that I would be racing through a book.

  17. Matthew – wow, that’s very meticulous! I don’t keep a journal so much as scattered notes, but I’ve stopped doing even that because it distracts from the process of reading. Mostly notetaking is reserved for large/long books and classics~

  18. I love to savour my reads. They never seem to last long enough for me because I’m a pretty fast reader, but I do try to make them last as long as possible. Right now I’m on the last book in David Field’s trilogy, The Fairest Star and really trying to take my time and enjoy it since it’s the final book in the series.

  19. Ruthie – that’s why I love long books, because one of the worst feelings in the world is having to wrench yourself away from a good story upon reaching the last page. And I hate to admit it, but I was ridiculously sentimental when the last Harry Potter book came out!

  20. tuesday – I’ll freely admit that I haven’t even bought the last Harry Potter book yet. I figure that as long as it’s not on my shelf and I haven’t read it, then it’s not really over yet. :)

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