How Do You Do That?

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Recently, it’s come to my attention that I am quite strange.

…I mean with my reading habits. Yes, I’ve known that I’m complete weirdo for virtually my whole life, but I never thought of my reading habits as particularly odd until very recently.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a person who reads a vast collection of literature in a relatively short amount of time must be asked the eternal question: “How do you read so much?”

Alright, you want to know? You really want to know?

Because I’ll tell you, but I doubt it’ll make any more sense to you than it does to me.

Simply put: my brain is kind of different. I’ve never had it scanned or anything like that and, yes, I understand that each person is a precious, individual snowflake and no two are alike. But let me just tell you a bit about my brain and what I’ve “observed” about it in relation to my reading habits over this past year.

Why only this year? Well, this year I was challenged to read 365 books — novels, novellas, short stories, collections of poetry, issues of manga, graphic novels, et al. — in the 365 days of this year. And, let me make something else clear: I don’t count re-reads of novels. So that’s 365 new-to-me written works in 365 days.

That means I needed to average about a book a day.

Now, let me be clear, I have not always kept that average: there were periods where I read maybe a book a week, and there were times, like very recently, when I read about 5-6 books in one day. To be fair: I was ill in bed and did not have much else to do because, well, “much else” took far more effort and energy than I had available to me.

As it sits, at this very moment, I am currently 7 books ahead of schedule, and I’m sure that will fluctuate before this year comes to a close. But, still…I’m 7 books ahead of schedule. And none of it was cheating. I diligently logged and star-rated every book that I read via goodreads, and even wrote reviews for some of them. When it comes to compiling my “Top 15 Books of 2015” list, I know it’ll be incredibly difficult given the volume I will have read.

But how have I managed this? How could I possibly have read that many books in so short a time?

I’ve been asked this more as the year comes to its end, namely because the sheer volume has truly started to sink in for many of my friends and family. So, without further ado, let me tell the few things I have discovered for myself about myself — the few ticks/tricks/quirks that I possess that have helped me to achieve this insane number.

I have an extremely mild case of ADHD and continue to remain unmedicated for it, especially given that I manage to go 23 years without being diagnosed. What does this have to do with my reading? I actually think quite a bit.

For me, my ADHD manifests in the following way: I have to be multi-tasking. I cannot focus on one single thing at a time. If I try to do that, I become restless, my mind wanders too easily, and I’m just overall a very unhappy bunny. I think this is one of the many reasons I am fortunate for having chosen the media industry — specifically post-production — as a career choice, given that it requires my brain to be focusing upon a myriad of small details all at once.

This need continues into my reading. I do not deny the idea of “losing oneself” in a book — I think that’s a great moment of brain-related multitasking: my brain is simultaneously intaking/comprehending/decoding the words upon a page and having them make sense, but is also running an entire visual film in my head of the process. It’s brilliant!

But there’s more — which brings me to the topic of audiobooks.

Some people love them, others loathe them. I have a friendly relationship with audiobooks. I listen to them all the time — in the car, at the gym, at home, at work — and I don’t usually stop unless I feel I must. I am fortunate enough that my career focuses on me working with headphones on virtually all the time, so I can run an audiobook in the background of my machine while I’m working on my edits. I may pause it from time to time if I need to do some serious audio editing, but by and large it’ll run, unobtrusively, behind everything that I do. So that’s around 9 hours each day I spend “reading” while working.

Add to that the fact that I don’t listen to audiobooks at normal speed, with very few exceptions.

I can tell you the book that forever helped me embrace the faster-read audiobook: I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella. The reader was a brilliant choice for that book and, as it neared one of its two romantic climaxes near the end, I got antsy. The reader was not getting there fast enough. So I ramped and ramped the speed until I was listening to about 2-2.5x speed. This actually suited the novel perfectly and it only took a few moments for me to adjust to the change in pace.

When I listen to audiobooks now — again, with very few exceptions — I immediately start them at 2x speed. I don’t do this as a way to cut down the time I spend in the book because, contrary to what some may think, I read for pleasure and, as such, take great pleasure out of soaking in a novel. No, I do this because I have now become accustomed to it; listening at normal speed is torturous to me as, like the Borg in Star Trek, I’ve adapted to this heightened reading pace and, therefore, feel like I’m dragging a ball and chain if you force me to listen at normal speed. Again, there are a few exceptions, but this is the general rule for when I read.

As you can imagine, this means my non-listening reading pace is actually fairly rapid. This was something I knew even as a child because my parents were always astonished with how quickly I could finish the books they would give me. They used to time me each year that a new Harry Potter novel came out, like it was a game. But I never read for speed: I just read because I wanted to, and I can’t really help how quickly I read. Some people always wonder how they can read faster and, I’m afraid I can’t really help you there — but I can tell you what I’ve gathered about the way my own eye sees a page.

I’m what you would call a “block reader”, as in: I don’t read word-by-word, line-by-line. I take the page in chunks — not even proper chunks, at that! My eye scans all over the page in random-seeming grids. I might read the very last word of the page before I even get to the top or the middle, dependent upon where my eye starts. But it makes sense to me; my brain will have already started calculating this series of blocks into a proper image of the page and poof! I feel like I’m reading like it were word-by-word and line-by-line. This isn’t something I was taught, nor something I could possibly try to teach…it’s just something that I do.

And now we come to the kicker. The one thing that I do that irritates and befuddles people I know more than anything: I can physically read and listen to two completely separate books at the same time.

I’m sure you’re sitting back and thinking: What? Nobody can actually do that!

Let me explain.

I don’t do this often, as I rarely have the leisure to actually just sit and read this way. It requires a good deal of concentration — similar, I suppose, to the state of mind people describe when they are meditating. I probably look something like a statue, save for the flipping/turning of pages, when I’m reading like this and it’s very likely I won’t respond to much outside stimuli because i’m entirely focused on what I’m doing.

Besides that, I pick and choose the books for which I do this carefully. Usually one of the two books is one upon which I don’t feel the need to focus particularly hard — my attention will divide something like 60/40 in favour of whichever of the two books I feel the need to really dig into like some kind of literary archeologist or even in just a scholarly manner. My brain doesn’t just turn off because I’m reading for leisure. Trust me when I say I’m that kid who, even as I read, analyzes everything. It’s not something I can turn off or just stop doing; it’s a part of the multi-tasking/story-intaking experience for me.

Here endeth the tour of my reading brain. It fascinates some, it baffles others — most of the time, it just makes my friends and family shake their heads. I shall depart you now, to return to the world of the current book I am consuming, and do my best to complete my challenge.

Happy Reading!

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