The article by Héctor García Barnés published in El Confidencial, “There are people in Spain who read 80, 150 or 300 books a year, and it is not as difficult as it sounds”, draws powerful attention both for the cases it presents of constant readers and for the rather negative comments they receive. According to García Barnés, the survey on reading habits and book purchases of 2021, carried out by the Federation of Publishers’ Guilds of Spain, indicates that “those over 18 years of age read on average 10.2 books per year, but there are 36% of people who do not read even one”, according to half of them due to lack of time. On the other hand, the “super readers”, according to the journalist’s nomenclature “those fans of literature who read the same number of books a year as entire towns”, always find time to indulge in their favorite vice. Engineer Mariano Hortal, who reads about 300 books a year as reflected in his blog Lectura y locura, is surely an extraordinary case, but according to García Barnés it is not so strange to find in Spain readers who consume 80 to 150 books per year among the ranks of teachers, publishers, and journalists. Hopefully, others too.
Although I consider myself simply a reader, I am one of those ‘super readers’, with an annual average of around 100 books. I began to keep the list of everything I read at the age of fourteen so as not to forget anything, and I continue to religiously write down the volumes I pass through, not out of an effort to meet a quota but out of pure curiosity about how my annual walk among books is developing. And, as I said, out of sheer necessity, to keep memories alive. I understand that the readers whom García Barnés has interviewed correspond to a similar profile: neither they nor I compete with other readers, we do not expect to be awarded any prizes for reading, and we do not read to inflate our respective lists; they simply grow every year.
The number of books read does not indicate the hours spent on each volume and so for a while I also used to write down the pages of each book, a habit I lost. Yes, there have been cases in which I have hesitated to add a book to my list because it was only around 100 pages, although in other cases I have read books of 800 or 900 pages (like the one I am now reading, Fall; or Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson). One thing to understand is that the more you read, the more the reading speed increases, and the more comprehension improves, without a doubt. My usual reading speed is around 50-60 pages per hour, although as I said in the previous post, I rarely read more than two hours in a row unless it is for work. I never force myself to read every day, nor do I tend to finish books I do not like; actually, I should add to the 100 books per year something like 10 or 12 more per number of pages read in books eventually abandoned.
Neither the super readers of the article nor I myself narrate this experience with a desire for prestige or fame. In fact, García Barnés offers the article to those who claim they lack time to read as a lesson on how this can be found. The readers interviewed explain something more than obvious: time is always limited but if you find three and a half hours a day to watch TV (the national average in Spain in 2021), or waste time on the social networks, you can find one hour for reading. In fact, it is increasingly important to acquire that habit since various studies indicate that just as regular physical exercise keeps the heart healthy, reading helps maintain brain health.
Leaving aside this issue, it is clear that those of us who read books non-stop possibly get some kind of endorphin from reading similar to the one that encourages athletes to make further efforts. I do practice any sports, although I am aware that I should, and therefore I understand that there are many people who dislike reading, but I would never despise the sporting achievements of amateur athletes. If I stumbled upon an article in which a series of gentlemen and ladies told me that they run a marathon a week because they love it, it would not cross my mind to denigrate them; however, what the comments to García Barnés’ article reflect is distrust and contempt, and a very mistaken impression that super readers are arrogant.
Here are some of those comments. Mr. Puterfull states that “Reading cannot be taken as a challenge or a competition. We’re just going crazy,” though nothing in the article suggests that super readers set up challenges or compete. Stuart Carter stresses that “reading cannot be an obligation”, observing that “The important thing is to read and enjoy what is read”, without noticing that this is what the interviewees defend. Alberto Martín thinks (in capital letters) that “100 BOOKS A YEAR? IT IS BARBARIC”, next doubting that the super readers have understood at all what they read. Another reader, Weyland Yutani (the name of the diabolical corporation in the Alien saga), concludes that “He who reads 300 books a year does not read but flips through. It is not the same”, though he has no basis to justify his argument (nor to insinuate that Mariano Hortal is lying). Philip Buster (sic) supports this unfounded thesis with a resounding “I can consume a lot of reading and not read anything”. Maria Benjumea categorically denies that anyone can read 50 or 60 pages in one hour. In her opinion, “more than 30 pages in an hour means skipping paragraphs or reading garbage”. One Maximón insists that “if I read by the ‘weight’ I am literally wasting my time”, despite the fact that the super readers interviewed mention in all cases quality books. According to her, “the ideal is to select very well what is going to be read and why”, so that “I, with 10/12 books in a year I am satisfied”.
Other comments attack super readers on the flank of time rather than on the flank of comprehension ability. Daniel Monleón, who claims to be a reader depending on each period of his life, comments that “reading is enjoyment” like other pleasures, without it being “a choice (…) better or worse than others”, though it is “more lonely”. Reacting to the estimate by one of the super readers who has decided not to waste time with bad books because he only has time to read about 3500 if he hits old age, Felipe García writes that “I have no interest in reading 80 books a year, nor in reading 3500 in the rest of my life. Nor in watching 50 seasons of series per year or watching 200 games of the year”, thus putting at the same level the reading and consumption of television, which most super readers despise. Finally, Jorge Valdecasas writes that “If someone tells me that he has an 8-hour job, 3 children and reads a book every 2 days of the caliber of the three volumes of the lord of the rings (sic), I would ask that they lose custody of their children”. He forgets that reading habits are usually born by imitation of the parents who read.
As I said, I can’t imagine similar comments in response to an article about how to find time to run marathons, and the obvious question is why the super readers interviewed ruffle so many feathers. There is no comment appreciating the advice given (take books whenever you go on a trip even on the subway, look for shorter periods throughout the day if you cannot dedicate an hour to reading, use public libraries to experiment with different types of books), but a set of attacks. Spain is a tremendously uneducated country and perhaps therein lies the root of the hostility. While one comment indicates that the reading index is rising as indicated by the opening of large new bookstores in the major cities, another quips that if it were so there would be a bookstore on each street as there are bars.
Given this situation, it is not so surprising that super readers are looked down upon as people too clever for their own good who think they are superior to others. On the other hand, it is true that the interviewees do not hesitate to criticize the massive consumption of series and of gossipy talk shows as scourges that prevent maximizing the time that could be spent reading, and I understand that this position may be offensive. I have to clarify that in my own academic environment not everyone reads wildly, and that many teachers of Literature read less than they should because of being hooked on to series. I wouldn’t be surprised the way things are going that thirty years from now books will no longer be taught in our English Studies degrees, but only series (I think cinema is dying before it can reach our classrooms).
As I wrote in my previous post, when the night comes and I have some leisure time, the question always arises as to whether I will opt for a movie or the book I am reading those days. As Daniel Monleón noted in his comment, reading is a lonely pursuit and normally if I opt for a film it is because I want to keep my partner company (he just loves movies, all of them). The problem is that if the film does not interest me too much I squirm restlessly on the sofa thinking about the book I could be reading, a situation that is difficult to understand (I know) for a non-reader. If you think about it, the habit of constantly reading is extremely strange, and perhaps somewhat selfish as some of the comments cited suggest. Certainly, it cannot be shared, despite social networks such as GoodReads or the many book clubs, unless, as many families did in the 19th century, one reads aloud and the others listen. Watching TV or using social networks is not really a more sociable act, as can be seen in those groups of teenagers who do not talk to each other because they are checking their smartphones. Yet, only readers carry the stigma of being too abstracted, too immersed in other worlds. Nerds, in short.
Since I know that he will never run a marathon, whatever the athletes may say, I know that it is useless to recommend reading if not 80 at least more than 12 books a year. I will just drop the suggestion in case anyone feels inspired by it.
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