Two weeks ago, I wrote about the differences between “supply side” readers — those who set aside times to read, and build reading naturally into their lives in their structural leisure time as a habit, and “demand side” readers. These are people whose inclination to read is more driven by having an engaging book. When they find something readable, the leisure time that exists in all our lives is suddenly re-purposed for reading.
Obviously, many voracious readers have bits of both. And one of the ways that people in the supply camp maintain their habit is making sure that they do have great books on hand. It’s kind of like finding it easier to eat your vegetables if the place you go for lunch every day serves a killer broccoli dish.
Anyway, I fall on the demand side of the ledger. I was reminded of this yesterday, when I read Banana Yoshimoto’s book, The Lake.
Based on advice I offered in my Fast Company piece “How Busy People Make Time to Read — And You Can Too,” I decided to pick up a bunch of books at the library the other night. My main criteria? That they be short (more on this below).
During a slow spot during the day, I decided to read a few pages in The Lake — Yoshimoto’s 13th novel. This is what readers in the supply camp do! They read during breaks. Then they calmly put their books away.
But I can’t really do this. And so I wound up reading all of The Lake yesterday.
I’m not entirely sure why this is. It’s not that The Lake is a particular page-turner. Yoshimoto is a compelling writer, and you wind up caring about the characters, but there’s always something a little strange in the translation — it’s contemporary Japanese, but there may not be equivalent slang words, and so a big chunk of the dialogue sounds cartoonish. Also, not that much really happens until the end. Two lonely people start to fall in love. He has something horrible in his past that seems to preclude complete intimacy, and the heroine wants to figure out what it is. Eventually we figure it out too (hint: a cult is involved!), but it takes a long time. And even then, it’s not fully probed. This may be part of the cultural differences too — like a haiku, what isn’t said in the spaces is as important as what is said in the words.
Anyway, it was decent. It wasn’t the best literature ever. And yet, once I start reading something I feel compelled to keep going until I finish it. Given how I work — usually by myself, at home — I can do this. So I do.
I know this about myself, which is one reason I choose short novels. If I’m going to need to finish something quickly once I start it, then better to choose something short so I can build it into my life. Otherwise I will never get any work done.
I’m curious if other people have this issue, and what you’ve done about it.
In other news: I’m over at Modern Mrs. Darcy today as part of her series on “Other People’s Bookshelves.” Lots of photos of my bookshelves, from my library built-ins to the Land of Nod specials I constructed in the kids’ rooms.
Photo: Cover of The Lake with (look closely!) reflected selfie.
18 thoughts on “Confessions of a demand-side reader”
I’m definitely more of a supply side reader. I really just read at night before I go to bed. Sometimes just a few pages. Sometimes a chapter if I get to bed early or I’m having trouble sleeping. For me, my reading style can be kind of frustrating because it can take me a very long time to finish something, especially if it’s something I enjoy.
I’m a supply-side reader too (as in, “I breathe, therefore I read”). One thing that makes it easier to put a book down is knowing that there is time scheduled (formally or informally) to read later in the day. If I didn’t know that time was there, it would be harder to put a book down or, heaven forbid, even start a book.
I, too, am a demand-side reader, but the novels I like tend to me more character-driven than plot-driven. They’re thus a bit easier to put down, which is good since they tend to be long. Whenever I do read something plot-driven that I enjoy (like Khaled Hosseini), forget about work for a while!
As a librarian, I’m surrounded by excellent books on a daily basis. I read more now than I did even in college (when I had more free time!).
I do have a hard time rejecting a book unless I really hate it, and I really love finishing books in a short time period. I mostly read one book at a time but have others available in case I want to switch tracks (I like true crime but it’s not the best before-bedtime reading). Mostly focusing on one book at a time helps me finish them more quickly or makes me evaluate whether I enjoy it enough to continue reading it. I also try to switch things up, such as with genre and length. I’ve read the first two books in the Game of Thrones series, and I loved them, but they took me several weeks to read and they are hefty things to be lugging around. (One of my tips–bring the book with you everywhere.) So I’m taking a break from them and reading a couple of lighter things before tackling book three. I just finished a novel (The Snow Child, very good) and now I’m onto some nonfiction (Daily Rituals: How Artists Work).
Like Modern Mrs. Darcy, I read in pockets all day long. I read at breakfast, at lunch, (I don’t have kids and we have a half hour lunchbreak, so no time to go out for lunch), while waiting in line, before bed, etc. Since a lot of my reading time is in predetermined amounts–I have to go back to work after lunch–I don’t usually have a problem stopping myself from finishing. Sometimes it can be hard to read on the weekends when there are other things competing for my attention, so even then I tell myself I’ll read for a half hour or for a certain number of pages. Or I use reading time as a reward for completing a chore I would rather not do. Maybe that’s a thought for you–set a timer or tell yourself you’ll stop when you’ve reached a certain page number.
@Caitlin- oh, the temptations of being around books all day! Yes, I should just tell myself to read to a certain page, and then tomorrow I will read to a certain page. I am Ok to stop if I have a phone call. The issue is that I tend to leave a lot of open space in my schedule for long term projects — and open space is easily re-purposed.
I am both. I read every single night, but I also listen to books (this started when my babies were little and I could listen to books while I fed them and they slept on me, but couldn’t turn pages or it’d wake them up). So when I get into a good book and I make the mistake of listening to a few pages in the morning before I get started, I’m ruined for the whole day. I have some work that I can do while listening to books (math-based stuff that uses a different part of my brain), so I fool myself into thinking I can be productive while listening to a book, which isn’t really true.
I’m a supply side reader, but that doesn’t mean I calmly put my books away! If I truly don’t mind putting it down, it’s because it isn’t very good.
I was hoping to sneak a peek at what else you picked up at the library.
I’m reading through Eudora Welty’s The Optimist’s Daughter right now. Will probably finish it today, given the problem described in this post 🙂 Then I have Robin Nagle’s “Picking Up” — an anthropological look at the garbage in NYC, as told by studying sanitation workers. After that, I have a few books I need to read for work…
And I’m also starting Twenty-One Balloons with my 6-year-old.
“once I start reading something I feel compelled to keep going until I finish it”
Yes – if you discover a way to stop doing this, I’m all ears. 🙂
Last night I finished reading The Black Swan, which I’m not too proud to say most of it was over my head. After I finished it (even though I enjoyed it), I wished I hadn’t read it. But I couldn’t stop.
@Carrie – ok, I will admit that I did stop reading The Black Swan. So we have now figured out that Banana is more compelling than that…
I used to read like you describe.
Then I went to grad school and became a literature prof!
Now my “pleasure” reading, such as it is, is read in small chunks. I made it through all 800 pages of Tartt’s The Goldfinch by doing maybe 30 pages per day, with a few longer stints in there. You can get a lot read in 30-50 pages a day if you do it every day…
Yes, yes, yes. I realised I had no control when I read a book, so I chose to not read fiction in 2013. Thinking I’d learnt control I started a book earlier this year and it took over everything still.
I like your description of supply side and demand side readers.
I have had to cut myself off from fiction cold turkey too, and have gone pretty long stints without it, but I always go back. It sometimes feels like a secret addiction!
@sarah – I know what you mean! I just finished The Optimist’s Daughter tonight. That’s two novels in 2 days. This can’t go on!
I have this problem too! I call it ‘binge reading’ and sometimes, when emerging dazed from an afternoon pretty much inhaling a whole book, it feels like an unhealthy addiction of sorts. My solution has been reading non-fiction (which I can usually put down – although I picked up Atul Gawande’s ‘The Checklist Manifesto’ the other day to find a quote and ended up re-reading the whole thing!) I also tried serious classics that I felt I should read – but many turned out to be classics because they’re so compelling…and it was binging all over again. So I save novels for quiet weekends at home or holidays, and plan for lots of reading time or for other scheduled commitments to interrupt me. Another solution has been joining an ‘Infinite Jest’ reading group. A) it’s too long to binge read and B) our group has a schedule of a certain number of pages per week – for most people it’s so they keep up but for me it helps to slow me down!
@Lily- this is one reason I’ve wound up doing a lot of non-fiction too. But yes, non-fic can be read compulsively too. I have read 4 books in the last week now, which isn’t really sustainable with other things I need to do.
I’m definitely a demand side reader. I actually lose sleep and dry my eyeballs out because I must. finish. the book.
The down side is that it is just like food. When it is consumed too quickly, it isn’t enjoyed to the fullest. To combat this, I tell myself to slow down, but this just means that I ignore my hubby longer. I’m not sure if such a thing as work/life/read balance exists. If there is, someone please help!