So many books, so little time!

The past couple of weeks have been really busy and it has been fun working with some amazing new speed readers via Skype video calls.
Sometime I teach clients who want to learn speed reading with a view to reading more great works of literature faster. The phrase ‘ So many books and so little time’ strikes a chord with many book lovers. This is the case with the gentleman from Arizona who has been reading is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’. This novel is remarkable, not least for the cognitive demands the style and content place on the reader. It opens with a diagram of the Buendia family tree. I found this extremely helpful in keeping track of who is who in the book, especially the twenty-two characters named Aureliano!
From the opening paragraph, I started to appreciate the depth and complexity of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s style. Most authors start with a paragraph that introduces the setting, or significant event or starts to establish a key character. Marquez hooks us in with a Colonel Aureliano Buendia recalling his childhood while standing in front of a firing squad. It begins with two time frames: ‘Many years later’ and childhood. In an extended paragraph (a page and a third), we discover details about the village of Macondo, the annual visit of the gypsies, two important characters (the gypsy Melquiades and the Colonel’s mother) , all while exploring the inquisitive and imaginative nature of Aureliano’s father, through a description of how he attempted to search for gold using magnets bought from Melquiades.
Another book I read around that time was Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s ‘Marina’. In the short opening paragraph Zafon introduces Marina and establishes the importance of her relationship with the narrator, who has been thinking about the significance of a remark Marina had made a long time ago, ‘We only remember what never happened’. (A great opening for a work of fiction.) Both books are extraordinary in different ways. However, there is absolutely no doubt that Marquez’ style places great demands on both working memory (the bit of memory that holds information ‘in mind’ as we read) and recent memory (what we have just read). This author demands our full attention if we are to understand what is going on and who everyone is and the significance of the events described in the narrative. Contrast this with the focused, introspective and reflective style of Zafon, introducing the novel with a paradox and presenting the story he is about to offer the reader with another: ‘But I suppose I had better start at the beginning, which in this case is the end’.
Given the different styles and varyinglevels of complexity, how quickly do I read and enjoy both of these novels? Well, with the mass of information in the opening section of ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’, my strategy is to read it quickly and allow the brain to juggle the details between working memory and recent memory. I attempt to create a mental movie as I read and Marquez’s vivid descriptions make that much easier. The unspoken questions in my head are: Who are these characters? How do the events described relate to the situation of the firing squad? The novelist selectively reveals details and although I attempt to make sense of them, I accept at this stage that there will be gaps. Author create suspense with these spaces and allowing readers’ imagination freedom to wonder about what might fill them. I read the beginning at around 800 words per minute and as the novel progressed and I became more familiar with the style, my speed varied between 800 -1500 words per minute. I enjoyed every word, as Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel gave my brain a work out. It felt as if I was assembling myriad pieces of a jigsaw as I attempted to remembering the details of the different characters and understand the dynamics of their relationships. That is part of the great satisfaction of reading ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’.

‘Marina’ is the kind of book that I could speed read in less than an hour. It has a simple structure. The narrator is looking back at a period of his life when he was still at school and is about to disclose a secret he has kept buried in ‘the attic of his soul’. The style is poetic, with explorations of the narrator’s thoughts and superb atmospheric descriptions of the settings. It is wonderful, magical and gothic. The choice of reading speed? There are some sections of the book which are definitely ‘page turners’, where I wanted to discover what happened next and others which I found very moving and I felt I wanted to think about. One of the great things about being a speed reader is that you can choose what to read quickly and what to linger on.

This week I went to another marvellous author event organised by Forum Books. Emma Bridgewater, the designer, spoke about her career and her designs and explained why she had chosen to write her new book and how she had gone about it. The ‘how’ was particularly interesting, as she went to Paris to get away from work and found a café where she could write with the bustle of people around her, but without interruptions. Emma was interviewed by local author Hazel Osmond, on the right in the photograph.

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Good luck to Forum Books, nominated for Independent Bookseller of the Year! We will find out in May whether Helen Stanton and her team win. Forum Books is an outstanding bookshop and, in my view, deserves the award!

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