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Is it possible to read too much?

Is it possible to read too much?

I get through around 80 books each year. My choice of reading covers everything from thrillers to theology, but overwhelmingly I read fiction.

‘You’re so good, the way you read so much,’ people sometimes say. But there’s nothing remotely noble about this endeavour. Reading for me is like eating chocolate; pure, unadulterated pleasure. I’m just lucky my favourite indulgence isn’t bad for me.

Sometimes, though, I wonder.

Knowing that I have a thing for Scottish Islands, a mate recently lent me a book set on a small island off the west coast of Scotland. ‘Thanks!’ I enthused. ‘I’ve never heard of this author. How is that I read all the time and am constantly discovering wonderful writers I’ve never heard of?’ and proceeded to read Now we shall be entirely free by Andrew Miller.

A week later, I was trawling over my ‘List of books read in 2019’ which I keep religiously at the back of my hard copy diary. Who should I see there but Andrew Miller, whose novel The Crossing I had gobbled up over the summer holidays?

It all came rushing back. Including a conversation with my husband, who had also enjoyed The Crossing when I had said ‘How is it that I read all the time and am constantly discovering wonderful writers I’ve never heard of?’

This was when I began to wonder if a person can over-read. I perused the list of books I’d read in the last six months and could barely recall the plots of any of them. I devour books (no coincidence that so many of the words used to describe reading – devour, insatiable, voracious, consume – are eating words) like a kid eats fairy floss, desperately, as though there were a risk that someone might forbid me. Like a chain smoker, if I don’t have my next book ready to go when I close the last page of the current one, I feel edgy and incomplete.

Of course, there are volumes I linger longingly over, the details of which are clear in my memory and will remain so. There are works I return to again and again. Mostly, though, I’m unable to stop myself tearing through fiction like there’s no tomorrow.

This is no virtue; it simply proves that if you love doing something enough, you’ll find the time to do it. As for whether it’s good for me to read quite so much, like any addict, I’m willing to risk it.

This was published in The Melbourne Age on Sunday 4 August


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Reader Comments (2)

Lucky you, I reckon

August 6, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSally Manuell

I used to be the same Clare but not nearly as insatiable as you. I'm changing as I grow older. I am harder to please. I more often don't finish the meal. If plot and characters don't satisfy me they go to the rubbish bin. Is there something wrong with that? How does one explain the loss of appetite for fiction? Is it the cuisine or my taste?

August 7, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRod

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