A couple weeks ago, spurred on by my wife's recommendation and by Brandon's fortnightly read I read A Civil Contract, a Georgette Heyer novel about a marriage of convenience which gradually develops into something deeper. It was a fun, fast read which I devoured in a couple of days, sitting up late reading while early pregnancy was sending MrsDarwin to bed early.
One of the things that struck me in this regard was the contrast to much of my other reading. I don't read many books these days that are simply fun, fast reads. Much of my reading time is taken up with books which are at least tangentially novel research: books about World War One, about European history in the periods just before and after, and fiction either about the war or providing a window on the cultures which clashed in it. Right now, for instance, my audiobook is Buddenbrooks, Thomas Mann's novel covering several generations of a German merchantile family, and Verdun, a 1937 novel by French author Jules Romains about the battle of the same name. I'm enjoying both (Buddenbrooks is a better novel, but Verdun is quite well done) but neither is the sort of thing which I could read in bed for a couple hours at night without falling asleep, as I did with Civil Contract. It's not as if I find my other books boring. I want to read them and I'm finding them interesting. I suppose some dedicated readers can stay up late reading virtually anything that interests them, but (perhaps due to too many spells when I get only six hours of sleep or have some small person climbing in to thrash about the bed throughout the night) I find it hard to stay awake reading in bed for more than five to ten pages unless the book is both easy to read (as in fairly light) and fairly fast moving. Not necessarily in terms of suspense, but a certain type of prose construction which keeps the pages flipping easily.
I'm not necessarily talking strictly of frothy books or "popcorn reads"; I've read some fairly dark and grim novels which certainly have the fast-read quality. I'm having trouble nailing down exactly what it is that puts a book in this category for me. Most of them are comparatively modern. Although there's a lot that has fascinated me out of the WW1-and-before era books that I've been reading, most hundred year old books translated into English don't seem to fall in this category for me. Because with non-fast reading it can take me a month or so to finish a book, I tend to fend off a lot of reading for fear of not getting to all the books I need to get to. And yet, a book that does have this fast-reading quality is finished within a couple days and thus doesn't actually put me back much in getting to my other reading priorities.
Whatever it is, the refreshment that I felt after reading a quick page turner for the first time in three months or so was palpable, and it got me thinking that I should make sure to read more books which have that fun quality. It's not as if I'm in danger of falling away from reading, but it probably isn't good to be reading only denser reads. I am, after all, trying to write, and I don't want to fall into the habit of writing pages that don't turn easily. And also, activity creates habit. And I want to retain the pure enjoyment of moving through a book quickly to discover what happens next.
Fall of Rome & Schooling
1 hour ago