Sunday, 18 June 2017

My tsundoku shame, and thoughts on blogging, and being a backwards burrowing bookworm

I am interrupting my planned cat and loosely 'perfume'-related post - so loose that the 'p' word has to be couched in inverted commas - plus I can't be technically 'interrupting' a post I hadn't started writing - to bring you some shock news about my book reading rate in the past 8 years, which also happens to be getting on for the time I have been blogging. I keep a 'book diary', you see, in which I write the year and month when I finish each title I read, so the data is there in all its inglory, which if it wasn't a word before, is now.

The topline is that in those 8 years I have read a paltry 48 books, or 6 per year on average. The rate varies between 1 book in 2012 (when I split up with Mr Bonkers and moved house) to 12 in 2015, for reasons that are not immediately apparent.

I posted this alarming statistic on Facebook, and two friends replied, one of whom has a speed reading rate that would blow me out of the water!

"56 pages an hour is my average rate. 12 hours a week is also a good average. 100 books a year allowing for 336 pages per book."

I love the precision of '336 pages'...that figure didn't come out of nowhere either, I sense, ditto '56 pages an hour'. I don't know for sure, but have a feeling my hourly rate might be nearer 20 pages. Plus there is the whole issue of print size and line height. I own some books which I think I might fancy reading, but as soon as I open them and see how densely covered in tiny type the pages are, I promptly shut them again, however engrossing they might otherwise be!


I don't watch much TV - or DVDs - either!

Another friend, who is a short story writer, posted:

"31 so far this year for me, thanks to having joined the FB group Read 100 books in 2017. Unlikely I'll manage the full 100, though."

So whilst not as voracious a bookworm as the first friend, she is still managing to read my annual average in a month, near as dammit.




I scratched my head for a while, puzzling at the massive disparity between these friends' reading rates and my own, before it dawned on me that blogging throughout that period will have accounted for a fair chunk of time...probably something of the order of 3,500 hours at a guess, which equates to two years in 'working week' terms, assuming no holiday allowance. But that still leaves the other six, haha, so further factors must also be at work.

For example, I recently discovered that I suffer from dry eye syndrome, and I do definitely struggle more with my eyesight for close work, despite having been told my prescription hasn't really changed in recent years. I don't own a pair of reading glasses as such, mind, and could probably do with one. For now, I am using an old pair of distance glasses from 15 years ago, which are not a bad substitute! And there was also the trouble with my old bath, which never seemed to keep the water hot for more than about five minutes, an ambient temperature not exactly conducing to a 'wallow and read' habit.

Then just this morning, it occurred to me to see if I had kept any records prior to 2008, and sure enough I had...all the way back to 2002 in fact. I got the idea off my late mother, about the meaning of whose system of ticks and crosses we can but speculate. She also noted where she got the tip off from to read a particular book, which ranges from The Times, to the 'S.T' - which I am going to assume is The Sunday Times - to The Oldie and The Spectator - plus occasional mentions of me!


Mother's book diary


And the upshot of my analysis of my own previous book diary is as revealing as it is concerning. In the 7 years between 2002 and 2008 I read 157 books(!), equating to 22.5 a year, versus my 6 a year nowadays. That is almost four times as many. And I was working A LOT more than I do today. I could imagine I got through a good few books on my trips away, in the absence of any human interaction. And also on those kind of beach-y holidays I don't take anymore.

So that is all rather sobering to put it mildly. Ironically, the fact that I read so little - I don't even take a newspaper now, which used to occupy entire weekends back in the day - doesn't seem to stop me buying books. ;) Why, only yesterday I bagged four for just over a fiver in Oxfam: two first editions, a Helen Dunmore that was new to me (in honour of her recent demise), and a Louise Doughty (on the premise that anything written by the author of the incomparable Apple Tree Yard simply had to be worth a punt!).




This compulsion to buy books is a trait I inherited from my father. At his death, he was virtually entombed by books in his tiny flat: they were piled high in the middle of the living room like the footings of an unfinished building, and the floor to ceiling bookcases in every room were double or triple stacked. There were books under the bed and in the bathroom, and none of the doors opened more than a crack because of a book-related obstruction lurking immediately behind. His library ended up filling 140 large cardboard removal boxes, which are in my brother's attic, still largely waiting to be sorted and sold, and are one of the subjects of this post from last September.



Source: fet.uwe.ac.uk


So yes, I am my father's daughter, and have tsundokus dotted all over the house, even if none of the gangways are impeded as such. ;) I regularly break them up into smaller piles so as not to frighten the horses, but the house is silting up with unread books all the same. I tell myself I will read them when I am retired, even though the government keeps moving the glimmering mirage of the state pension further off into the far distance. Hey, I have so little work at the moment that I am semi-retired already. Make that three quarters-retired even! And still I don't read.




No, I think the reason for my woeful book reading rate is partly the blogging, for sure, but it will also have a lot to do with social media and my propensity to fritter away time, and make a meal - and heavy weather! - of the simplest of chores. I have taken time wasting to the rarefied level of an Olympian sport. They say that mothers of new borns are the most productive people of all, getting more done in the odd 15 minutes they can snatch while the baby is napping than people like me achieve in a week.

And to make matters worse, I joined Instagram last week! I agree that the steady procession of arty photos people post on there is pleasingly restful, but I still prefer the verbal cut and thrust of Facebook, and I could never ever reconcile myself to that annoying thicket of hashtags. So I may not be on there for long...


I would be really interested to know what your reading rates are like, and whether they have changed lately.

If so, what do you put that down to? 



Some of these are admittedly hotel guides and dictionaries


Me, I am off to start 'The Trouble With Goats and Sheep', by Joanna Cannon, which was a birthday present from my friend Gillie. In a surprise turn of events, Joanna is helping out at her Alzheimer's choir group. I don't know what has brought her to Stafford.

Now I would lie in the sun for a bit, but I have 100 chemical and cosmetic allergens taped to my back, and the nurse was most insistent that I 'stay cool!'. Hopefully this will confirm the source of my eyelid eczema and may well prompt a further post on the matter.







36 comments:

  1. I will never equal the rate of my teens when, courtesy of Belfast Central Library, I got through 9 books a week minimum. I blame that little chatty, twinkling, beeping, chirping toy - the iPad. That said, I mostly buy ebooks now. But even so it's only 2 or 3 a month max.

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    1. Hi Hazel,

      2 to 3 ebooks a month is still a good tally compared with my half a book a month. And you are of course a prodigious knitter, so that will account for a lot of woman hours. But I know what you mean about the iPad. I don't have one, but use my old iPhone in lieu, which probably does my eye strain no good at all!

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  2. Your father sounds like my husband. This weekend was our library sale and he bought me a pile of Maigrets, which I do read(and drop into) the bathtub, plus Dracula which I am sure I will also drop into the tub sooner or later.

    Am a pretty constant reader, usually biographies and histories but I do like mysteries. How many per year? I've never counted.

    As for reading less, honestly Facebook et al are big trouble for everyone. My daughter loves those and has similar troubles to yours,and yes,also reads less than when she was younger.

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    1. Hi Blacknall,

      I was amused at your tendency to drop books in the bath. I certainly manage to splash their dustjackets while soaking in the tub.

      I have never been drawn to biographies and histories, but ex-Mr Bonkers used to read biographies of musicians as his staple genre.

      I would have hoped that being 'an older person' than your daughter, I might have been more immune to the blandishments of social media. Not so, apparently. How much of that is due to living alone I don't know either, but I just wish it were less overall.

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  3. I stopped even feeling bad about not reading more books. Why? Because it doesn't really matter. In the first 30 years of my life I read more books that many people in their lifetime. I fulfilled my choir of being an educated well-read person. Now I want to do what makes me feel good. Reading blogs and other social media makes me feel good. Reading work-related articles is useful, and it makes me happier in relation to my day-to-day work life. Reading fiction (and especially non-fiction) doesn't add to my happiness these days - so I don't read those and refuse to feel bad about it.

    There are millions of people who read a lot - and they are still bad people or regular boring people - so I do not aspire to reading more. When (if) I'm bored and want to read, I will. Otherwise I'm completely fine with my current rate of reading. Maintaining good relationships with people around (or far away) is, in my opinion, my more useful and fulfilling pastime that checking off one more book from the "best of" list, however respectful the source is.

    In addition to all I said above, in my childhood years or early adulthood, we had a relatively limited set of books/authors and everybody read them. Having read the "compulsory program" would guarantee you topics in common with people of your "circle." These days you can read 50 books - and not find a book in common with a friend who read 100, unless you read it from the same list or shared a book.

    People who enjoy reading should keep reading. But with the amount of noise that gets published every day, there is no reason to feel that reading books is superior to watching TV, listening to music/podcasts or chatting to your friends on FB.

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    1. Hi Undina,

      I agree with you on 'do what makes you happy' rather than 'read books you feel you should read', and that wasn't at all the point I was making, though you and others may have inferred that was the subtext of what I said? On the contrary...I have no idea what books are on the hip list nowadays, with not taking a newspaper. And only paid scant attention to those reviews when I did, though it seems my mother did. Personal recommendations and already liking an author matter most to me. And occasionally being seduced by an intriguing synopsis - or an attractive cover!

      So I am *all about* reading what feels good, and for me that is books, hands down. I would also like to watch more TV and DVDs too, so my comment about that was of regret, not disapproval.

      But going back to reading specifically, books - being a quantifiable unit, unlike the vastness of the Internet - feel more satisfying, while reading on the Net is endless and infinite and leaves me more stressed at what I have left unread. The tactile quality is another part of a book's appeal - you will never catch me using a Kindle. Also, a book is escapism of the highest order - entering another world - in a way Internet reading is not. Or I don't respond to it in that way.

      Then social media are very much a double-edged sword for me too in terms of the pleasure-anxiety spectrum. There is so much competitiveness, posturing, narcissism and sycophancy that it makes me want to scream sometimes. Though they do also have a kinder, more genuinely sociable side, and Facebook in particular is the source of some high quality 'round the water cooler' banter. And Messenger is just like email, so that is a benign aspect of FB too.

      Oh, plus I have a fear of waste, so I actively want to read the books in my house!

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    2. Dear Vanessa,

      My lengthy comment wasn't a rebuttal to your posts or any specific points you raised in it (sorry if it sounded like that) but rather a statement of how I feel regarding the same state of affairs as you'd described.

      As to the social media... I almost do not use it but I assumed that those who do do actually enjoy it - so I was surprised to read in comments that it wasn't the case :)

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    3. Dear Undina,

      Oh no, I didn't take it as such, and found it very interesting on all points. I just wanted to clarify the impression I may have given by using words like 'shame' that I felt that book reading is in some way superior, or at least culturally preferable. Or that the reading of particular titles that chime with the Zeitgeist and are well regarded in the press is some kind of moral imperative. For me, the shame lies simply in the fact that I know I was happier back in the days when I was reading 22.5 books a year, and want to rebalance things somewhat.

      I feel very ambivalent about Facebook, as I say. Some of the reason I stay is the fear of seeming rude by leaving and/or the waters closing over my head if I did so, ie an even greater sense of greater isolation than I feel by dint of living alone and working from home, if I work at all. It makes me feel simultaneously close to good friends and family, and acts as a battery charge, AND like life is passing me by when I read about what many other people are up to.

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  4. Hello V: I read about 50 books per year. Re Instagram, I love it. And you don't have to use hashtags! I love/d blogging but not many people are doing that much or responding to posts anymore. I'll probably close my blog soon. Xox

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    1. Hello Carol!

      Ooh, 50 books is my total for the past 8 years - that is good going. ;)

      Are you sure you don't have to use hashtags on Instagram? I thought it was compulsory, haha. Something is going on in the blogging scene...a whole generation seem to be petering out, while a new one is coming onstream with whom I don't really have a personal connection, so am less drawn to them. I will take a view on Bonkers when I do finally get to my 8th anniversary. If nothing happens before to hasten my decision! xxx

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    2. Please know that I re-read children's books sometimes when life is insane - so not all those books are huge classics!!!

      Hehee - no, hashtags are compulsory! People use them so that if someone is searching #perfume or another tag, their post will show up. I am following a lot of ex-bloggers there (some still do post but do more in IG) xox

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  5. Ok, so my oppinion to the matter : social media makes me feel awful, cheap and fake and I try to stay away as much as possible. In the meantime I hardly follow any blog regularly (the exception is Tara's blog). I don't think that "well read" means to fulfill a certain amount of books within the lifetime, and if I quickly manage to make it in the age of 20 then I'm finished. But then again, reading (mostly fiction, but also non-fiction) makes me happy and in average I'd come on min 1 book per week. I read when I'm waiting for and during my flights, and I read every night before falling a sleep, even if I go to bed at 2:00 am (like I did last Saturday). And of course I read during the weekends. Reading for me is not just entertaining but makes the stress from work go away (at least partially) - and I've always been an avid reader, right from the age of 6 when I learned to read.

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    1. Hi Lady Jane Grey,

      Weirdly, as you were writing your comment on here, I was posting the one above to Undina (or a similar version of it) on Facebook, under Val's post sharing my post. I am glad you raised this point of social media making you feel bad. As much as I use it - my main motivation being to entertain, as on the blog, with additional cat pictures, it must be said - it makes me massively anxious as well.

      For me, as I say above, it is all about what makes me happy. The 'well read' concept didn't enter my head at any point while writing this post, though it seems to have been in the ether as people have picked up on it. I had certainly read enough by the age of 21 to qualify for that, not that I am trying to. I also picked up a couple of volumes of Proust in the Oxfam shop (in translation) but put them down again, knowing I wouldn't have the attention span for something as worthy as that!

      I agree with you so much that reading books is escapism and a stress buster. It's a whole other kind of pleasure to Internet-based activity, but maybe I am just old-fashioned.

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    2. PS Thank you for reading my blog today!

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    3. You are very welcome, my Dear ! I don't read Bonkers as religiously as Tara's, but I definitely read you much more regularly, than I comment to you...
      Hm, well read, I don't know what it is - and after all, for my own taste I'd be never well read enough. I kept thinking about your post (what imho means that it's a good one !) : why should anybody be ashamed about not reading ? It's not a must, it doesn't necessarily makes you a better person, it's not an absolute value - if one doesn't miss it, than it's fine as it is. Or if only needs it once in a while - perfectly fine. Look, my boss is a big reader, the intellectual sort (Proust & co. ) and still he's an awful person...
      Hope to see you soon again !

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    4. I am ashamed about not reading - okay, there may have been a bit of tongue in cheek exaggeration for the purposes of an attention grabbing headline! - because I know reading does me good, and I really enjoy it when I apply myself. I missed knitting for years but have rediscovered the joy of that, and am hoping I will get back into exercise. So the common denominator is something enjoyable and rewarding that is maybe a bit more demanding of commitment and focus than I am always willing to give. I lack discipline in so many areas of my life and I really don't like it, hehe.

      Hope to see you too! And it is nice to know you are a sometime lurker here.

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  6. Yeah, I have become a sporadic reader. It used to be 3-4 books a week, re-reading them often and loving every minute.
    Nowadays I seem to have lost the enthusiasm.
    I'll get back to it one day.
    Portia xx

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    1. Hi Portia,

      3-4 books a week is going it some! You must be a speed reader like that chap I quoted. Funny how things come in cycles. I was like that about knitting, would you believe, and may just be easing back into reading. We shall see! xx

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  7. My reading habits are erratic. I read more in winter ( cosy armchir spot near the heater and long baths instead of showers). Social media takes away a lot of the time that I used to spend on reading, but it's not just the quantity that suffered, itLs the quality as well. I really have to think hard to remember a book that touched or stimulated me, rather then just offering cheap entertainment.

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    1. Hi Sabine,

      I was interested to hear of your seasonal differences in reading rate, and also your thoughts on the decline in quality. Unlike the television schedules, with their limited choice, relatively speaking, there is the potential to be touched and stimulated by books - it is just a case of sifting through the heap to find the nuggets. The wall of best sellers at airports and in W H Smiths are more lowest common denominator than 30 years ago, I suspect.

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  8. I tend to take books in too much, so unless it's "easy-reading" like thrillers, etc, when it comes to numbers of books, I'm a slow reader. Also, when I read, I can't stop, which is why I can't do 10 minutes here and there, and before sleep as I read through the night if the book is good enough.
    But like undina, I have read A LOT, especially the classics, so I try not to feel too bad about it.

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    1. Hi Asali,

      I am an incredibly slow reader - am not that fast at reading thrillers, even. Also, if I have a break from reading a book, I invariably will have forgotten the plot and have to go back to the beginning, or at least skim read the chapters I had already read.

      Occasionally I get so engrossed in a book I can't stop - I once famously walked into a lamppost in Osnabrueck doing exactly that! - but mostly I am happy with a chapter here and there.

      And I have read a lot like you and Undina, but am convinced I would be happier if I could find the time to read some more!

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  9. In case this works, how are you with audiobooks or Book at Bedtime? Maybe being read to would suit you better at present and give your eyes a rest?

    cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh ;-)

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    1. Hi Anna,

      That would be a great idea from the eye point of view, no question. I have never tried Audiobooks, would you believe, though I occasionally catch Book at Bedtime. Not consistently, sadly. Audiobooks sort of feel a bit like cheating - too passive, somehow, with no tactile dimension - but I really should give it a go as there is little difference between the words being read aloud or 'into yourself' as you read alone!

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  10. For the last 10 years or so,I'm sure I have read only between 3 and 6 books a year (fiction). I usually don't want anything sad or complicated these days. At the same time I cringe if the book is not well written or if the translation is bad. I find my ability to enjoy a novel is not as it used to be, I cannot read books to get rid of stress any longer (crosswords and Sudoku are favourite activities to relax). I spend a lot of time reading newspapers (even if I only pay for one now), blogs and magazines. In reality it is easy to see what takes up my time. I still buy books and I am rather sure the joy of reading will come back at some point. But I have also given away books to Lions (they have a giant book market once a year) and elderly friends, keeping mostly what I hope/want to read.

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    1. Hi Ingeborg,

      It is reassuring to learn - to 'read'! - of someone else whose book habit has dwindled in favour of other media. Maybe we are generally finding it harder to commit to a long and challenging - or harrowing - read. I have done a lot of giving away of books too, but I still have plenty left that I would like to read one day for the first time, or maybe even re-read.

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  11. I read far fewer books than I used to, but i still read rather a lot. (I'm going to guess somewhere around 70 so far this year.) Some of it's high brow, some of it's low. (And some is utter tripe.) Large amounts sit in between. My own non-work, non-study reading is usually fiction, though with meanderings into history and science. But unless it's an awful book where the writing is so horrible it's bouncing me out again, I'm a very immersed reader*. Once I'm eyes down in a page, it takes a lot to haul me back out again.

    (This can apply to journal papers, blogs, anything texty. Though I like they way you have expressed the difference between the self-contained, quantified book, and drifting across the endless internets--there's something in that resonates strongly. I'm going to have to ponder this. But I'm fine with a Kindle, despite the yards and stacks of physical books I live with.)

    I've always just inhaled text. Reading is my default mode, and still a real pleasure. I think it's largely down to being off my feet so much--from early childhood on--either in hospital or at home, in a bookish family. Reading is where I *go*. I feel slightly lost without something to read at hand, just in case. (hence the love of the Kindle, particularly as I am a re-reader.)

    I also commute. By train. So even with breakfast eating, and makeup application, and other faffing about, that's about 70 minutes of reading time built into my day, and I'm a fast reader. So, um, lots of books a year, still.


    *I am so glad I am not the only person to have walked into street furniture while reading. I'm going to assume that you also apologised to the lamp post.

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    1. Hi crikey,

      Thanks for your long and fascinating comment. You do read a lot of books still! I loved your assessment of the different kinds of quality. ;) Large amounts of the little I read also sit in between. I liked the term 'immersed' too. And the fact that you have walked into street furniture in a moment of complete absorption. I don't know if I apologised or not - I may well have said: 'Ow!' though.

      Sounds like you have been a reader from a young age, which I was too...I think I devoured the entire oeuvre of Agatha Christie between the ages of 10 and 11, but I just seem to have lost the knack, or the application. Lord knows I came from a bookish enough family as I mentioned.

      I may need to acquire a commute - even a pretend one would do it!

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    2. Oof, I don't half go on, do I?

      I have absolutely no shame in reading tripe if I'm enjoying it. I get very disgruntled about the idea of anyone feeling entitled to issue "you _should_ read this to be a complete human being" pronouncements. (Though I do get grumpy with myself for not abandoning books that are not enjoyable or interesting enough to justify the time I spend on them.)

      I think I read the same vast batch of Christie's novels at the same age, one after the other. But these days, my heart belongs more to Dorothy L. Sayers on the classic detective novel front...

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    3. I love your meaty comments! Don't curtail them on my account. ;)

      I think the relationship you have - as in 'one' -with books you are not enjoying is a metaphor for some relationships with people, where you feel you have invested a lot of time and effort already, and have to see the thing through to the bitter end, even though it has patently run its course. Though I did once famously toss a copy of Washington Square into a litter bin outside a launderette in Swindon - a rare example of me cutting my losses.

      Ah, Dorothy L Sayers...I read her too, and P D James, though she is more contemporary. At 13 I briefly wanted to be a forensic scientist, but then remembered I am frightened by the sight of blood, so that was always going to be a doomed venture.

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  12. Hi Vanessa, I don't want to say I'm glad you're not reading as much as before because I see that you would prefer it weren't so, but I seem to be in the same situation and unfortunately, can't blame it on the blog either.
    I have no idea what happened but in the last 3 years my annual reading quota has severely diminished. It was an upsetting time but I still don't think that's the case. I mean, I do read but so much less than before and I don't even keep track of what I've read. Oh well, I guess life sometimes makes you change your habits even when you don't want it to. :)

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    1. Hi Ines,

      I feel heartened to learn that you too are drifting a bit in terms of your reading habit. I have also had a few ups and downs on the personal, house - and health - fronts, so am wondering if those distractions might be additional factors. Sorry that you have also had stuff on your mind.

      And I totally agree with your last comment!

      PS Look forward to reading about your holiday, on whoever's blog it appears!

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  13. I think it will probably appear on several blogs. ;)

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  14. I did think that too after I wrote my comment. ;)

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  15. I enjoyed thinking about this. I think how much we read varies for all sorts of personal reasons but I do also think habits change because the world has changed. I remember the excitement of buying a modern book about Neanderthals. This is now hopelessly outdated to the extent of becoming useless. Articles, blogs and commentary, all beautifully illustrated, as well as most scientific papers (or at least digests) are now readily accessible online. Whereas once someone fortunate enough to stumble on a breakthrough human lineage fossil would sit on it, restrict access to it and build a whole career on this one lucky find a more recent discovery has even seen the virtually instant release of the ability to made 3D models of the bones meaning that researchers into say locomotion etc. all over the world can contribute to our understanding. Once I would have had to wait for a book on the spectacular Anglo-Saxon Staffordshire Hoard to see good quality photos but now descriptions and updates on the research are readily available online. These are just examples but I think this is true across a whole range of fields.best regards, Helen

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    1. Hi Helen,

      Thanks for this fascinating assessment of the way factual information sources have changed and influenced our reading habits. It rang a lot of bells, and also reminded me that my late Father's complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica from 1977 is unlikely to be worth a whole lot nowadays. ;) Fiction is lucky to be timeless in its way, but I do quite take your point about how printed material in scientific subjects has been outpaced by digital media.

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