How to make this holiday season your summer of reading (by this amazing bookworm)

Summer lulls are for reading, right? Well, one book-lover (and school librarian) reads over 150 books a year, so we got Robert Pisani to tell us the secret to his bibliophile’s voraciousness

Robert Pisani, settling into his hundred-something read...
Robert Pisani, settling into his hundred-something read...

This is not meant to be a boast or anything like that. But yes, I read between 150 and 160 books a year. And I want to dispel some myths in the process, because I get asked the same questions over again.

Before I even started reading, I had a mini-library and my mother would patiently read to me before bedtime. Sometimes I would take advantage of the situation and instead of one book, I would choose a stack. I was brought up in Canada and luckily there was a wide selection of children’s books. When I learnt how to read, I would take a stack of books from the town library, a two-hour drive from the reserve I lived in (there was a mail order library and we used that as well); and we were subscribed to book clubs so I had a never-ending supply.

To be honest I haven’t really stopped.

A lot of people ask me how I can read so much and the answer is simple: I read for at least one full hour a day. I’ve kept this routine ever since I was in my late teens and it helps me. If there’s some spare time I’ll read as well, so usually on Sundays I get more reading done.

I don’t drive. So commuting gets me an extra 20 pages. And if I’m doing something boring like waiting at the barber or at the bank I’ll just take out my book and start reading. I never read on the job (more on that later). I get chores done, I cook and go out in the evenings. So, to dispel another myth – I do not sit reading all day long.

Usually the inevitable question that follows the ‘How can you read so much?’ one is ‘What do you do?’ i.e what is your job? And then when I reply saying that I’m a school librarian, there are these nods of approval. I can almost see the equation ‘librarian = reading a lot’ forming in their heads.

Robert Pisani’s favourite, Jonathan Coe’s hilarious 1980s political satire What A Carve Up! with its fantastic cover from the Penguin Essentials series
Robert Pisani’s favourite, Jonathan Coe’s hilarious 1980s political satire What A Carve Up! with its fantastic cover from the Penguin Essentials series

This is another myth. A good school librarian has three major roles: making sure students are acquiring literacy and digital literacy skills to prepare them for the future; ensuring the shelves are filled with up to date and relevant books, which includes cataloguing and indexing; and to liaise with school staff in order to make sure their book needs are being catered for as well.

All of these jobs are time-consuming and they leave little time to read. The books I read on the job are picture books and middle-grade stories so that I know the type of reader I’ll recommend them to (mind you… that’s an enjoyable process).

Reading is never a race or a competition. Don’t let the Goodreads challenges pressure you. If two books are what you can handle in a year and that is your pace, then no worries. The important thing is that you’re actually reading.

However, if you do want to improve your reading pace, these are my tips:

Set aside an hour a day. Distance yourself from social media or any distraction.

Don’t aim too high. If you don’t read a lot, I would not recommend starting with David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest or Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. The more you read, the more confident you’ll become and then you can tackle the more challenging novels.

Read diversely. I read a lot of fiction so now and then I’ll pick up a memoir or a popular science. If you don’t like those then read diversely within the genre you like. Within fiction there’s fantasy, horror, science-fiction, LGBTQ lit, BAME lit (Black, Asian Minority Ethnic), etc.

If you don’t like a book after 50 pages, move on. It just wasn’t the right time. Return to it after a while and 9/10 you’ll like it.

Don’t be scared of thick books. A common misconception is that they are tough time-consuming reads. This is far from the truth. If you’re enjoying it then thickness will not matter. Even a 150-page novel can be a slog if you’re not liking it.

In true book nerd fashion I’ll conclude with two my favourite books. One is my all-time one, and the other is my stand-out read so far.

Without a doubt the book which I have re-read many times, dissected and analysed is Jonathan Coe’s What a Carve Up! – the plot is about a man commissioned to write a biography on the most corrupt family in Britain. Although it sounds simple, Jonathan Coe stuffs everything in the novel. Part-political satire, a jab at the movie, art, media and book world, industrial farming, …Carve Up! doubles up as an Agatha

Christie style mystery with a bit of hard-boiled crime fiction in there too! It is completely readable and flowing.

This year the best book I have read is Ali Smith’s Spring. This is the third volume of Smith’s Seasonal Quartet (Summer is out in 2020), which focus on the current situation of the world, mainly Brexit and Trump’s America and how they are similar to past events. I am in awe of her. Ali Smith can do no wrong but here she is displaying all her powers. Like Coe, Smith can stuff in a lot of topics but make them readable. There’s a lot of hidden references in her novels but she never patronises her readers with her cleverness.

Robert Pisani blogs at TheBobSphere where he invites readers to send him any book queries or suggestions

Robert Pisani also suggests

What a Carve Up! – Jonathan Coe

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

How to be Both – Ali Smith

Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry

The Hours – Michael Cunningham

The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour – Joshua Ferris

Milkman – Anna Burns

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