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How to: Perfect binge reading

Jan 08,2012
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I've been on holidays for the past week: a traditional Aussie summer holiday by the beach. You know what that means. Funky little shack, a stack of books, barbecues every night (except for occasional fish and chips), choc-tops at the local cinema, and (gasp!) no wifi unless you sit outside the local general store with netbook on lap, drinking caramel milkshakes. Which I did.

As predicted, there's been a lot of reading - about a book a day, which is normal for me for holiday reading, unless it's a really long book. It may not be normal for some people, because it takes a certain level of focus to achieve and, let's admit it, a degree of selfishness in the face of constant interruptions by people who are sharing the holiday and require some level of human interaction. 

But there's a system I have perfected over many years which simply involves ignoring the rest of the world or - at most - making a minimal contribution to essential social gatherings, meal preparation, conversation, dishwashing and personal hygiene in between books or chapters (though not cliff-hanger chapters which, as everyone knows, render you exempt from all other human activity). 

It's easy enough to combine reading with beach visits and general holiday lying about. Rainy days are excellent. You can go to bed early and read, and then read while everyone else sleeps in the next morning. You do have to make the odd token attempt at swimming or talking or games participation, I have found, otherwise other people get grumpy and hide your books or make you go on long scenic drives on winding roads. 

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But mostly, it's possible to get away with pretty constant reading while on holiday if you cultivate a vacant air, appear incapable of any kind of productivity or sense, stare at everyone as if they are aliens, and then mutter incomprehensible sentences at irregular intervals, like this:

Family member/friend/alien: "Darling, would you like to [insert non-reading activity here - eg do the shopping, play tennis, go sky-diving]?"

Me: "They clearly don't realise the cave is bewitched."


Family member/friend/alien: "Have you finished that book yet? It's time for [insert boring alternative here, eg meals, sleep, luxury cruise]?"

Me: "Ha! That's what she thinks! But they're gaining fast."

Get the drift? The family member or friend or alien in question then walks off, shaking his or her head, affectionately muttering, "such a hopeless bookworm, how sweet" (which, loosely translated, means "lazy slob, how rude"). How long they will leave you alone depends on whether they are an extrovert who wants everyone to play with them, or an introvert who actually needs you to make the pancakes or go to the shops or briefly acknowledge the fact that they exist before they go back to their own book or X-box. 

You are at your most vulnerable in those few moments when you finish a book and emerge, stumbling and blinking, into reality. The mind takes a while to decide what to read next - especially if it's been an exceptionally engaging book or an entire trilogy. You may not even feel like launching into something new straight away.

This is the perfect time to suggest a game of cards or a leisurely walk on the beach, just like a normal person. In fact, it's a great idea, because not only will it clear your head, it will also act as a decoy, preventing those around you from detecting your true purpose (which is, of course, to sink yourself into a new book, a new world, almost immediately).

An important point - and this is critical. They must always believe that you are still reading the same book. They won't notice, usually, if the cover changes. And it's OK if they know you've started a new book after a few days or a week.  

But be warned. If your family/friends/aliens realise you are churning through a million books, they will know the terrible truth: you have read past dozens of cliff-hangers, that cave that was bewitched and the unseen pursuers have long since been left behind, and you could have been forced to play tennis or do the dishes or hold a rational conversation at almost any time.

And that terrible knowledge can be used against you. Once the truth is out, no amount of "I'll just finish this chapter" or "But I need to find out what happens next" can protect you from a Scrabble hustler looking for a victim.

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PS If you ever tell my family about this, I'll deny everything.

PPS Obviously I've been writing these residence posts in the gaps between books while I decide what to read next. Otherwise, you wouldn't have heard a peep out of me.

PPSS  Visits to the cinema are almost as good as reading, especially when you can have a bosenberry choc-top at the same time. It's also another excellent decoy strategy.


(Photo credits: eph4one and iboff, via stock.xchng)

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