I am  very fast reader, and along with this go some bad habits.

I was surprised recently to discover how idiosyncratic people are in their reading habits.   It’s a  private activity – you just tend to assume that everyone does as you do.   This is not, however, the case.

For example, I do not read the book literally from cover to cover, beginning with what’s written on the inside of the dust jacket, through the ISBN number, to the end.   I do not identify the middle page of the book.   I do not count the pages and divide the time available into a so many pages per day target.    I am not compelled to stop reading only at the end of chapters.

When I read a book, I start with the opening words of the work.  I don’t read forewards, introductions, later qualifications by the author, learned expositions from experts, HRH Prince Philip saying what a wonderful book it is.    I want to form my own opinion.  I’ll read all the above later, if I’m still interested in the work.

I’m hard to please and easily bored.   If I find sections tedious, I fast forward through them, just slow enough to establish where the plot changes.    You can come across whole chapters on the delights of hunting in novels by Trollope where the relevance to the plot is our hero fell off as he jumped the hedge and broke his collar bone.   And I defy anyone to have read all the lack lustre poetry in A S Byatt’s Possession.   Sometimes I  abandon books altogether in despair or irritation, and quite often I read the final page to see if it’s worth the bother of proceeding.

But if I read a book I really enjoy, in my mind I give it a Double Star rating.   This means I will have read it at my usual breakneck speed.   I will have read it in between tasks, last thing at night, early in the morning.   In these books  I don’t read pages out of order or fast forward.   When I come to the end, I close the book and I don’t read anything else for a day or two.   Then I start again from the beginning, reading every single word slowly and carefully.

Very few books are in receipt of this award.   There are certain books I regularly re-read (perhaps once every decade.)    These would include the works of Jane Austen, anything by J R R Tolkein, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenin, Thackery’s Vanity Fair…   but the Double Rated books are rare;  perhaps once a year I might come across such a one.    They have included:  Bird Song, by Sebastian Faulks;   Falling by Colin Thuberon;  A Map of the World by Jane Hamilton;  The Swimming Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst (Warning: Not to everybody’s taste).

This week, another winner.   Ann Patchet, State of Wonder.   I recommend it.