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24 March 2009

A Voracious Appetite for Page-Turning

Much as I loathe the phrase "voracious appetite for literacha," especially when it is proudly draped all over a CV and "I [heart] books" would have done the trick, my reading tally for 2009 is already pretty high, currently hovering at the number of Shakespeare's surviving plays. The count includes four and a half books read since Sunday thanks mainly to the Red Riding books (I made myself finish Mistress of the Art of Death, of which I read the first chapter on Saturday before I started on 1974, which made me skim through Ariana Franklin's book pretty quickly; I did indeed finish The Age of Innocence last night before starting on 1977 this morning and I've now finished the latter and started on 1980 thanks to having to wait in the cold at the Nowheresville train station tonight). 

According to the findings of a survey of unknown origins, published in the Telegraph, I should blame my gender for my strong desire to power through books from cover to cover before greedily diving into the next one, which I have already got queued up at my bedside--they report that more than half of women but only a quarter of men have this voracious appetite (I guess Papa and his multiple libraries of books, all now finished, was in the 26% then; Maman, meanwhile would be in the non-page-turning half). The Torygraph adds:

"The survey 2,000 adults also found those who take a long time to read books and only managed one or two a year were twice as likely to be male than female."

Ignoring the presumed missing word after "survey," I'm curious to know how many of the people they surveyed did only manage (or admit to managing) one or two books a year. So far, thanks to the commuting, I'm on track to clear 150 by the end of year, although I'll possibly run out of money and/or books in the library I would actually want to read before then.

The article also links in another survey designed to see how honest people are when telling their friends and acquaintances about books they have read (a little recursive: "Question 1. Are you the kind of person who would lie to your friends about reading books you haven't read? Question 2. Are you the kind of person who would lie when responding to a survey about lying to your friends about books you haven't read?"):

"The men polled said they would be most impressed by women who read news websites, Shakespeare or song lyrics. Women said men should have read Nelson Mandela's biography or Shakespeare."

The men would be impressed by women who read song lyrics? What, as a hobby? "I have a voracious appetite for song lyrics"? I mean, I tend to like songs whose lyrics please me or mean something to me but is that really very impressive? And news websites? Are there people who think, "I like chicks who dip in and out of random bits of froth alongside the "important" stories by getting my news fix online"? Still, perhaps "song lyrics" and "news websites" were the honest answers and "Shakespeare" was thrown in to make the list look more profound. Still, I guess people with Jilly Cooper and Jeffrey Archer on their bookshelves shouldn't throw trivialities... 

Did the women really list Nelson Mandela's biography though (and do they really mean his biography or did they mean his autobiography, The Long Walk to Freedom? Who are these women? Maybe it's because I'm not really a biography kinda gal (unless we're talking the biography of 15th and 16th century English monarchs) but I don't think Nelson Mandela would have made my top three; I don't think it would even have crossed my mind. The survey was probably multiple choice, though, and again, the respondents probably thought selecting Mandela's bio would show that they were thoughtful, deep and interested in global issues: "Would you be more impressed by a potential partner who had read a) Shakespeare [any/all/the sonnets], b) www.thesun.co.uk news websites, c) the lyrics of the Home Video song on this week's Gossip Girl, d) Ulysses, or e) Nuts? Also, it doesn't seem like a fair comparison when men will only be impressed by women who read (every day, say) news websites and song lyrics, while women are impressed by guys who have read Mandela's book at some point in the past. Conclusion: the survey should just have stuck to books.

(In the same way people will order the second most expensive entree when dining at someone else's expense in a restaurant, which leads the restaurants to plant a "trick" super-expensive entree on their menus just so that people will feel like they're saving masses of cash by ordering the second most expensive, sticking James Joyce on the list would probably be a bluff too far but Mandela's (auto)biography is probably more plausible.)

And what would my top three be? Perhaps it's a cop-out but for someone with as miscellaneous a taste in books as I do (it was so fun to daintily sandwich sweet as love The Age of Innocence between black as hell and dark as night 1974 and 1977), making a judgement as to whether someone would be suitable dating material on the basis of just three books seems rather hasty, if not completely ridiculous. Time for me to go and devour the next installment of doom and gloom...

voracious, a
1. Of animals (rarely of persons, or of the throat): Eating with greediness; devouring food in large quantities; gluttonous, ravenous.
b. fig. Of persons: Excessively greedy or eager in some desire or pursuit. "Circe's Cups..Which with his Mates, voracious of their Woe, If he had blindly tasted." (1746 FRANCIS tr. Horace, Epist. I. ii)

The first example the OED gives of the term being used to describe one's need for books is from 1883 in Evangelical Mag: "Mr. Rowlands..was a voracious reader."


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