Book difficulty and exercising

Posted: April 2, 2015 in Uncategorized
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I recently read an article about the process of reading compared with exercise. Michael Christie: Reading and exercise from the National Post. (Click the link for the article).

Christie describes the process of reading, checking how much we’ve read and how much is left, particularly if we’re struggling with a book and stranded in the wasteland of a particularly arid and soulless passage, the words blurring like a prison wall constructed entirely of bricks of text.” I’m sure we have all felt like that at times. I certainly have, with books like “Anna Karenina”, where I wanted to throw the stupid book out the window most of the time!

“It is true that some books are more demanding than others. There are books that are the reading equivalent of sipping champagne in a hot tub, and others that feel like climbing the mid-sized mountain on the outside of town barefoot with no water. It is commonly recognized that “literary” books are more demanding of these readerly energies than “genre” books. Page-turners are so named not because their pages turn, but because it is as though they turn their own pages, that their pages can’t be turned fast enough.”

Christie has a good point there: we all know that some books are more “cultural” and “high-brow” than others which are considered more “trashy” and “easy”. Schools teach us to decipher complex novels, some of which are classics which are chewed over and over every year by every child who passes through the school system. I’m sure I’m not the only person to feel that most of them were awful to study as the curriculum sucked the enjoyment out of it. Inevitably, we turn to the more easy novels, the bestsellers which everyone reads because they are popular and easy to read quickly.

Christie suggests a system for counting the calories which we burn through the act of reading a book:

“Here is a thought experiment: imagine if it were possible to hook a reader’s brain up to a device that could measure the total cognitive effort required to read a particular book, call it mental calories, for lack of a better term. An “easy read” would be a low calorie count, and a “difficult read” a higher one. What would the results look like? What would Ulysses register? Or Presumed Innocent? How about Under the Dome? OrWaiting for Godot? Or The Wasteland? How about a Reader’s Digest, cover to cover? Of course you’d have to compensate for longer and shorter books, by getting an average for calories burned per page.”

This is an fascinating idea!

I genuinely try to vary the sort of books I read, making a conscious effort to read a few difficult books and then rewarding myself with a few easy reads once I’ve conquered them.

For example, I recently read “Mansfield Park” by Jane Austen (a classic, “difficult” novel), having just re-read the whole of the “I Heart” series by Lindsey Kelk (an “easy” and “trashy” modern romance series). I feel good for attempting to read my way through Austen’s works because I feel like I SHOULD read that sort of novel, especially as an English graduate (I probably should have read many of these classics by now!) not necessarily because I WANT to. It makes me feel less guilty for indulging in an easy romance, which is not something I do very often but I love the “I Heart” series! I am comfortable enough to admit that I like reading different types of books, and I don’t care what others think!

If I was to burn calories through reading, I would imagine that reading Austen is like running a marathon and takes stamina and burns more calories slowly. A trashy novel is more like a quick sprint: you only need a burst of energy and not so much long-term concentration, therefore would only burn a few calories very quickly.

Christie’s conclusion:

“Like a good workout, we readers we ought to seek out books that will challenge us, strengthen us, engage us, develop our capabilities, while not killing ourselves in the process. And we should still take time to relax and recharge — yes, this includes a post-workout champagne in the hot tub. Because as in life, there are many ways to burn calories, and the greatest joy of all, is to feel them burn.”

Amen to that.


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