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July 19, 2007


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For what it's worth, I remember being thoroughly bored by The Body Artist too, and I LOVED Underworld. I think White Noise would make an interesting music theatre piece of some kind, though...

George Hunka

Do you really need to make that differentiation between reading for work and reading for pleasure, Isaac? It seems to me that brings an unnecessary sense of either entertainment or compulsion to the experience to the poor book. And, as Rachel points out in her comment above about White Noise, work and pleasure aren't mutually exclusive. At least, they're not if you love your work.

Kerry Reid

I wonder if anyone has ever done studies about the reading patterns of those who use public transit vs. those who drive to work? I know that I get more reading done because of my long el rides than I would if I had to spend that same time watching (cursing?) the traffic.


Good point, George. All I meant is, due to the requirements of my directing and blogging careers, I'm reading a lot more plays and books about theatre, which means that there may be some consequences (not the right word, I know) to my non-theatre-non-fiction and novel reading. The easy way to categorize these groups are "work" and "pleasure". But it was lazy language on my part.

blogless Dan

The problem I've had in recent years is that, as I read more and more on the Web, my attention span seems to have suffered. Web pages are generally broken up into easily digestible chunks, plus I'm on the Web mostly at work, where my reading is often interrupted. So, for example, I've been trying to reread Absalom, Absalom recently and having a hard time staying with it then when I read it in college.

It could just be that I'm now middle-aged, but the Internet could definitely be having an effect on reading habits.


I got bored with Underworld and loved The Body Artist.


I agree with George's point and know it to be true. But it's really hard to deprogram the voice in my head that does say that the stack of scripts I have to read is "work" and the stack of books I've bought but not read is "pleasure". It does a disservice to the experience of both, because of course I get pleasure from digging into playscripts and derive vocational benefit from reading novels and non-fiction--but banishing that false dichotomy from my head is much easier said than done.

Joshua James

The following is a very personal revelation.

I read fast, I was tested when I was 12 or so, they said I read 550 words a minute, or highly, and kept retention . . . I love to read and I read a lot, every since I was a kid . . . one thing I would note is -

I read less books than I used to.

But I read more.

Ten years ago, or so, I'd guess and say I averaged between 3 - 5 books a week . . . nothing heavy, usually whatever looked interesting and / or authors I liked (which varied widely, from King to Robert B Parker to Elmore Leonard to Rudyard Kipling) - there was never any agenda to my reading schedule, I read because I love to read and it relaxes me.

Often I will read a book that I like many, many times. I've read CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS and THE JUNGLE BOOK over a hundred times, and EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS at least two or three hundred times . . . there's a whole list of books I've read at least a hundred times.

I buy books and when I'm done, unless they're a reference book or a often reread book (like, uh, JUNGLE BOOK) - I donate them. I just dropped off forty books to the Salvation Army last weekend and I'm expecting an order from Amazon for some more.

Bottom line, I love books.

But I don't read books as much as I used to.

Really, I'm pretty sure I'm maybe averaging 2 - 5 books a month, when I used to read MUCH more than that.

I think it's for the simple reason that I read on the INTERNET for HOURS . . . I do, I hit the blogs, I hit Times online, I hear something interesting (Richard Prather died some months ago, I'd never heard of him so I googled and spent hours reading interviews, excerpts, everything) . . .

I believe reading blogs, such as this one, every day, has taken the place of a lot of the reading I used to do . . . I have my list of sites on my blog and I go down that list every day at least twice . . . some sites, much more than that.

I get my news from the net, get my information from the net, any resource I need, I can get from the net.

I guess I've exchanged one "vice" for another . . . ;)

Lee, the brother

this problem, of not encouraging students to read at all, and dissuading them from reading the books they actually enjoy, is a big part of why i want to be a high school librarian.
i think if you're going to be someone who reads for pleasure (and i'm comfortable saying that this is a good thing), the pattern gets set in middle and high school, when the workload is upped and the requirement to read outside of prescribed books is dropped.
i really want to help people become lifelong readers by helping them negotiate this transition and set good patterns.


okay. so at an estimate of four books a week, times fifty-two weeks, times eight years we get 1664 books read since "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" came out. For you to have read it, say, 250 times in the past eight years means that (if my calculations are correct, which they rarely are) you read it something like (rouding up) every seventh book. Which going back to your initial estimate, means that you read it (roughly) once every 1.5 weeks for eight years.

So I guess my question is... you liked it *that much*?
(or is my math off here? I did 1664 / 250 and rounded up)

George Hunka

I just have two observations to what Josh has said.

First, though the Internet may be a wonderful place, there is still a great deal of literature and other material that is available only in books, including the material we're discussing here. We can bitch and moan and gnash our teeth over current copyright laws, but until they're changed, we will not have access to this work unless we have it as a book. An on-line synopsis of it is no adequate replacement for the work itself.

Second, reading is more than a mental experience; it is a sensual experience as well. The well-made book has a certain feel to it, a certain look, a certain care to its design, and a certain ... well ... intimate privacy that we don't get from a screen. It's an illusory privacy of course (the book is a mass-manufactured object, just as the Web page is available, 24 hours a day, to anybody with a computer connected to the internet), but this illusion colors the experience of our reception.

Joshua James

Sounds about right ;)

But really, I'm guessing, you know, about my reading habits myself, so it's far from an exact number. I don't log it.

But really, I know I've read that book countless times, and it has to be over two hundred . . . the book is falling apart as a result. I haven't read it since, uh March . . . I was given the dvd of the documentary and watch that - I love that period of filmmaking, obviously.

When I first got that book, I read it five times in the first couple weeks, at least.

It's a great book . . . and I read fast, so once I pick it up, I can have it done in a couple days, depending on my schedule.

Then again, as I noted, things have changed . . . two years ago I got REBELS ON THE BACKLOT - by Sharon Waxman . . . a really great book, as good as EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS - I think I've read it (and this is a real fuzzy estimate) maybe only ten times . . . if that . . . more than five, less than fifteen . . . even though it's as good as Easy Rider . . . things have changed since '98 (I should add that, up until 99, I didn't really watch television, either, had no cable . . . I read all the time or went to movies).

Like I said, I don't read as many books as I used to. Once in awhile, on a break, I'll go nuts and just cut loose . . last Christmas, I had a week off and I read five or six books . . . I don't remember all of them (THE CELL, by King, and THE PUNCH, a non-fiction book about the punch that changed the NBA, off the top of my head and, now that i think about it, both of Biskind's books again - LOL) - and was done by Jan 2 and onto a writing project.

I've also changed my writing habits . . . I write every day, and I never used to . . . and I don't read books while working on big writing projects, unless they relate to what I'm working on. That never used to be the case.

So no, I don't read as many books as I used to, but yes, back to ten years ago and beyond, I read a lot and I have certain books (another one, non-fiction PLAYING FOR KEEPS, MICHEAL JORDAN AND THE WORLD HE MADE, I've read almost as much as EASY RIDERS) that I read over and over, whenever I need to . . . you can ask my wife how many times she's seen a particular book in my hands . . . she goes, "you're reading that again?"

I have several of the SNL books that I do the same with.

Last year I met a director and told him I've read DOWN AND DIRTY PICTURES at least forty or fifty times. He didn't believe me and quizzed me on it.

And I got every answer right. And got hired for a job as a result.

But yeah, it's a quirk, Isaac, but we all have them. I don't listen to much music, I'm not that into it (except music from my youth) and again, as I noted, I read online and spent time responding to emails and blogs, a lot of time, which I never used to do, years ago. So less books, more time on the internet.

I don't log books like Scott the Reader has logged scripts . . . http://alligatorsinahelicopter.blogspot.com/ he's read nearly ten thousand screenplays professionally . . . not counting friends he read for free . . . since I don't do that, all I can do is give you my own flawed estimate . . . but it wouldn't surprise any of my close friends, or my lady.

I've not thought much about my patterns, either, when it comes to favorite books, at times it depends on what else has happened . . . sometimes when I'm feeling a certain way, a favorite book can bring my spirits up . . . CAPTAIN'S COURAGEOUS is one (though I haven't read it as much as others) and it's a fast book, so I can read it in a couple hours, if need be. It's short and sweet and powerful.

But many of my read-many times books are non-fiction, I would note.

When I was a wee lad, I read ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL again and again and again. I haven't read it in years, and now maybe I'll pick it up.

There are a few books I keep that I only read once, and in a way want to save them and not spoil them . . . THE KITE-RUNNER, THE TIME-TRAVELERS WIFE . . . I've saving those to read again on a special day.

I don't know why it seems unusual to ya, though . . . I mean, you have albums you've probably listened to thousands of times, right? And movies you've seen hundreds of times . . . is there a film you've watched more than two hundred times?

I mean, I have favorite books I go to again and again . . . they evolve and change, it seems, and I go to them less than I used to, but old habits die hard . . .

Joshua James

And I would agree with what George said . . . there's just something about reading in a coffee shop, reading a comfortable book, it's raining outside and you're inside and you're INTO the book, everything, the pages, all of it . . .

Jesus, I just realized I have a major fetish here . . .


Man, I like certain things too, but I can't imagine reading the same (not short) book 50 times. Or watching the same movie 200 times. Like Isaac, it's less hard for me to believe that you like those things and go back to them a lot than it is to really grasp the sheer numbers you're claiming. You're sure that's noy hyperbole to make a point? What movie have you seen 200 times?


I actually think the tactile aspect of certain things will keep then alive long after technology should theoretically have rendered them useless.

Comic books have never been more popular, in part because the availability of content on the internet actually fetishizes the printed page even more. Ditto vinyl records.

Joshua James

I've seen ENTER THE DRAGON over 200 times, RESERVOIR DOGS almost as much, and Mann's LAST OF THE MOHICANS well over 200 times . . . I had copies of all these movies, and let's admit it, we have a certain "fetish" for things we like in our lives . . . I used to watch that last one two or three times a week . . . and whenever its on, I sit and watch part of it . . .

But I should add, I haven't seen any of the above three in quite awhile . . . I think Mohicans was on F/X a couple months ago and I watched it.

Certainly it could be hyperbole, I'll be the first to admit I'm simply guessing at the number . . . but really, I don't think the number is that far off from 200 . . . I actually brought the number down from what I was originally going to write.

My wife would be the first to tell you that there are a few books she's seen in my hands MANY TIMES during the nine years we've known each other.

I'll show you the book sometime . . . I'm simply fascinated by that period in time of filmmaking history . . . and I should add, the subject matter related to a writing project I'm working on . . .

And again, I read less than I used to . . . but really, is it that weird? I mean, I know sports junkies who KNOW EVERYTHING about their particular sport and team, going back to the dawn of time, they're just that into it . . . and they rewatch old games (full disclosure, I've been known to watch Classic Finals games on nbaTV) that they have taped, they just get into it, you know?

Me, I'm just into reading and I'm really into reading about certain subjects . . . I could do it again and again . . .

I should add, Mark, that I have about five baby books and only read HALF of one of them. . . it's a very touchy subject around the James Household . . . the moment in KNOCKED UP when she jumps up his ass for not reading the baby books?

Happened to me more than once. I spend to much time on the internet reading for pleasure rather than important knowledge, it seems. But I'll get to them, I will.

I should add, I also haven't read a single Harry Potter book.

malachy walsh

THE SEVEN STAIRS by Stuart Brent - a fantastic account of one person's love affair with books and the people who read them.

THE CALL OF STORIES by Robert Coles - a seminal study of how children interact with books and the stories they find in them.

Joshua James

And there are comic book guys much more into comic books than I am into EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS . . .

And there are guys more into movies than I am . . . one of my first jobs, when moving here, was at a video rental store on the upper west side . . . a neighborhood one, privately owned.

I was told I got hired because I was the only guy who new what movie was playing on the TV when I came in to interview (PAPER MOON) . . .

Now, I'm not at all bad when it comes to movie trivia, not really . . . but the guys that worked at this store were outrageous . . . they knew EVERYTHING about movies (this was in 94, before imdb) . . . they knew it ALL, all the foreign movies, all the directors, who lit it, who did the sound . . . one guy that worked there, I went to a party at his apartment and he literally had the walls lined with videos he had copied, there had to be a couple thousand movies . . . all these guys did was watch movies, and often the same movies, over and over again . . . hundreds of times, doing the lines back at the fucking films . . .

When I later read about Tarantino in Video Archives, I got it immediately.

And it's not so different than the guy that started www.aintitcool.com, you know?

That was their pattern, they were unreal . . . and actually, it was a learning experience for me, because I didn't want to be someone who only commented and experienced what someone else created (and there is NOTHING wrong with that) but someone who created as well . . .

Again, we all know people who are really into one thing or another . . .

Too much of anything can be bad, sure . . . too much exercise can be bad, too much coffee, too much sex (well, maybe not too much sex) . . . You hear about the parents who got busted for child abuse because they didn't feed their kids for weeks and weeks while they played online video games? the kids almost starved to death.

I regret a little bit, now, posting something so personal about my reading habits . . . but again, the guy that read that book SO many times is not really who I am anymore . . . I still read a lot, I love to read, and occasionally I'll reread a favorite book, but I also write more, I changed how I write, changed how I do a lot of things . . . and if my wife suggests a fun new activity, I do it . . .

It's important to find a balance in things . . . me, I want to do things I enjoy and do the things I have to do in order to find more things that I enjoy (which means, read baby books, right away) anyway . . . we can talk more about it later on, I'm starting to feel embarrassed . . .


Oh, I'm not trying to say you're weird. I have a lot of the same interests and love to read, watch and listen obsessively. It's just that the sheer numbers boggled my mind.

(And on the subject of the baby books: I recommend The Birth Partner, which I'm happy to lend if you don't have it.)

Lee, the brother

to joshua james and george hunka, re: book as object:
i'm of the opinion that the book is one of the most perfect inventions of all of human history, up there with the wheel and bread.
(also, with regards to reading off a screen, which i hope will never replace the book, and i think is unlikely to in my lifetime, reading comprehension and retention goes down by an average of 30%-50% reading off a screen vs. reading off the printed or written page.
the things you learn in library school...)

Alison Croggon

I never believed the doomsayers who said that books would disappear. Rather, there seem to be more books around than ever before. I have a problem, in that there is no comfortable reading nook (nice cosy armchair) in my house. I read in bed or on the train mainly. The train is brilliant because no one can ring me, email me or demand that I give them $40 so they can see Radio Birdman. And I too do a lot of reading on the internet, though I think that's taken away from time I once spent watching tv or reading newspapers.

I always think I am not reading, but the stack of books by my bed is about 20 books high and I know I've read them all. I probably last cleaned the table up about six weeks ago. And then there are the books on my desk. So I must be. Probably my most re-read book is Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, which I still find compulsive - I don't know how many times I've read it, but probably over 20. Like others, I'm boggled by the thought of seeing/reading something more than 200 times. You're a nut, Joshua. And where do you find the time?

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