reading habits readings bookstore carlton melbourne
Photo by Trinh Le

There’s a saying that goes, “Tell me about your friends and I’ll tell you who you are.” The same can be said with books. Or at least that’s what I used to believe.

My mother’s father was a well-read man, and I was encouraged to read since childhood. I picked up a book on Greek mythology very early, and finished it within a few months. I then moved on to Sherlock Holmes, Journey to the West, Wuthering Heights and such. I enjoyed a wide range of book genres, but tended to read only “established” titles, which had either received an award, or recommended by several accounts.

With that mindset, I rarely explored books by young or first-time writers, having thought that those books were not worth my time – Why bother reading something of less literary values while I haven’t even got through half of the BBC’s recommended book list?

But today, an experience in an editing class completely changed my perspective. We, as pretend editors from a yet-to-be-founded publishing house, were given 12 extracts from 12 manuscripts, from which we had to pick three to publish. Only three.

It turned out that, tastes aside, we were vastly different when it came to literary values. Some highly praised a manuscript for its clear prose and minimal use of details, while others noted a familiar pattern of storytelling in that same manuscript and lost interest after a few paragraphs. No wonder why Penguin didn’t go ahead with Harry Potter in the first place!

Truth is, even my taste for books has changed over time. I guess it has something to do with me being a copywriter now, that if a book cannot capture my attention in a few lines, I’ll just drop it.

Even though I know a lot of old-time masterpieces take quite a few chapters to set up the scenes and build up their characters, and once you get through all those overwhelming amount of details, it will start getting really, really good, I just don’t have the patience that my younger self possessed.

Given a generous choice from thousands of books published per year, I can just pick up another one that suits my taste.

So how does our reading habit reveal about ourselves? Not so much. I still cannot get through a single page of Twilight, but I no longer frown upon those who identify themselves as the sparkling vampire’s fan.

Our taste for books changes with time, just like our taste for movie or music. It’s good if you seek to improve yourself through self-learning nonfiction books, but it’s also okay if once in a while, you just fancy a light-hearted beach read.

You’re a well-read man as long as you keep reading.

Trinh Le

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