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What Kind of Book Reader Are You? A Diagnostics Guide

The New Yorker's Page-Turner blog includes a book-reader coinage that got us thinking about our own reading styles. There, Mark O'Connell confesses his dirty little reading secret: He doesn't finish books; he's a "promiscuous reader," a book abandoner. He writes, "I’ll start a book, get about halfway through it, and then, even if I’m enjoying it, put it down in favor of something else." But it's not the books, it's him. "I like reading too much. I can’t say no," he writes. "I’ll be reading a novel and thoroughly enjoying it. Then I’ll be in a bookshop and I’ll see something I’ve been anticipating, and I’ll buy it. I’ll start reading the new book on the bus home that evening, and that will be the end of the original affair. I’m certainly invested in the relationship with the book that I’m currently reading, but I can’t help myself from pursuing whatever new interest happens to turn my head. Perhaps that’s just a tortuous way of admitting to being a pathetic serial book-adulterer who’ll chase after anything in a dust jacket." He justifies his behavior in the end, as you'd expect of a "book cheater," by saying that maybe occasionally this is a good thing. When he finally meets the book whose fickleness meets his own, well, perhaps he's met his match. 

We understand. We, too, have occasionally set one good book down and picked up another, and forgotten the first nearly entirely, even though we'd been quite smitten with it before. Sometimes we engage in threeways, fourways, or even orgies of reading, in which there are so many books involved, well, we might not even be keeping track. It's horrible, isn't it? But, for as many books as exist, there are also any number of different reading types a book lover (or even a book hater) might demonstrate. What kind are you?

The Hate Reader. Oh, you. You pretend to be curmudgeonly, you do, but you really just devour the reading you do in a different way. You're loving it nearly as much as you're hating it, and maybe then some, even as you complain the author can't put two sentences together properly or that the book is dragging hopelessly in the middle and what kind of plot twist is that, even? An elephant in Act 3? These characters are so poorly drawn as to be comical! You call that a conclusion? Vampires, really? If you are a hate reader you will finish each hate read down to its very last word, and you may well close the covers and toss the volume across the room, but you will do it with a great, secret frisson of satisfaction because it feels so good. You may be an aspiring, disgruntled novelist yourself. Suggested hate reads: Twilight; Fifty Shades of Grey; any much-celebrated novelist's latest offering that's bound to be arguably less than all the hype.

The Chronological Reader. Slow and steady wins the race, dear reader. You are the tortoise to the promiscuous reader's distracted-at-any-turn hare. You buy a book, you read it. You buy another, you read it. Perhaps you borrow a book at the library. You read it, and then you return it, and you get another, which you will read. You may not remember where you began, what the first book that kicked it all off was, and you likely have no idea where you'll end, but the point is, you will go through each book methodically and reasonably, until it is done. You might discard a book, but only if there is very good cause, and it will bring you a sense of deep unease, so you'll probably pick it back up and finish it anyway. You are very good at puzzles, and the most reliable of all your friends. Suggested chronological reads: It doesn't matter; you'll get to them all, eventually.

The Book-Buster. Is your home strewn with books scattered about, this way and that, their pages turned, their covers folded over, their backs broken and their limbs splayed out on either side? You are a destroyer of books, but you love them so. Your spirit book character is Lennie of Of Mice and Men. You just want to hug the books, squeeze them tighter and tighter, you adore them so much, you really don't know you're hurting them. And then you've got a paperback with a huge chunk pulled out of it, or a first edition that's suddenly waterlogged from bath water. You take your books out into the sun and their pages bleach away to nothing, but you keep them anyway, because they are books and you love books. Suggested book-buster reads: Whatever you like, but buy a Kindle.

Delayed Onset Reader #1. You are without a doubt a book lover, and when you walk into a bookstore or any place books are available, you can't help yourself, you buy one or many. When you get home you put them aside, often reverently, as if they were art, displaying them on a bookshelf or propping them up on your bedside table, pages ready to meet your eyes as soon as you have the moment. But you're very, very busy, and days, weeks, or months may go by before you actually crack open one of these books. It's not for lack of trying! When you finally do, you will be overjoyed by all the learning and emotional depth and humor and writing quality that exists in this book that's been sitting within reach all along, and you will be amazed that you waited so long to ever open it. Suggested delayed onset #1 suggestions: The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman; The Princess Bride, by William Goldman; Lolita by Nabokov; Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery. 

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Jen Doll is a former staff writer for The Wire. She is the author of Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest.

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