The OF Blog: I just finished the longest (e-)book I've ever read

Sunday, July 14, 2013

I just finished the longest (e-)book I've ever read

Back in early April, I thought I would try to improve my French by reading some of Voltaire's works, so I went to the iBookstore and found that his Oeuvres Complètes was available for something like $3.  I bought it, thinking that at most it would be a little over 1000 pages.  Little did I know that on my iPad's screen with a small font that it would be 15,209 pages (on my iPhone 5, it was an even gaudier 40,377 pages).

I thought that I would make a reading goal of finishing it before my birthday this month, so that I would have plenty of time to read it at my leisure, but then a series of things occurred that led to me putting it off.  By July 1, I was only something like 4500 e-pages into it and that I would have to read nearly 1000 pages/day-night in order to finish it.  Yes, I can read very fast in English, but my reading in other languages varies according to comprehension.  At first, I was reading French at around 100 e-pages/hour, but as I progressed, not stopping to look up individual words but instead getting their jist from those that I did understand, I found myself reading faster and faster and understanding more and more.  I tore through the histories in a couple of days, marveling at how relatively underrated they are in context of the historiography of the 17th-18th centuries.  While I wouldn't say that I am now reading fluent in French, my comprehension certainly has improved greatly.

So by tonight, I only had a couple hundred pages left to read and those were all correspondence letters that had been preserved, so they were a bit easier due to the less formal structure of the sentences.  At 10:01 PM CDT, I reached page 15,209 and thought about shouting "Victory is mine!," but I instead settled for this comment on Twitter in response to being praised for reaching my goal:

Yes, my reading squirrels are exhausted now.  But I did it with 49 hours and 58 minutes to spare.  Sadly, I will not finish St. Thomas of Aquinas' Summa Theologiae in time, but those 7000+ pages (in translation, since I've yet to find a complete Latin e-text) will be finished before year's end.


Anonymous said...

Could you elaborate on your awesome reading speed, Mr Nolen? Do you use a specific technique? Or - if I may ask - are you maybe not neurotypical?
I'm very interested in improving my own reading speed (which at this time is considerably above average but rather slow compared to yours).
O, and how did you enjoy Voltaire's literary works?
Best wishes and many thanks!

Anonymous said...

Putting that in comparison to the average size of most of the books I read, that's like reading 40-50 books in one go. And holy hell, man, how do your eyes not start to bleed at the end of that, having read so much in such a short space of time. I always considered myself a somewhat speedy reader, but that really puts me to shame.

Larry Nolen said...

Well, I half-facetiously went into detail explaining this three years ago, but it's something that's really hard to explain in detail. I'm just able to do it in part because my brain can handle the processing speed and I was the first one to teach myself to read.

As for Voltaire, on the whole I enjoyed his works quite a bit. I liked his histories the best (they were more "modern" than the norm for the 18th century in their treatment of social/cultural issues), followed by his plays, prose, and poetry. Very much a classicist in terms of theme treatment, although his interpretations certainly were innovative for his time. Yet in none of those fields would I say that he was an outstanding writer, merely a very solid, good writer that compares favorably to many from his era but does not dominate them in terms of talent in a particular field. Yet when viewed as a whole, seeing how good he was in so many disparate fields...only Goethe can compare.

And yes, that would be something like 50 books of 300 pages each. But I read this over three months. Granted I read 10K of it in two weeks, but there have been many weeks in the past where I read 15-20 books/week. 1000 pages/day may be a lot, but when I can easily read around 300-400 pages/hour, for all but this past weekend, I only read for about 2-3 hours/day, split up further into 3-4 periods.

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