Uphill, Downhill…

Does anyone else do this? When I begin reading a new book, I make a mental note of how many pages there are (with e-readers of course, I don’t even need to make a mental note any more – it’s right there on the screen!), and, as I make progress, am constantly obsessing about how far along I am. This is especially true of longer books, e.g. A Game of Thrones (that I’m reading now). It’s like an involuntary muscle in biological terms. I can’t really help it and usually don’t consciously think about it (think heartbeats or breathing). Last night I took great comfort in the fact that, “Aha! I’m now over 25% through this monster!” – this after spending time mentally dividing the total number of pages by four – time I suppose I could/should have spent reading a couple more sentences…

The best moments, though, are when I approach and pass that halfway point. Ah, the relief! I’m now headed “downhill.” All I have to do to finish the book is less than I’ve done already! Perhaps this relief is because, at least subconsciously, “proof” has been provided that I CAN finish. There’s also something to be said about the fact that all those pages already read provide momentum. It almost feels like once I crest that halfway point the reading becomes easier. I’m now going downhill. Not quite coasting, but maybe the cargo of words I’ve already loaded helps me pick up speed on the downhill side of the book.

I do the same thing when I’m driving long distances too. Yesterday afternoon I had a 180-mile drive I was not looking forward to. My old mental “progress bars” kicked in there as well. And when I passed the halfway point somewhere outside of Louisville, I felt the old familiar “relief.” (I’m sure I’ll do this again when I drive back this afternoon.)

I also tend to break long drives into smaller, familiar distances, e.g. “Ah,I now just have two round trip drives to work left and I’ll be there.” That sounds a little better than, “Ugh, I have 85 miles to go…” etc. Sometimes I do the same thing with books. E.g. “I’ve only read 250 pages (not even half) of this monster, but that’s the equivalent of some other “whole books” that I’ve recently read.” This fuels my “sense of accomplishment requirement” and helps me to press on.

Am I the only one who can’t help thinking like this when I read? Tell me I’m not alone! 🙂

Sent from my iPad

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29 Comments

  1. Megan said,

    July 11, 2011 at 7:48 am

    I don’t do any actual math or pay attention to page numbers to determine my progress in a book, but I do put a finger in to mark my place and then close the cover, so I can compare the “have read” pages with the “left to read” pages. I find that I especially do this when I’ve been reading for a while and I want to see how much progress I’ve made in that sitting. I tend to be a very visual person so seeing the pages move is nice. And on the Kindle, it has the little mark that shows where you were when you turned on the machine, so I love being able to look at that.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      July 11, 2011 at 12:59 pm

      Hi Megan,
      Yes, I do that with checking “the visual pages” too. I remember often being quite vexed when I was younger when there were particularly long pages of notes in the back – or introductions in the front – that made this method less reliable.
      -Jay

      Like

  2. Falaise said,

    July 11, 2011 at 9:17 am

    I’m completely like that. I even find that, on my Kindle where it’s expressed as a percentage, once I get to about 80%, my reading physically speeds up!

    Like

    • Jay said,

      July 11, 2011 at 1:01 pm

      What!?! Kindle calculates the percentage for you? THAT information could have helped me back in February 2010 when I bought the Nook… 🙂

      Like

  3. Dave Young said,

    July 11, 2011 at 9:44 am

    When younger, I read continuously until some external event I couldn’t
    control made me stop. Now I bookmark “quit points” and almost hope for an excuse to set the book aside.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      July 11, 2011 at 1:06 pm

      Hi Dave,
      I think – if plotted on a graph – our attention spans over our lives would look similar. Mine peaked years ago and now I find myself promising, er, myself, to “okay, read for at least an hour” before moving on to something else…
      -Jay

      Like

  4. Charmed said,

    July 11, 2011 at 11:27 am

    Good luck today! My husband is in Lexington too auditioning for Jeopardy!

    Like

    • Jay said,

      July 11, 2011 at 12:57 pm

      Really? Wow. Quick,what’s his name? – I will look for him.

      Here’s hoping we both “make it!”

      -Jay

      Like

  5. Melody said,

    July 11, 2011 at 11:46 am

    Haha, yep, it’s like breathing–I’d have to consciously stop myself. Long books and long drives especially get divided up into smaller goals that I’m constantly keeping track of subconsciously. I just started reading Gone With the Wind–I stopped at page 78 out of 959 and immediately thought: in about 17 pages I’ll be 10% done! (which, of course, isn’t enough & I then have to make a visual comparison by looking at my bookmark…and if I don’t stop myself I’ll be calculating 25% too.)

    We make a 500 mile drive to Northern California a few times a year, and I’ve totally got check marks for that too. Sometimes it’s a pain, but also too much fun to try to give it up. How’s that for goofy?

    Like

  6. Jay said,

    July 11, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    Wow, all that sounds sooooooo familiar. When I was a kid, my family would take a 365-mile trip twice a year to visit grandparents. We knew that route so well, I think we had landmarks we looked for every few miles or so.

    P.S. And it’s NOT goofy. I hope it’s not goofy… 🙂

    Like

  7. Wick said,

    July 11, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    I remember finishing Game of Thrones and thinking that that was 600 pages of the best exposition that I had ever read.

    I find that my interest in how many pages are left in the book is inversely proportional to my enjoyment of the book.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      July 12, 2011 at 6:25 am

      Hi Wick,
      Yeah, I guess it does take time to “set the stage” when the author is creating a whole world almost from scratch. Did you make it to the other books in the series?

      Your “Inverse law of pages remaining” sounds logical…
      -Jay

      Like

  8. Alex said,

    July 12, 2011 at 6:37 am

    Yes! I also do that. every time I close a book I look at where the bookmark is. And also true, after the middle everything seems to go faster.

    This compulsion to has reached a new level since I begun to mark the number of pages it in the Goodread “status update”.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      July 13, 2011 at 3:47 pm

      I’ve started updating my number of pages in Goodreads more often than I need to as well. Of course, part of this is because I know my goodreads friends “are watching,” and I don’t want them to think I’m slacking…

      P.S. I made the cut at the Jeopardy! auditions and am in their contestant pool until January 2013. They still have to call me though. I got this far the other time I tried out and never heard from them…

      Like

  9. July 12, 2011 at 4:11 pm

    YES! I do the very same thing. In fact, I sometimes drive myself crazy with it. I’ll try to think – what does it matter how long it takes me? Just read! But nine times out of ten I can’t let it go and I find myself doing the math in my head or scribbling in the margins to figure out how many pages I need to read per day to finish by such-and-such date, etc.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      July 13, 2011 at 3:46 pm

      It’s been so refreshing to read these comments and I am feeling less abnormal now… 🙂

      I also often find myself with a few days to go before a book club meeting and dividing that number of days into pages remaining. I must know how far ahead – or more likely behind – schedule I am… 🙂

      Like

  10. July 12, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who constantly calculates percentages. I don’t focus on time a lot, except if I need to know how many chapters a day I need to meet a bookclub date.

    I always thought that percentages thing had to do with being an accountant… that mathematical mindset is hard to turn off sometimes.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      July 13, 2011 at 3:44 pm

      I work as an accountant too. My obsession with page counts and percentages comes more from my being the son of a mathemetician, though, I think.

      You’re right too about it being helpful to know what kind of pace you need to keep up if you have a bookclub or other deadline to meet. That serves as a useful rationalization for me as well. 🙂
      -Jay

      Like

  11. July 13, 2011 at 4:42 am

    Oh my goodness, are you trying out for Jeopardy? That is my favourite show! I am devastated that I live in Australia and therefore can’t ever try out for it. It would be awesome if you get on there…

    Like

    • Jay said,

      July 13, 2011 at 3:42 pm

      Yes, I tried out Monday and ‘made the cut’ and am in their “contestant pool” until January 2013. Unfortunately, I think they have about 5 to 10 times as many people in the contestant pool as they have spots on the show to fill, so it’s still a bit of a long shot. Keep your fingers crossed for me. 🙂
      -Jay

      Like

  12. jenvolk5 said,

    July 13, 2011 at 7:04 pm

    I do this too but with everything it feels like – how many pages left, how many minutes left when watching TV, how much time is left before I can leave the bank (some days screaming). I like to take my achievements wherever I can get them!

    Like

    • Jay said,

      July 14, 2011 at 12:26 pm

      Yeah, I also have many other counting obsessions that I didn’t mention in the original post. Don’t get me talking about floor tiles – especially when there are more than one color of them… 🙂

      Like

  13. Bill said,

    July 14, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    Hey,
    I was in Lexington on Monday for the Jeopardy tryout. Which session were you at?

    Like

  14. Bill said,

    July 14, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    The 9 a.m. group. There were about 23 of us. I live in Alabama. It’s my second time to be in the contestant pool. One of the group was married to a woman who had been in Jeopardy and lost. Another guy won $125,000 on Millionaire about 10 years ago.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      July 14, 2011 at 5:19 pm

      I’ll be looking for you when the next season starts! Hopefully both of us will get a call. This is my second time in the pool as well (the other time was during Ken Jennings’ reign…)

      I think we had 25 in our group Monday. There were a couple auditioners who the Jeopardy people seemed to like a lot and that I wouldn’t be surprised to see on the show.

      Like

  15. Bill said,

    July 15, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    Good luck to you too. I enjoy your blog.

    Like

  16. August 29, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    This is such a relief to read this because it makes me feel like less of a crazy person! I especially did this trick with Game of Thrones. I’m not sure when I started to do it but it must have come from somewhere.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      August 30, 2012 at 12:36 pm

      I was relieved too, to discover that so many other readers also had “issues” like this. 🙂

      Like


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