Why Reading Is Like Weightlifting (or: why I love graphic novels)

I mentioned on April 1st that I was reading Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov. I finished the book today. Mind you, the book only has 300 pages, and I started a good deal before April.
If you want to know what I thought about Pale Fire, you can find my review on my Instagram. Yes, the review consists of one picture. To find out what I thought, use your interpretative skills.
I like creating critiques of books through visual shorthand. It’s a weird hobby, but the practice helps me abstract my reaction to literature, record what I read each year, and create a type of analysis never seen before. It’s also in danger of ruining my reading hobby.

People often ask, “Nick, I always see you with a book. How much do you read?” Back then, if I could resist the urge to ask why they interrupted someone focusing on a book, I would have no answer to give. A few months after I started onepicturebookreviews, I concluded that I read about a book a week. And, since I’m weird, I now have “one book a week” as a goal for myself. If I near the end of the month with only two new books in my brain, then I panic a little.
That’s reason #1 why I love graphic novels (aside from, of course, the kickass stories they tell). If I fall behind on my schedule, I can knock out a few trade paperbacks in three days at most. Not all graphic novels are light and breezy. For example, I may need to train before attempting Alan Moore’s From Hell again. But I can pick up a superhero series and assure myself that I can fulfill the invisible quota I made in my head, a quota I generated and cultivated because I’m mad.
And yes, partaking in a book for the sake of finishing it, so you can put its spine on a shelf like it’s an elk head, is a bit mad. Moreover, such a practice keeps you from enjoying great books that demand investment. Pale Fire, once you find a rhythm of checking the dictionary every other paragraph, becomes fascinating and engrossing. The novel paints vivid, wonderful pictures. You can’t enjoy those pictures if you flip through them like selfies on a phone.
This would look good above my fireplace.
All right, enough stalling. Why is reading like weightlifting? Well, the “reading to turn books into trophies” observation came to me after reading an essay by Heidegger. Martin Heidegger’s unique amongst philosophers, because most of his scholars have to take an entire class to understand his terminology, before they even read any of his work (according to my philosophy professor). My professor could not give me that luxury. I read Heidegger around the same time I was reading Nabokov. At that point, my brain broke, and I said to myself, “I give up. I am no longer teh smarts. Give me Batman.”
And lo, Batman was had. I was happy.
Reading’s like weightlifting, in the sense that you need to pace and vary your routine. It’s all very impressive to lift the 800-pound barbell that is Moby Dick. But if you lift 800 pounds all the time, without proper training, then you’ll be miserable. Especially if you keep hoisting up near-half-ton barbells one after the other.
Here’s reason #2 why I love graphic novels. They’re the dumbbells in this metaphor. You can take them out in quick sessions if you want, and build on them to reach new achievements. You start your month with Batman Inc., intensify your load with Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits, and then finish your session with A Confederacy of Dunces. Should you go back down from there, or should you reach for meatier, heavier books? Up to you, brah.
We all extol the benefits of enjoying “proper” literature. It’s easy to fall into the trap of “I must finish this book so I can claim I read it.” Maybe, after each book in War and Peace, you should temper yourself with a book from Scott Pilgrim. Read what you enjoy, of course, but mold your literary habits so you can better appreciate your art. It’s possible to balance both “high” and “low” culture. Trust me, habitually reading two books in concurrence is one of the least insane things I’ve done as a writer.

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