Stars know it's good to read, at any speed

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When I became the Post-Gazette's book review editor late last year, I knew the number of books I'd have to read every month just to be worthy of the title would have to increase exponentially.

Surely magic powers come with the job, I figured. At some point, the simple act of reading has to become more like osmosis for a book review editor than it does for those whose eyes glide over clumps of words simply for the pleasure of it.

My reading speed has definitely increased, but not so dramatically that I'm finishing more books per month than I did before, so feeling a bit like a fraud also comes with the job. I've downloaded apps that promise to train the eye and brain to suck up words at superhuman levels without any loss of reading comprehension -- but it hasn't happened yet, in my case.

If I apply myself to doing the reading exercises, who knows -- I may soon be able to gobble books as fast as those friends and colleagues who begin long books on Monday and finish them by Saturday.

Fortunately, a very talented cadre of staff writers and freelancers continues to make the PG's Sunday book page destination reading for book lovers all over the region, so it isn't simply up to me to stay on top of everything.

Because of my new duties, I've become very curious about what people are reading and why. I also try to find out how much time it takes for those not weighed down by the burden of writing book reviews to finish a book.

Recently, I came across rock innovator David Bowie's list of top 100 books. The list is one of 300 objects that make up "David Bowie Is," a major exhibit at a London museum dedicated to his art and music spanning a half century.

Because of the literate tilt of Mr. Bowie's lyrics, it doesn't surprise us that the Thin White Duke has a penchant for writers as varied as Frank O'Hara, Susan Jacoby, Anatole Broyard, Vladimir Nabokov, Camille Paglia and Fran Lebowitz. He's a fan of contemporary writers such as Michael Chabon, Peter Ackroyd and Junot Diaz as well. He's especially partial to classic writers such as George Orwell, Richard Wright and Bruce Chatwin.

The mercurial nature of Mr. Bowie's persona and art over the decades pretty much guarantees an eclectic list of books on his top 100 list. It would also be reasonable to assume Mr. Bowie has read far more than those books listed in the show.

Not to be outdone, the singer Art Garfunkel, another icon from rock 'n' roll's silver age, has published on his website a list of every book he's read since June 1968 -- all 1,195 of them.

The first entry is Rousseau's "Confessions." The latest entries are Barbara Tuchman's "A Distant Mirror" in September and Witold Gombrowicz's "Cosmos" this month. Mr. Garfunkel can put away up to four fairly difficult books a month, but he has slowed his pace in recent years.

To say Mr. Garfunkel is a "voracious reader" would appear to be self-evident to someone like me, and I suspect, most people. Still, I've come across comments on several websites that take issue with the description of Mr. Garfunkel's accomplishment as anything particularly special. There really are people who consider the reading of four books a month "average" at best.

Even so, everyone has to be impressed by Mr. Garfunkel's ability to keep an accurate record of everything he's read for the past 45 years. He obviously takes seriously his policy of not lending books to friends or family, which accounts for his ability to keep track of them for so long.

The most surprising thing about Mr. Garfunkel's list compared with Mr. Bowie's is his taste for what many would consider mass-market junk. Mr. Garfunkel identifies E.L. James' "Fifty Shades of Grey" as one of his favorites.

Then again, nothing about Mr. Garfunkel should surprise us. Not many rock stars would bother to walk across the United States one segment at a time, but Art Garfunkel did it just so that he could say that he did. He has also walked across large swaths of Europe and across Japan. He's also a fiend when it comes to the free throw line on the basketball court, sinking up to 100 consecutive baskets at a time.

All I can do is hope that out of the 1,195 titles on his list, some got there from listening to the audiobook version.

tonynorman

Tony Norman: tnorman@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1631 or on Twitter @TonyNormanPG. First Published October 7, 2013 8:00 PM


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