I'm still thinking about the act of reading, maybe because I spontaneously wrote a first draft to an illustrated children's book this week. I put all the snippets of text that are now waiting for illustrations into a numbered list for ease of reference ("the last sentence in #9 should be the first sentence in #10, don't you think?"), then ran the whole thing through a reading comprehension test to make sure I was writing for the right grade level.
It turned out I was writing at the right grade level, and it's all well and good, except... I'm not sure how all these numbers got in the way of reading.
Throughout my life I have been accused of both reading too quickly and reading too slowly, of skimming too much and of reading in too much detail. I know people who will not take a book seriously simply because it has a very low page count — or a very high one. When I tell acquaintances that I write (or knit, or bake, or sew) they always want to know what I call "baseball information": how many words do I write a day? how long does it take me to knit a pair of socks? how do I find the time to bake my own bread?
I call it "baseball information" because that sport is famous for being more statistically analysed than most others. It's also a reminder that writing, knitting, baking, sewing, and many other tasks are not baseball — they do not break down easily into statistics, and even if they did, the statistics won't tell the questioner what they want to know.
It doesn't matter how many words I write in a day. It matters whether the words, once written, are any damn good. It also matter if they are not good, but can be salvaged by editing. I find it fascinating that far more people want to know how many words I write a day than want to know how much time I spend editing them.
I have been knitting socks for almost twenty of my thirty years of knitting, and I still have no idea how long they take to make.
Since I stopped watching things as they baked in the oven when I was five, baking takes hardly any time at all. In the case of bread, the human spends much less time working on the bread than the yeast do.
Even if I bothered to do a statistical analysis of these tasks, the numbers would not tell you: how good my writing is, why hand-made socks will always be better than mass-produced ones, how much fun it is to make bread. Numbers are certainly important — they tell you how much yarn you need for a pair of socks and how long to bake the bread, for starters — but they are not the whole story and were never meant to be.
Never mind how long the damn book is. It's good. The number of pages was important to the editor, the publisher, the book designer, the printer. Their only benefit to an end-user is if that end-user is a consumer, not a reader. There is a difference.