[Incidentally, I always forget whether "spring ahead" means skip ahead numerically (8 to 7--as in 7 comes before 8) or skip ahead chronologically (8 to 9). Am I the only one with this mnemonic dyslexia?]
I was going to blog about the speed of reading, anyway, but what better segue than announcing daylight savings? Set your clocks, people....
So I've often felt that compared to other fiction readers, I'm fairly slow. You hear of the proverbial reader who devours a novel a week or something like that. It takes me a lot longer and I used to think that was bad.
Until now. It occurred to me that I read basically a little faster than the pace of someone speaking aloud. This is especially true of fiction, memoir, poetry, etc. But this might actually be a good thing. Writers who care about the words they're writing, who work over each one to make sure it's the right meaning, the right sound, the right rhythm, are working to make what literary people call the "voice" of a piece.
If I speed-read, skim, or otherwise hurry over the words, I might get enough words to know what the story is "about," but I've completely lost out on the voice--the story behind the words on the page. I'm not saying this as well as ROB, so I'll quote him:
You should read slowly. You should never read a work of literary art faster than would allow you to hear the narrative voice in your head. Speed-reading is one reason editors and, not incidentally, book reviewers can be so utterly wrongheaded about a particular work of art. By their profession they are driven to speed-read....A speed-reader necessarily reads for concept, skipping "unnecessary" words; she is impervious to the rhythms of the prose and the revelations of narrative voice and the nuances of motif and irony. This makes a legitimate response to a work of art impossible.*
To me, it's like the difference between taking a plane from Maine to Georgia versus hiking the Appalachian Trail. On a plane you might get from the beginning to the end, but you know nothing about the flora, fauna, people and towns along the way. I think of A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins, which describes his time traveling on foot along the back woods and cities of the US. I read it in high school, and his descriptions still stick with me. There's an intimacy to traveling on foot through a terrain, just as there's an intimacy to reading a book at a walking pace, hearing the words at the speed at which they would come from a storyteller's mouth. [See also Ireland, by Frank Delaney, as a great recreation of the beauty and intimacy of live story-telling.]
As a fiction writer, I appreciate a reader who takes their time. My first drafts (technically drafts 1-5ish) are full of easy word-choices, lazy turns of phrase, and cliches. I take pains to get more than the story onto the page. It takes me a while to figure out what the story's about, first of all, then how to polish it and let it shine and become something apart from me and my rough-hewn strivings. Because my fiction is so important to me, I spend a lot of time trying to make it more than words on a page.
So there it is: with the extra hour of daylight we'll get next week, take some time to slow down in that book you're reading. If you don't already read slowly, maybe try reading the book out loud to yourself or someone else. Let yourself hear more than just the story, let yourself into the voice, to walk about inside the book.
*Robert Olen Butler From Where You Dream, page 117