Friday, March 9, 2012

saving daylight

So I realized today that this Sunday is the first day of daylight savings time. How come I accidentally happen upon this information twice a year? I still haven't missed it, miraculously. Just curious--does Canada have Daylight Savings time? (you know who you are, dear Canadian readers) ;) So if you have to change your clocks, make sure you set them all one hour later (8:00 to 9:00) Saturday night.

[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.*

'Shenandoah Appalachian Trail' photo (c) 2005, Compass Points Media - license: 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


  1. Yes, we do have Daylight Savings Time - most of us, anyway. One province (Saskatchewan) has opted out. Those mavericks!

    I know we've talked about this before, but I'm totally a slow reader, too. I mean, once I read, I read at a normal pace, but I like to take my time about finishing a book and read when I feel like it and have time to really devote to it. Otherwise, like you, I lose out on the voice. I totally agree with that quote you posted.

    Oh, and I will check out that book from your last post!

  2. I feel like I've been talking a lot about From Where You Dream lately, so I hope I don't come across as pedantic, but it's just helping me re-frame the way I think & work creatively. :)

    Yes, we need to talk to our libraries about this slow-reading business. There's just no way we can do justice to the books they lend if we only have them for 2 or 3 weeks!

    (P.S. Thanks for filling me in on DST in Canada!)

  3. I wonder if our writing is, almost by necessity , an extention of ourselves or if we are sometimes able to "step outside of ourselves" for the purposes of the story? I ask this because you mentioned that it takes you a while for the story to be apart from you. I've always had difficulty doing that in my fact I find it virtually impossible. But I feel that the truly gifted writers have that ability. Another great post! And thanks for the reminder about daylight savings :)

    1. You're right that that's a tricky distinction to make--whether a work is an extension of the author or something separate. I'm not a parent, but I like to think of this in terms of what I understand good parenting to be. As a parent, you're responsible for the life of another person; you're also responsible to teach them to be quality citizens of our world. They are a biological and, to a degree, ideological extension of yourself in the world. But at a certain point, a parent must empower their child into autonomy, to let the child be his or her own person, whether that person is what the parent expected or hoped for, or not. A parent has to let the child go--can't claim ownership or impose a will over their child after a certain point. That certain point in writing comes after a few, or several drafts, I think. As long as with each draft we're listening to what the work wants to become, rather than what we necessarily set out to write. Does that make any sense? I hope I'm not coming across too didactic, but this is something I've thought a lot about in the past. :) Thanks for bringing the question up!

    2. I think the parenting analogy is very apropos in this instance. Andyou're not coming across as too didactic at fact I love how you describe "listening" to what the work wants to become rather than what you set out to write. I have never thought of it that way! You have a brilliant literary mind and I feel that I can learn a great deal by reading your poasts. I look forward to reading many more!

    3. I finally have a new blog post up myself!! Hope you've had a good weekend!