Thursday, May 29, 2014

Time to Read

My younger brother started a new job in January of this year, and since then it has taken him from California to Nevada, which is within driving distance (comparatively – this is the West we’re talking about) from where my parents and I live in Idaho.  So once the good weather and some days off from work arrived, thanks to Memorial Day, we set out on a little adventure to visit him. 

Of course, the two and a half days we spent with him were the best part of the trip, and I hope to write about them soon.  Today, however, my thoughts turn to the actual drive.  It takes about 11 hours to get to his home in Nevada from our town in Idaho.  It’s closer as the crow flies, but highways in this part of the country have to take the mountain chains into account, and tend to weave about and add hours so as to avoid high passes.  I don’t particularly care for driving, so my parents took care of most of that, which left me hours of time to sit and do all kinds of things. 

I worked on monogramming a teddy bear I’ll be giving soon as a gift; I gave myself a manicure; I napped; I edited a chapter of House of Mirrors.  I could have probably written and/or edited a lot, but what I did for the majority of my 22 free hours was read. 

These days I mostly do my reading while I’m brushing my teeth in the mornings and evenings.  I take my kindle with me, set it on the vanity and read for fifteen minutes or so while going about my ablutions.  I actually cover a lot of ground reading that way, so I’m happy I multi-task in such a productive way, but even so, there’s a certain feeling of haste and time constraints which prevents me from fully enjoying what I’m reading. 

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a natural reading addict.

I don’t read books so much as devour them if I have the time.  When I was a little girl this voracious appetite for reading wasn’t so much about the story as it was about the actual act of reading, but now that I’m older and trained from four years of college where I had to read fast and analytically, I can read a book at top speed and then ponder it for hours and days after.  This is the style of reading which gives me true enjoyment.  Often when I do get a chance to indulge in it, I wonder around for several hours after finishing the book enveloped in the atmosphere of the story, thinking about it, remembering scenes and lines and characters. 

After a good book, I end up with my head in the clouds!
 That’s why I call my style of reading ‘devouring.’  Once it goes down, my mind starts work on digesting it. 

There are probably as many different styles of reading as there are people, so some may not understand my preferred approach.  For them, perhaps, it is better to read a page or two at a time and then contemplate that small section.  I find for myself, though, that thought I absorb the writer’s theme and ideas that way, I don’t fully appreciate his style.  If I can read the entire book in a sitting or two, on the other hand, the writing itself – choice of words, turn of phrase, striking images – pours into my awareness.  I find myself noticing authorial quirks I’d like to make my own, as well as writing choices that I myself would avoid. 

The two books I read this trip were The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and East of Eden by John Steinbeck.  Both are dark books, but shot through with light like sunbursts through storm clouds.  What fascinated me most, though, was how the first book, while moving and in the end uplifting, was completely lacking in surprise.  I enjoyed it (even cried over it!) but every plot twist from the second half of the book I guessed pages before.  It was an interesting exercise to read a novel and realize that in the midst of its beauty it was still entirely predictable.  I don’t think I would have noticed that quality, though, if I hadn’t read 2/3’s of it in one sitting. 

I learned that to achieve an original plot, I may need to reread an entire novel of my own in one sitting so that I catch predictable story turns.  Further, I might need to plot the whole thing at one sitting, so that I can quiz myself on whether my story is taking the easy way out as far as plot is concerned. 

East of Eden, on the other hand, was astonishing in its perfect originality.  I think there was only one event in the entire story which I expected to happen.  Considering how long it is, that’s pretty admirable!  Of course Steinbeck wrote East of Eden after a long, successful career, whereas Mr. Hosseini started out with The Kite Runner, so the latter can be forgiven for not reaching the same level of artistry as the former, but leaving that matter aside, it was impressive how much the Steinbeck novel surpassed the Hosseini novel. 

Taking it fast suprisingly reveals the details!
Again, I don’t think I would have noticed these qualities as strongly, if I hadn’t read the two books almost all at once, within a few days of each other. 

Sometimes immersion is the best way to learn a language, and that includes the specific language of a good author, I think.  I’ve missed being able to take in an entire story and then ruminate over it at my leisure, while doing other things.  Such an approach ends up being more fruitful to my writing, as well, since while thinking of the stories, I learn new techniques and formulate new themes which may themselves prove the root of my own tales in the future. 

As I said before, though, everyone has their own way of learning from their reading.  I’d love to hear your method, if you have a moment to comment and tell me!


  1. I belonged to sort of a book club a while back. One year I read quite a few books maybe even hundreds. What I learned from that was that - I don't have to finish a book I start reading if I don't like it. And that I enjoy writing more. It was more of a contest the reading part of that club - and when you do nothing but read, nothing else gets done. Reading an eight-hundred page book in two or three days leaves little room for anything else. Even the shorter books the fun ones that might be around two-hundred pages that might only take a few hours - the energy spent reading them in one sitting leaves me tired. I've slowed my pace down. I read more poetry now than I ever did in 'school' because of the folks who read mine. And inspiration comes from those verse visits which helps me to create more of my own verse.

    I will always like to read. But I am not one to read analytically. I don't have a kindle (or the like) yet. And now I am once again reading and rereading storybooks for my grandchildren. Maybe I'll pick a few books to slowly savor this summer in-between gardening, vacations, and sorting through all the stuff that is mine and others that have made its way to my home for 'storage' over the last two or three years. Kind of a delayed spring cleaning.

    Cheers, Jules

  2. I much prefer to read a book in one go but rarely have the time! I love those kind of books that allow me to get immersed in their world so, like you, I wonder round afterwards still partially in that other world. Re writing - I usually come up with a basic plot in one go and then ponder it, and add twists and sub plots over a number of days (or weeks). I try not to analyse my own writing too much until I've written the entire first draft - otherwise it kills the creativity!

  3. I love that you say devouring! I'm right there with you! newest follower, hi :D

    1. Hi, Tammy! I'm glad you share my approach to reading :D Thank you for following. I'll be excited to check out your blog as well.