Wednesday, July 25, 2012

On My Reading

I used to hate reading. A huge part of that I had nothing to do with. I blame my father. His mother called him Deek. Let's also do so. As a child my father would make us write book reports. When other kids were playing in the streets riding bikes and pushing off skateboards, I had a task to complete. I had to read from targeted selections, transcribe, and present. I'm not talking about Huckleberry or Hardy. I'm talking about books on attitude and skills. Deek built an extra curricular activity steeped in learning networking and salesmanship and motivation. Imagine this not now, but as a 10 year old. Reading as a result was never a joy for me, it was a chore. And I liked to do chores in my own time, not his, but I didn't have that luxury. I did what I was told. I only discovered decades later that everyone one of those books were business and self help classics, and for that, plus the advanced reading and comprehension skills I am forever in debt. 

These days I go into withdrawal if I don't read something found wherever my free will takes me. Reading is such a rare opportunity to trick myself into escaping reality, and often I need that break. The past two years getting a master's has thus been tough. It's one of the ironies of academics that every time I go into a hallowed place of learning my reading gets thrown into crisis. I find it so difficult to deal with the high wire tension of picking up a book and feeling like it should fall on the side of studying. If I dive off the other and read like I want to, I find reading turns into this reckless activity - I can't do anything else until I finish, and then I start again. Because the payoff is so immediate, that connection from author to story to reader so fulfilling, all other books pale in comparison.

I hear words when I read. Often one of the first things I'll ask someone before we traverse into a land of characters and themes is what type of reader they are - then I pass judgment. I am insanely jealous of visual readers - the ones who look at words on a page and consume them without being trapped at the speed of sound. My sister is one those people. I am disappointed that I have not been able to adapt. I can do it for certain pieces, but it has to be something very casual and relatively short. This is of course excluding those times when I get my hands on a gorgeous stretch of prose where I absorb every letter and let my mind wonder. At those moments, time stops and I can feel the words floating in my mind. It's not unlike the sensation of being adrift in a sparkling pool on a sweltering day. 

As I read, in the background I focus on composition, style, language and message: What is the writer trying to convey. What are the overlapping themes. What is the motivation. What am I feeling that I can walk away with and relate to myself and others. How is the book proportioned. What words does the writer frequent. How are the sentences structured - are they simple or complex, filled with metaphors, or plain and declarative. How long is the novel, could it have been shorter or longer and still have had the same impact. Do the sentences and paragraphs flow. Did the author create people instead of characters. Could these people exist. Do I know people like this. Do I see myself reflected in any of these situations. These are some of the things I look for. They make the difference between a great story and a magnificent piece of literature for me. Classic writing has all of these elements, and if I can have it all then I'll always say, "Yes, please."

I am amazed every time I finish something like that. No one will ever again write those exact words in that exact sequence, yet the possibility of a brilliant piece still exists every time a pen touches a page. It’s that magic of an endless number of combinations from a finite set of words. It’s that concrete example of creativity. Writing is the embodiment of self-expression and individualism. And I just love reading it.

No comments:

Post a Comment