Monday, July 20, 2015

Read at an appropriate speed

Books should be read at the speed they deserve.
James Salter, paraphrasing Jacques Bonnet
in his introduction to Bonnet's book, Phantoms on the Bookshelves

These words came to mind soon after I started reading Owen Parry's Civil War mystery Shadows of Glory, when it took me two days to read the first 12 pages. Now this is a murder mystery, not something by James Joyce or Marcel Proust. Even so, the rich language of the opening chapter deserved to be taken slowly and reread a time or two. I took seven notes during those first 12 pages, further delaying my progress. Here are a couple of passages I noted:

"Twas then I saw her, that woman who would reach into our souls. Well to the rear she stood, beyond the want of the wind-scraped faces -- narrow as lies -- and the pair of worried police fellows, their slouch hats wreathed with snow."

"Her wet eyes were as dead as her husband's body, and she smelled of milk and misery."

Owen Parry, the pen name of Ralph Peters, a retired soldier who also writes novels under his own name, has a gift for descriptive writing, especially in the flowery language of the mid-19th century. I thought it was worth taking my time to get through those opening pages. After that, fortunately, Parry lays off the description and moves into the plot, allowing me to pick up the pace of my reading.

Some people pride themselves on being able to knock off a 400- or 500-page novel every day or two. Of course, these novels are usually thrillers by the likes of David Baldacci or James Patterson, books that are written to be read quickly. Sometimes quite literally, you can't put them down. These people seem to get uncomfortable when they find themselves stuck with a book that requires a slower pace. They don't want to have to spend a week or more on the same book. That's too bad because some books, including some of the best books, need to be taken slowly to fully appreciate them. Some books, or at least some passages of some books, need to be read more than once.

I enjoy a Baldacci novel every year or so. I get pleasure out of being able to polish off a thick book in just a few days. Yet I wouldn't want a steady diet of this kind of books. Some books, like some meals, need to be consumed slowly and savored.

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