Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Power Reading

I suppose it's inevitable that a blogger, especially a beginning blogger, would want to retract a post now and then. In fact, the very act of blogging about a book can make you more aware of your opinions & judgments, which usually leads me to question them. So ever since I complained that Jared Diamond's Collapse seemed too long, even redundant, I've been rethinking my position.

Now another book I'm reading is shaking my faith in my reaction and even approach to Collapse. My current book is Reading Like a Writer, by Francine Prose. The subtitle reveals the author's essential purpose: A Guide for People who Love Books and for Those who Want to
Write Them. Using a wealth of selections from master writers in various genres, Prose demonstrates techniques in reading necessary to appreciate (and possibly emulate) fine literary style.

I felt her hot breath of disapproval when I recalled how I sped through parts of Collapse. Prose says, "Skimming just won't suffice if we hope to extract one fraction . . . of what a a writer's words can teach us about how to use the language. And reading quickly--for plot, for ideas, even for psychological truths that a story reveals--can be a hindrance when the crucial revelations are in the spaces between words, in what has been left out."

I picked up Collapse because I wanted to learn how he supported his arguments that societies through history have, however unknowingly,chosen to deteriorate. By skimming and even skipping through Diamond's work, I may have been missing the very nuances of his work that would have left me more satisfied after reading it. Was I failing in my job as a reader to parse the author's sentences, paragraphs, and chapters more thoroughly? One of my mantras as a writer is that writing is a performance art. The reader brings meaning to the work, I believe, and, Prose would add, also an appreciation of process. To get the most out of a dense argument, the reader must be willing and able to seek out the best in a given volume.

Francine Prose helps me understand one way I may have gone wrong when she says, "Reading this way requires a certain amount of stamina, concentration, and patience." Of these key three, I seem particularly to lack reading stamina these days. It may be just having too many projects going at once, but I rarely read the same work for an hour at a time. I've seen plenty of advice on improving reading speed, but I'm not sure exactly how one builds stamina as a reader--longer books? more convoluted prose? reading marathons? But it's something I'll keep in mind now as a issue that can muddy my interpretation of a book & its value. Plus, it'll make a great excuse to lie in my favorite reading spot, pumping print to build my reading muscles instead of cleaning my house.

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