Picture
THE ZEN OF NOVEL-READING

When I was a child, my favorite day of the year was Christmas Eve. At dark, my mother sent us to our room to give the Christ-child all the privacy he needed to decorate the waiting spruce and put our presents under it. And when the spirit was done, he would ring a silver bell on his way out. That was our cue to come into the living room, where the tree was aglow with lighted wax candles, plenty of silvery ice cycle strands, shimmering ornaments, and the one delicious chocolate decoration we would be allowed to snip off once every day until January. Mother passed out our few presents and we ripped them open and exclaimed over each coveted item. From the shape of things, I knew at once that one of mine was a book. While my sister started playing with her new toys, I would sink into a chair, open the book, and begin reading. Within seconds, the world dropped away and I was transported to a magical, timeless realm. On this special night we were allowed to stay up for as long as we wanted. I would lounge in that chair until I had consumed every word of my perfect new present, cheeks warm, bothering no one.

I have seen the same kind of dedication in children who received a Harry Potter book. They would take it to a quiet location, sit, and devour. And J. K. Rowling gave them increasingly more to devour. Those small fans knew how to read.

Contrast that scene with what I frequently see in the privacy of the bedrooms of many of my adult friends. Stacks and towers of books crowding nightstand and dresser, gathering dust, each of them with a bookmark near the beginning. Ask these good people what they are currently reading and they look confused. They're not reading—they're novel-surfing. A little of this one, a little of that one. Sometimes they confess with a laugh that it wasn't until they were finished with a particular book that they realized they had forgotten that they had actually read it before. Ask them what it was about and they will look at you blankly. It seems the plot of one book segues comfortably into the plot of the next.

This is not necessarily the fault of the author. It takes a good novel writer at least five years from conception to final edit—frequently much longer. In the process they spend countless days and evenings, week in, year out,  isolated in front of their computer screen, sacrificing most social opportunities in the meantime. The writer's first word, image, idea materializes in a black void, and slowly, cell by cell, brick by brick, letter by letter, image by image, a world is built, designed to surprise and delight you. Every description of this imaginary world, every bit of dialogue, every character, piece of action, motivation—all thought up for you. A good writer will build deftly, subtly, toward the climax and resolution. A hint here. Another one there. Clues  you won't miss if you pay attention—though they will slip right by you if you're distracted with ten other plots in other books. This slow buildup to a crescendo is what careful novel-crafting is about. And if you miss a couple of pieces, you don't get the impact the author intended.

Some years ago a "slow food" movement spread across the globe. I think it's time we started a "slow read" movement. Stay in the moment. Savor each word. Let it sink in. Allow yourself to enjoy the unfolding. And then reap your reward—the aha moment when the entirety of the author's finely honed vision becomes your own.



Leave a Reply.

    Author

    Kris Heywood lives and writes in a small mountain town of Oregon.