As is often the case, I have two books on the go at once, and these particular books, more than any two I’ve read together in some time, are a dichotomy in subject, in writing style, and in thematic material.
The Faraway Nearby, by Rebecca Solnit, is the kind of book that invites slow reading, practically begging the reader to stop and re-read a paragraph or a line, swirl it around in your mind like an oenophile would do with a sip of fine Burgundy. It invites reflection, it sets the mind racing in a kaleidoscope of directions. There are only a handful of writers who can do this, can pull the reader up short so they must stop, go back, say to themselves “Let me try that part again.”
And then there is the other book (which will remain unnamed at the moment because it is a book for eventual review), a novel with stock characters, choppy sentences, hackneyed descriptions – no slow reading here. On the contrary, I find myself reading this one as quickly as possible, speeding through the pages in the same way I drive on the expressway, barely noticing the surroundings just getting from one place to the other as fast as possible.
But there’s nothing wrong with that, is there? Sometimes we need a way to get from place to place quickly and efficiently, without a lot of moodling in between. Sometimes it’s the middle of the night and we need to be distracted from the myriad of heavy thoughts that have disrupted our sleep. Sometimes we’re just relaxing by the pool and want to be entertained by a story. Other times, on a fresh new morning with our minds and bodies refreshed, we want to be stimulated, want to challenge our thoughts, want to meander along the back roads stopping at interesting little villages along the way.
In our Reading Life, just like Life in General, we need a variety of choices, a balance of experiences, to round us out and make us whole.
Here’s a passage from Solnit’s book that I read this morning. She’s talking about Mary Shelley, and Frankenstein…
In the years she gave birth to all those too-mortal children, she also created a work of art that yet lives, a monster of sorts in its depth of horror, and a beauty in the strength of its vision and its acuity in describing the modern world that in 1816 was just emerging. This is the strange life of books that you enter alone as a writer, mapping an unknown territory that arises as you travel. If you succeed in the voyage, others enter after, one at a time, also alone, but in communion with your imagination, traversing your route. Books are solitudes in which we meet.
Entering into communion with a writer’s imagination is always a fascinating adventure, especially when a writer leads you – compels you, even – to take the slow road and savor the journey.