I just got in contact, via Facebook, with an old friend from San Antonio and she reminded me of something about myself. I emailed her, “Sarah? Who introduced me to David Foster Wallace?” And she emailed me back, “Earnie? Who does everything fast?” People laugh at me because I talk fast, even though I was raised in the Panhandle of Texas where people talk with a very slow drawl. I tend to do a lot of things fast, or try to, anyway. Working in retail for years and years either led to that or greatly encouraged it. I have – by force and by choice – slowed down a bit. But, my natural state is fast.
However, I never learned to read fast. I have tried. I have skimmed pages and then not noticed one thing that was on them. I have tried to pick up the pace, but my mind wanders and I might as well not be pretending to read. I tend to subvocalize and if I try to stop I, again, might as well be riding a bicycle.
That being said, I do love to read. I love to read on a rainy day; I love to read on a sunny day. I love the thought of going to the bookstore (I don’t do libraries much because I’m not good at taking books back,) and I love to find new authors. And there are so many out there. It’s almost embarrassing the number of authors that line the shelves of the bookstores. Not all of them would I read, but I should never be at a loss for something good to curl up with. When I was younger I would read a good book, like the books from The Dark Is Rising series, and I would have to wait a while after I finished that book to begin another one. I would have to savor the one I just finished for a while. If I tried to dive right into the next book I would find that I couldn’t get into it because I was still enjoying the other one. Looking back that is another example of reading slowly, but I don’t regret it.
Every once in a while in my adult life a special book comes along. I love it when I’m at work and I’m thinking about going home and reading, because the book is so good. And, I won’t say that I read incredibly high-brow literature. As a matter of fact, I didn’t read many of the required readings while I was in school because our school didn’t really require much reading. (From what I understand their curriculum is better now.) So now I’m going back and reading a lot of the books that I probably should have read long, long ago. With mixed reactions.
Not too long ago I was in a very unfortunate financial situation. I had bought a house that I couldn’t afford. Then, I promptly lost my job. So, I wasn’t going out much. I figured that I could afford to spend less than $10 on a book because it could amuse me for a few days, whereas going to a bar or going out to eat could be $20 per night or more. I began reading a couple of mystery series’. I had a new job, earning much less than I had been earning before, and I was working either a second job or as much overtime as I could to make ends meet. On my days/time off I would read in my living room. There was a T.V. there, and I learned to watch it, but I did much better with books. One mystery would usually last me a weekend.
I decided to read Stoker’s Dracula. I picked up a nice edition that happened to have a forward by Elizabeth Kostova, who happened to have written a book called The Historian, which was also about the original vampire. I thoroughly enjoyed Dracula – and it lasted for more than a weekend. This was one of those books that I probably should have read long ago, but I loved it then. It is delicious, unnerving, fascinating and I was surprised to learn that Stoker had never actually been to Central or Eastern Europe. (If that fact is incorrect I apologize, but I don’t realistically have the means to verify it.) Plus, I learned a lot about the origin of all of the other vampire stories that have bloomed since. (Like, that a vampire has to be invited into a home before he can enter it. I saw that in the 2nd episode of True Blood, but that’s another topic for another time.)
I discovered, one day, Kostova’s book, The Historian, in the bargain book section of Barnes & Noble, which meant that I could get the hard-cover for less than the paperback would cost.
I don’t know when I have enjoyed a book so much. The old monasteries and dark crypts, the sociology – both contemporary and early 20th-century – of Eastern Europe, the love stories, the phrase that is now immediately recognizable (I won’t give it away, but read the book and you’ll know what I’m talking about)… I truly looked forward every day to going home to read this book. And, it’s a large volume; it took me lots of days to read it. I was actually sad when I finished it. I licked my fingers and relished it for days if not weeks after I was done. I’ve read a few reviews about it and some were not flattering, but who cares? They might be correct in everything they say, but I still enjoyed it tremendously, and it helped get me through a particularly depressing time. I’ve been longing for another story that could move me so much.
Several years later I found it. A few weeks ago I read, for the first time – and this is embarrassing to admit – To Kill a Mockingbird. I won’t bother to write much about the book itself – I won’t pretend to review it – because what’s left that hasn’t already been written? I can’t believe my high school didn’t require it, though I don’t know that I would have appreciated it back then. It has the magical quality that I have been longing for in a book. I avoided it for years because of the trial, because I knew how the trial turns out in the story and it’s very difficult for me to read about or watch a show about the racism that was so prevalent then. But, the book is so beautiful; the way Scout narrates it is just unbelievably… beautiful. One evening – during the time that I was reading it – my roommate had guests. Part of my job as a roommate is to entertain his guests while he does more important things. However, at one point I slipped away for a few minutes and read a few pages while they sat in the living room unattended. I’ve never left a guest alone like that before and I probably won’t ever again; it’s just not right, even if they’re not my guests. But, that’s how much I wanted to read this book. Even though it reminds me of how wretched we are as human beings, it also reminds me of how beautiful life can be.
Well, now you know my secret. There are other books that I haven’t read that I should. I finally read Great Expectations and perhaps I’m just missing something, but I didn’t think it was magical. I’m glad I did so that I can understand references to it, and I’m not saying it isn’t a great book. I’ll accept it if I’m accused of having shallow, unrefined taste. Maybe another Dickens novel will read better for me, or maybe in 10 years I will have developed as a reader. (I doubt it.) I like to read Agatha Christie for fun because it doesn’t require a lot of thought. Dorothy Sayers is good, and relaxing as well. Now I’m looking for that next magical book experience. But, I’ll wait a while for it. I’m still savoring Harper Lee’s. :-)
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