Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Speed Reading, Speed Writing, and the Ever Widening Gyre

A major book you have not read, regardless of your reason for not having read it, is a book that has gotten away from you. With the hundred thousand-odd books published every year, even two or three missed connections a month add up to at least thirty more quality books a year that have passed you by.

Worse yet to contemplate, even given you read two or more books a month--actually, you read five--there are still dozens of titles a year whizzing past you, waving as they go. Read and retain as much as you will, you are nevertheless in a hopeless race to keep up with the information, education, and challenge necessary to sustain your growth as an individual.

Major books are novels, collections of tales, biographies, essays, and poetry that will leave some lasting impressions on you, influencing your behavior, invading your dreams, and appearing unbidden at unexpected moments where you are trying to cope with woe, weal, and adventure.

These titles have become major to you through an eerie osmosis, its origin in advertisements, reviews, author interviews, and sightings in which they are being carried and read by complete strangers whose magnetism, charisma, and growth seem to emerge from the very book in question. If I were to read that book, you think, I would radiate the same magnetism, charisma, and growth potential.

Because there are so many books extant and waiting now to be published as though in a holding pattern at LAX or O'Hare, your major books may not be someone else's major books, or they may be books you have yet to read which appear on someone else's list of major books.

Here are a dozen books which are on a number of individual and institutional lists. When the time comes, which is to say, when you read them, some of these titles may be on your own list. But maybe not. This will open the door to occasion a sense that there is something lacking in you, but it can and should be pointed out that not all tourists to Egypt enjoy seeing the Pyramids, and unusual as it seems, not all visitors to The Prado Museum in Madrid are glad to have gone.

Jane Eyre
Pride and Prejudice
Huckleberry Finn

The Origin of the Species
Letters from an American Farmer
On Walden Pond
A Distant Mirror
Out of Africa

Truth to tell, with one exception,you have read all twelve of these particular major titles more than once, returning for sentiment, nostalgia, and the sense that you may have missed something still sitting there, waiting to reveal itself to you. You don't want, as some might do, to commit to reading that missing title this year although the more you think about it, the greater likelihood you will, thus acknowledging a relationship with that novel, an ought relationship as in you ought to read that book.

From such readings and lists come graphs expressing you and your taste, something to consider as you cast your lot with a new reading or writing project.

Added truth to tell, there are short stories, essays, novels, and book-length studies you wish to write, largely for the energy you know will be generated as you work at them. From a city in Ontario, Wolfe appears, hoping to secure your interest in finishing two projects you'd embarked upon some time back, demonstrating the lure of books unread and unwritten and what you may discover from each and how much better or worse, agreeable or stubborn, funny or serious doing so will make you. Interestingly enough, your collaborations in the past have brought two absolutely dissimilar working styles together, his slow and deliberate, line by line, extracted as though a volunteer hair growing where hair ought not to grow, yours impatient and impulsive. And the effects you have had on one another over the years; he is no longer the spontaneous force who invented Laugh-In, you are no longer as serious. You are both at a stage now where it seems you are at a restaurant, enjoying a meal. (Not the restaurant in New York where, in the company of a vegan client, you both ordered rare liver and onions.) The waitress has tried several times to remove your entre plates before you have finished.

BTW, the unread book on the list is Middlemarch.

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