Saturday, September 5, 2015

Review Copy

The first sip of beer on a warm day.  The sensory slide of your body making first contact with fresh bedding.  The welcoming dance of spray as you step into a shower.  The comforting lurch of consciousness when you mesh into the opening paragraphs of a novel.

The novel Black Swan Green by David Mitchell arrived in the mail, a review copy.  You'd never heard of the author before.  The usual approach to the unknown, guarded; read until you can stop.  When you were an editor for a publisher, the same words you told your assistance with regard to unsolicited manuscripts.  Read until, whatever the reason, you can stop.

The calculus of supply and demand are in place.  You have a book review due in two days.  You have a book of which you are suspicious, even more so due to the fact that you have no other book available for review at the moment.  If you find yourself not enjoying this book, you are faced with the prospect of a negative review, something you once relished but no longer enjoy.  

At once, you knew you'd read the second sentence of Black Swan Green.  The first sentence reached out a welcoming hand.  In the way of a boyish plant, the welcoming hand did not release.Do not--italics mine--set foot in my office.  Second sentence:  "That's Dad;s rule."

The third sentence begins with "But.."  You knew everything you needed to know, some of it not the surface knowledge of reasoning, rather instead the instinctive awareness from reading and from experience with your own compositions.  There would be a trespass.  The narrator, surely a boy, would indeed enter Dad's office.  There would be discovery and consequences.

Difficult to list all the things you already knew from those two sentences.  The comforting lurch of consciousness into the narrative, already underway with the opening sentence, snapped into place with the first word--"But"--of the third.  And more on the way.

When a novel does that to and for you, reading becomes more than a mere siphoning of dramatic event from the page into the personal places where the sensory connectors dwell.  Reading becomes a reason for being.  Reading becomes, for all the moments you are involved with it, your reason for being.  

Up to a point, reading prepares for you for experiences in the world of now, the world of random gains and losses along with some ongoing awareness that many of the things about you have use-by dates.  People die.  Parents and family die.  Friends die.  Pets die.  You lose a few hairs near the crown of your scalp, you gain a few hairs in random, surprising places.

After you have accepted the fact of the habit of reading, you begin to gain some understanding for why and how you do it.  Many of the things that happen to you in the now of real life are happy, comforting things from which you draw such dividends as enjoyment, information, insights.

Reading and the various acts you perform that lead to composition help you classify your own impressions so that you can store them away for later use.  The sudden discovery of a detail in Black Swan Green a half a world away from you in distance and time, adds to the most important thing about the story for you--it is real, the persons and events are real.  

Sometime later, the memory of the author's voice and vision call out to you, old friends, wishing a visit.  You return for a second reading, thinking you should not allow so much time to elapse before consulting its visions and details.  Perhaps you will not read it through entirely, but you will stay long enough to get the resonance of its splendid sense of dialogue.

Weeks ago, as you began the process of choosing your list of the hundred novels that had significant influence on you, there in the handwritten list was Black Swan Green.  In the manner of many of your most significant friendships, what began with suspicion has resolved itself into the seal of confidante and companion.

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