Vegetables, yarn, and yarns: all of my passions all in one place.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

How does it end?

I'm a speed reader. I get impatient waiting around to sound out syllables and the words just take too long. That's when my brain takes over. Before I know it, I've gone three chapters with no idea how I got there that fast. At such times, I can only hope that I didn't skip paragraphs at a time. It's my reading autopilot and I can slip into it without warning.

It's like when you've made that same drive to work so many times, you can get in the car. Then, suddenly you're at work and you can't for the life of you remember if you stopped at any red lights along the way. You can only assume you obeyed general traffic laws because your car is intact and you aren't holding a speeding ticket.

In order to read every word of a book, I have to read it aloud. This works well when you have a very dense article on post colonial literary criticism to read, a mother who can't stand when boring articles are read aloud, and you live with your parents. I've noticed, though, that for most books, reading every word is overrated anyway. I can get the plot-points, the character, even the musicality of the language skipping roughly every third word. I tend to think that this is the sole reason I have developed a minimalistic approach to writing, though, admittedly, I can skim my own writing in this same way and the only thing I miss is my typos.

Maybe what this says about me is that ultimately I am about the product. In knitting, there are two types, the process knitters and the product knitters. Process knitters are about the journey. They could care less if they actually finish anything they cast on. Product knitters are about the end result. It's about gifting that sweater, wearing that scarf. It's about binding off and seeing the thing that your hands made. I'm a product reader. I like the journey sure, but really, I want to know how it ends. At least in a first read. If I like a book enough to read it twice, then I focus on the journey. I take apart the language, search for connections, for meaning. Most books only get the first read. Very few make it through to a second or third time at bat.

I just finished a book that I already have plans of reading again. It's called "The Housekeeper and the Professor" by Yoko Ogawa. I've read with abandon since I learned the alphabet, but I've never enjoyed math. I also am particularly loathe to even discuss baseball (I spent a healthy t-ball career picking dandelions that I was allergic too, which seemed preferable to actually playing the game). How odd that this book about a math professor would grip me, a professor with a disabled short-term memory and a love of baseball. In this simple but powerful tale, a housekeeper and her son become the companions of the aforementioned math professor, who remembers nothing past 1970s except the 80 minutes intervals of the present. Each day the professor uses his knowledge of numbers to understand and interact with a world that has passed him by. As the woman and the child come to know well the man who must relearn them each day, it reveals the nature of love and friendship, of the limitations caused by the professor's disability and the bonds that form in spite of it. All of this is weaved in around the concept of numbers and what they mean, their perfection and mysteriousness.

I rushed to the end, and when I got there, the quiet matter-of-factness of that end satisfied me. I immediately found myself wanting to go back and linger over passages I remember loving but not writing down in my haste. I need to know how it ends in order to focus on how it gets there.

When I write a story, I usually get inspiration from knowing the end already. Then I don't have to rush to get there. I can watch the journey unfold and be patient and surprised by how the characters get to the end. This is a fact of my personality, unchangeable. I can work on my nail-biting or my tendency toward silence on long car rides. I can't change about me that my brain is always rushing, always thinking about what is about to come. I do not have a naturally slow internal pace. My autopilot fast-forwards.

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