Sometimes, when I’m talking books, people will say, “You’re so well read.” I wish this were true. I was on my way to becoming well read, gobbling up books like Halloween candy, when I realized it was hurting me more than helping. I am now the slowest reader you will ever meet.
After taking in a paragraph, I might pause and stare off into the distance for fifteen minutes. I will then read it again, maybe twice more if it’s especially striking, and pick apart its construction. I almost always have my yellow legal tablet in my lap. If I’m reading a chase scene, I might try to understand the mechanics of it, how it uses run-on sentences to create a sense of breathlessness, how it opens up paragraphs with a long string of prepositions to orient us in a city, that kind of thing.
It might take me two weeks or it might take me a month or more to finish a novel, but by the time I close the cover, I know it completely and see it as Neo might the Matrix, as a sparkling string of code that comes together to create an alternate reality. My wife now refuses to crack a book once I’ve read it, because the pages are distractingly blackened with notes.
Sometimes, if a book has a particularly addictive plot, I will force myself to set down the pen. I will read once for the emotional spell the book casts and then I will read it again to study its technique. My wife says I’ve taken the fun out of reading. But really, it’s just a peculiar sort of fun. Maybe more than anything in the world, I delight in stories and language, the way they can be put together and taken apart, the infinite possibilities of these twenty-six letters at our disposal. My mind bristles with forests of sentences, but I no longer feel panicked and lost in the shade of them. I know the way now, slowly.