Monday, September 20, 2010

Slow Reads can be Good Reads, Too

I am finally reading the conclusion to the Inkheart trilogy by Cornelia Funke: Inkdeath. I bought all three books two years ago and read the first one (Inkheart) right away. Even though I enjoyed the book, it was a long read, and I didn't immediately start the second book. When I finally did start the second book (Inkspell), it took me nearly a year of reading it on-again-off-again to complete it. One of my friends had told me she'd had difficulties reading the second one but that the third one was worth it, so I kept going. She was right. I am immensely enjoying Inkdeath, yet I am finding that reading the book is slow going for me.

I am normally a pretty fast reader, and when I get pulled into a book, I often find that when I am released (usually because the phone rings or I realize I haven't eaten for a while or someone interrupts my spell), I will have read a hundred pages in what feels like no time at all. With the Inkheart books, though, it's more like I'll make it through twenty pages instead of a hundred. On the surface, it didn't make much sense to me that it was taking so long to read the books--the books are written for young readers, so I'm not dealing with words I don't know or hard-to-read sentences or anything like that. These books are just slow reads for me.

Before I encountered good books that are slow reads, I probably would have guessed that not being able to read through any book at a normal pace is caused by lack of interest. That is not always the case (in fact, a lack of interest sometimes causes me to speed up just to try to get through the book). I am now finding that sometimes a book speaks to me at such a deep level that part of my energy is focused on digesting the deeper connection, leaving only a fraction of my mental space open for digesting the words I'm reading on the page.

I am infatuated with the world Funke created in her Inkheart books; based on its vivid descriptions, Inkworld is a fabulous place, and I want to feel the complex emotions Funke so painstakingly describes at every step of the story. I want to meet these characters--even the evil ones--because she has put so much thought into making each and every one of them a round character and not simply a flat, stock character who plays his destined role in the background.

And more than anything else, her books are making me want to write. Her words are sparking ideas in me that I had left dormant because my schedule has been rather filled lately. Her words are making me feel guilty for not doing what's on my to-do list. So yet another part of me is pulled away from focusing on the words on the page, pestering me about what I should be doing with my time.

Although I'm a couple hundred pages from finishing (Inkdeath is around 700 pages, so I'm still a good way through the book), I already know that when I close its covers, I'm going to love the series. Even now, I acknowledge that the second book didn't quite draw me in as much as the first one did or the last one is, but I can't say I don't like Inkspell. Maybe it didn't draw me in as much because it was like the second movie of the Lord of the Rings trilogy--I watched it because I needed the middle part of the story, but the second movie was so dependent on continuing what had already happened in the first movie and setting viewers up for the third movie that it didn't feel like a movie in its own rights. The second movie was my least favorite of the three. It felt like nothing happened because nothing was really begun or finished in its duration. I think maybe Inkspell was the same way for me. I can't like it the best because nothing was begun or finished in its duration.

Why mention the possibility of a good book being a slow read? Because I've found a new twist in my reading journey; I've found a new definition of 'joie de lire'. I used to associate good books with my hypnotic reading states--those periods of reading where I forget a world exists around me, and I end up reading an entire book in one or two sittings. And now I'm beginning to realize that not all good books do that to me. Some books, even those that could potentially end up on my 'top ten' book list, will not cause me to go into a reading stupor but instead will make me feel antsy with inspiration and provocation, making it nearly impossible to get through the book at my normal reading pace.

Have any good books caused you to slow down?


brandon curtis said...

I started to have the same pacing issues with reading as well. George Pelecanos, Harlan Coben and Dennis Lehane are some of the quickest reads I've ever had in my life then I made the switch to Euro-Noir and started reading Henning Mankell, Hakan Nesser and Denise Mina and the ability to devour a book came almost to a screeching halt.

I see where you're coming from with the immersive worlds because the small towns in these euro books feel like actual characters. Most Pelecanos, Lehane and Coben are set in D.C., Boston and New Jersey respectively but the town(s) never seems to be described in the same detail so you don't get the feeling that you're going on a slow scenic tour the way you do in euro books. It doesn't even matter that I'm reading the same genre it just tends to go slower and until now I wondered if I was the problem. It was especially problematic when I couldn't read more than ten pages of Tana French in a sitting.

Do you think this immersiveness is a trait of foreign writers or am I being weirdly xenophobic?

This is not a one hundred percent of the time problem because the New Zealand revenge novel "Blood Men" doesn't fall into the pacing trap, it moves like a solid exploitation flick or the love child of Joe Lansdale and Jack Ketchum but for the most part I encounter this nuisance as well.

Also, do you ever get tempted to blame it on point size as well? I know I do.

Jessie Sams said...

Yes, I definitely do look at the size of the book (as in "This book has large pages") and font size when I realize a book is taking me longer than normal to read.

I'm not sure I could associate the amount of detail provided with foreign writers--we've got some American authors who are well known for providing a wealth of information about the setting (James Michener being one of the most prolific detailers, in my opinion). But I would say I've noticed a trend among foreign authors (and screenwriters) who use several plot lines to tell one story, which is a heavier cognitive processing load on the readers--at least for me. If I have to stop and ask myself, "Who is this character again, and why are they important to these other story lines?", my reading slows down. I think that's part of what took me longer for the Inkheart trilogy. Just when I'd forgotten about Elinor, for example, there'd be a chapter devoted to her story line, and I'd have to stop and remind myself of her backstory.

It could also be that when I come across a writing style that's either new or unlike the ones I've been reading lately, it may take me longer to get into the book. After making the switch to Euro-Noir, did your reading speed increase at all? Or is still slower than your norm?

brandon curtis said...

I've only noticed the problem of getting bogged down in details when it comes to Euro-writers so the reading pace is still slow. However, it was something I noticed happened so immediately that I had to have an answer for it.

Speaking of levels of detail, in my opinion, David Morrell (the guy who wrote the novel First Blood) wrote a book called The League of Night and Fog, so named after the Nazi practice of abducting people and leaving their families completely in the dark as to their fates, that does absolutely nothing to give me a sense of geography. It's the prose equivalent of watching "Quantum of Solace." It also takes a fantastic premise and strips it of danger by having only one good guy die and making all the good guys a Jack Bauer level of awesome. I typically like every book I can get my hands on but this one makes me want to quote and expand on my little brother's thoughts on books: "I will neeeeeever read...another David Morrell book."

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