This week’s Musing Mondays asks:
When reading do you read every word? Do you ever skip chapters or skim over parts?
I’ve always been rather proud of myself for resisting the urge to skim through books, even those that aren’t terribly fascinating or particularly well written. Devouring a book too quickly, even for someone who calls herself a Ravenous Reader, is rather unsatisfying in the end, and I always feel slightly guilty adding it to my list of Books Completed if I don’t feel I’ve given it a thorough read.
However, after just a few chapters of Reading Like A Writer, Francine Prose’s guide to quality reading, I must admit that I’m nothing but a reading hack…at least by Ms. Prose’s standards. She writes that it’s “essential to slow down and read every word” – and not just read, but digest and analyze and wonder exactly what each word choice is telling us about the greater meaning of the book. And skimming “just won’t suffice if we hope to extract just one fraction…of what a writer’s words can teach us.”
She then proceeds to a 300 word exegesis of the opening sentence in “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” by Flannery O’Connor : “The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida.” Within those eight words, the author has set the tone of the story with the choices she made. Calling this character “the grandmother,” (as opposed to Grandma or Nana, or any other popular diminutive) depersonalizes her, and identifies her place in the family, as well as elevating her to a somewhat mythic status. Starting out with this declarative refusal, this “concentrated act of negative will,” introduces a major theme of the story – the foolishness of attempting to exert ones will in the face of fate or destiny.
It’s fascinating to read Prose’s analysis, truly it is. But I despair of every making even the smallest dent in my already teetering TBR pile if I were to embark on such an intricate analysis of every sentence in every on of those books.
Of course, Ms. Prose’s book aims to be a guide for the fledgling writer, another way to study the masters and the way they apply their craft. For words are the writer’s “raw material,” and are used the way a composer uses notes and a painter uses color and brushstroke. In that sense, the value of “close reading” cannot be denied.