Due to boring circumstances beyond my control, I will not be online much for awhile. Fortunately I’ve been able to line up a number of stellar guests to fill in for me. Most are writers, but I also thought it would be fun to get some publishing types to explain what it is they do, teach you some more about the industry, and answer your questions, as well as one or two bloggers.
Meg Reid is another one of my pen pals.1 We started corresponding to each other when Meg was sixteen and my father, who is friends with her parents and was staying with them in the US, gave her a copy of Magic or Madness and ordered her to write me about it. Dads! Could they be more embarrassing? On this occasion though he did good and we’ve been writing to each other ever since. Oh, and now Meg’s in graduate school.2
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Lately, I’ve been a little paranoid about being a bad reader. It’s kind of embarrassing, because it’s something I’ve always thought I was good at—I learned how when I was three, because I told my mom I wanted to, and allegedly I was a very strong willed child.3
Honestly, my main rationale for coming to graduate school in English, rather than Art History or Theatre like I’d spent most of my undergrad career planning to do, was that I realized that I was way better at reading than I was at acting or directing, and I didn’t really want to be a curator. Plus, it was something I liked. “How awesome would it be,” I thought, “to have my whole life for two years be going to school and learning about books, and then coming home and reading books, and then hanging out with clever grad-school people who like to talk about books, TOO?!?” It sounded ideal.4
And then I got introduced to theory. And postmodernism. And 500 pages of required reading a night. None of which was bad, exactly, but my dream scenario involved more time for napping and doing my laundry more often.5 And romance novels. Definitely more romance novels. I am very good at those.
That isn’t the reason I’m paranoid, though. Imagine my surprise when I found out a couple weeks ago that all this time, I might have been doing it ALL WRONG for eighteen years.
I read like most people do, I think, except for some little quirks, which I will now share publicly, even though they’re kind of embarrassing:
- When I get really into books I tend to forget to breathe, and then make embarrassing dying goldfish-ish gasping noises every few minutes.
- In my head, every protagonist has brown or red hair. I don’t know why, but they do. And it’s probably problematic, but that is a story for another post.
- I don’t read last pages first.
Which is why, after finding out inadvertently halfway through House of Mirth what happened to poor Lily, and poor Selden, and poor Gerty (oh, GOD…), I went home and wept. I literally couldn’t get out of bed for an hour. I had been reading it for class, and the next day, was soundly mocked by my friends. Evidently, they thought I should have gotten over the tragedy a little bit sooner and spent more time researching the distinctions between realism and naturalism. (Fair enough).
Obviously, I’m pretty firm on that last reading quirk. Not to suck up, but I’ll quote Justine to bolster my argument, because she said it very well, and loves House of Mirth, too:
There’s something very vulnerable about reading. When I am immersed in a good book I feel so utterly consumed by it that an unhappy ending, the *****6 of a favourite character can totally wreck me. My defenses are down. I cannot cope with the enormity of loss and grief and sorrow.
YES. YES. YES. YES.
The trauma7 got me thinking, though—maybe I could have avoided my hour-long crying jag if I’d broken my commitment to reading quirk #3. I’ve never thought there was a right or wrong way to read. Some might be more effective for certain purposes (like skimming that aforementioned 500 pages of reading a night), but are some ways of reading objectively better than others? And if I’m a bad reader, how do I change it?
I know, deep down, that I’m not really a horrible reader, but I’m curious about it now. One of my clever grad-school friends (those, unlike laundry and naps are not myths) attempted to explain literacy studies to me, but even that branch of theory doesn’t quite answer my questions.
I’ve gotten seriously fascinated by how people read. I’ve started asking people questions about their reading quirks.8 It’s totally weird, and awesome, and funny. One of my friends reads lying down, so her arms don’t get tired. My mom only reads with socks on. Some people hear characters’ voices in their heads, some have specific narrators (with accents!). A guy I know told me he gets nervous when he doesn’t know how books end beforehand. A girl I studied abroad with sees colors in poetry. One of my neighbors has been known to pair books with wines—Emma goes very well with pinot gris, for example.
Clearly, there’s an upside to having my ending ruined,9 and to all this musing about right and wrong reading paranoia. And, since Justine was lovely enough to ask me to blog, I get to extend my new favorite question to all of you (since it’s finals week, I‘ll pretend it’s Very Serious Research): what are your reading quirks?
- Pen pal, still making me giggle. [↩]
- Is a postgraduate. [↩]
- Seriously. I found a book on “How to Raise the Strong-Willed Child” on my parent’s bookshelves when we moved a couple years ago. I had NO IDEA what it was doing there. [↩]
- As you might be able to tell, I didn’t really take English classes in undergrad. [↩]
- I won’t say how often I do it now, because my mom will probably read this, and I don’t want to shock her. [↩]
- I don’t want to wreck the ending for anyone else. Seriously. Read it. [↩]
- Exaggerating, obviously. Since I have now been exposed to the field of trauma studies and am fully aware this does not apply . . . [↩]
- Maybe if I creatively edit them, a la Eve Ensler, I can turn them in instead of a final next quarter? [↩]
- But only just barely. [↩]