Thursday, 18 November 2010

The pleasure of reading

My experience with reading that last paperback by Audrey Niffenegger reminded me of how I can get so engrossed in reading that the whole world disappears except for the words streaming directly into my brain, and I'm almost absorbing the story rather than reading it. It can be a similar experience with a really good film or play, when you forget where you are, but the difference is that there is no sound or living people involved, it's all done by the power of the written words.

I distinctly remember a moment from my childhood, in Miss Francis' class when I must have been 8or 9 years old, in one of the old Portakabin* classrooms that had that particular smell of pencils and plimsolls and polish. I had a book that I really wanted to carry on reading. Really really wanted to. But reading time was ending, and I knew we were going to have to do something else, but I really wanted to find out what happened next.

I knew for certain that if I read even one more word I would lose all consciousness of my surroundings for goodness knows how long, and then I wouldn't know what I was supposed to do, and everyone might be doing something completely different and I'd realise suddenly that I was in trouble. So with an enormous physical and mental effort I closed the book, and it was one of the most self-disciplined things that I'd ever had to do in my life up to that point.

The other slight disadvantage to my reading immersion problem is that at moments of great excitement, my reading speed accelerates to the point that all subtlety of language is lost. It's a bit like eating food too fast, where sustenance is achieved, but all the subtlety of flavour disappears as the food whizzes past the tastebuds.

That's one of the reasons that I enjoy audio books so much. Although it's possible to speed up the pace of narration slightly (using the wonder of the ipod) I don't do that, and I listen at the rate of the human voice - about five times slower than my normal print reading speed, and at least ten times slower than when my speed-reading gets out of control. The subtleties of language that speed by when I'm greedy for more story are fed to me morsel by morsel, and I have to savour each word before being allowed to move to the next.

Mr A reading at his desk wearing a full face crash helmet
Talking of reading, here is Mr A, hard at work on his Computing degree. In order to be certain that the crash helmet you have bought is not too tight, it is important to wear it for a significant period while keeping it relatively clean - i.e. not out on a bike ride where it can accumulate road debris and insects. So it all makes sense really.

* until I was quite old (probably teens), I thought that this word was pronounced 'Por-taka-bin'. It made a lot more sense when I realised how it ought to be said.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Lovely post, made me want to pick up a book straightaway!