Reading great books: The writer’s quandary

I’ve been devouring fiction ever since I finished the PhD of Doom: fantasy, lit-fic, horror, children’s lit, short stories — you name it, I’ve been feasting on it for the past couple of weeks. And after I gobbled up Simon Van Booy’s Love Begins in Winter in the space of two bus rides, inhaled Claude Lalumière’s The Door to Lost Pages in two sittings, and found myself reading Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace even while I was finishing off Game of Thrones and powering my way through the first few chapters of The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon, I was once again struck by a sense of injustice…

It takes writers days, weeks, years to write these works — so how unfair is it of me to Hoover their words up so quickly? Not for the first time, I felt that there should be an appendix to the contract between Reader and Writer; one which subtly lays out the following tenets:

(a) No matter how rollicking the story, no matter how engaging the characters, the Reader’s eyes will not fly over the page more quickly than it took the Writer to place the words on said page;

(b) The Reader will not skip over literary signposts, such as ‘He said’ and ‘She said’, even though registering such descriptors slows the pace of reading; for the Writer took the time to indicate who was speaking to whom, in order to prevent the Reader’s confusion, so it is only fair that the Reader appreciate the Writer’s efforts in this regard;

(c) The Reader will promise to go back and re-read parts s/he found confusing due to speed-reading; the Writer’s nuances should not be lost due to the Reader’s impatience to find out what happens next;

(d) Finally, the Writer vows to make it impossible for the Reader to comply with these addenda by creating stunning turns-of-phrase, utterly absorbing plots, and stakes for their characters which are too high for the Reader to ignore.

Oh, the inner turmoil I feel when I chew through a book in one evening! As a Writer, I’d hope all Readers bear these points in mind; as a Reader, I too frequently skip straight to (d). However, the best books stay with me for days, weeks, years after this initial inhalation; they either warrant re-reading or earn my eternal devotion by letting me think about them long after I’ve swallowed them and picked my teeth with their spines.


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