Friday, October 20, 2006

More Ponderings on Reading

Let’s see. Blogger’s being a bitch (and was so yesterday, so I just gave up on the idea that I might actual respond in the comments before I went to work), so I’m going to respond in a post. If you are not interested in said response—perhaps even find them tedious and dull—please scroll down to past Robin’s name:

For all who asked, the book I was reading was The Queen Geek Social Club by Laura Preble (another in my YA reads), which has a very, very engaging narrator (hence all my questions about narrators and plot forgiveness this week). As it stands now, I felt that the ending was a bit rushed and I’m not sure I followed all of Shelby’s highs and lows, but overall the first person narration kicked ass and took names. I very much enjoyed it.

I’m now reading Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer, which is also incredibly fascinating and has me considering the evolution of my own close reading techniques (especially because I was so busy taking biology classes in college that I didn’t take a single Lit course). I’m now thinking of applying Prose’s close reading to Preble’s book and seeing what result I get.

As for the rest of you who commented:

Kendell, I looked up The Last Mortal Man and it looks really cool. I don’t tend to read a lot of SciFi, but I just might pick this one up. Please let me know if I should recommend it to customers.

Jackie, feel free to quote any and all odes to coffee from this blog. I probably won’t even remember it was mine.

Jules, I can always use more friends. Especially those who have blogs like yours, which reminds me, can I nominate books for the Cybils?

Trish, welcome to how my mind works. At one time, it was books before coffee. But then again, at one time I was a morning person. I wish I knew what happened.

Robin, I’m so glad that I ruined blue tooth technology for you as well. Think of it as an excuse to walk around with a big ol’ smile on your face.

For the rest of you:

Are you close readers? Do you need the tags telling us that someone is shouting, etc, or do you thrive on the showing (to the point that you worship at the alter of Raymond Carver)?

And, if you feel like digging a little deeper, what made you the reader you are?

I never took an English Lit class when I was in college. Later, when I was just taking classes to keep my brain occupied, I took a couple from the local university, something that could finally explain post-modernism and the different schools of theory. Before then, my only Lit classes were in Spanish, a painstaking process for me wherein I translated word for word trying to discover the true meaning of Lorca and others because I’ve never quite gotten my brain to kick over and just think in another language.

Well, that’s not true. I have, but it is usually when I’m drunk, just about to fall asleep or dreaming (I’ve had whole dreams in Spanish), that my brain relaxes enough that I don’t have to translate everything in my mind. My fault, I’m sure, for never going abroad for very long and forcing my brain into doing my bidding.

But even though I’d never taking the Lit classes that my friends—the English majors—did, I think I had a pretty good handle on the basic concept of New Criticism (the study of the words value by its placement on the page alone without weighing it with the aspects of the author’s life and back ground) due to all the plays I read during Theatre and one Spanish translation class I took.

In plays, you’re given the basic setting and the dialogue. The setting is open to interpretation (Shakespeare can be moved through time and space, each casting a new meaning to the words being spoken), so you only have the words to go on. What do the characters say about themselves in the dialogue? What do they say about others? What hints do they give you about their pasts that the writer does not specifically say?

Open to interpretation? Sure, but so’s anything you do or say since you have the weight of all your knowledge and background making itself known. It’s the reason we’ll all read a book differently.

The Spanish translation class made it clear that it is damn hard to translate humor and irony (so if you know anyone who can do it, go buy them a huge dinner). We would labor over the meaning of each word—to directly translate, or just translate the expression—fighting to capture the meaning without losing the author’s rhythm, meaning, and humor. After hours with our dictionaries, we’d come together and compare before the start of class. That’s a phrase meaning what? I didn’t know. Oh, you rearranged the words like that? That flows so much better.

Each word placement in each sentence was treated with the utmost importance.

And in the end we still didn’t get the irony, reading so closely that we missed the meaning of the piece.

So how about you? Do you read closely, or not at all? And if you do, what do you say to the naysayers that claim that anything non-literary would fall apart under close examination?

How much do you need to be told?

13 comments:

May said...

I believe that under close enough examination, every book will fall apart, though the degree required is different for every book.

I don't like dialogue tags very much, and Showing it rather than Telling it is very important to me.

Part of it is that I became a writer, and part of it simply comes from having read a great deal. I'm not yet twenty, and I'm well past the 1000 book mark. Hurray for spreadsheets!

Bernita said...

I have lit courses up the ...whatever, but I read now for entertainment and transportation.
If I do take a fit of critical analysis I am pleased how often genre novels will stand up to in-depth examination.
I prefer inference and am not fond of excessive dialogue tags.
Or did I miss the question altogether?

Robin Brande said...

I majored in English because I thought it meant I could read all day for credit. Ha! What I didn't realize was that I wouldn't be able to read for pleasure for the next four years, because every course had too many books, all the deadlines were fast and multiple, and the in-class discussions took all the joy out of the stories anyway. So I graduated with a degree and a bookshelf of books that I've made a point to go back and reread in my adult years so I can actually savor them.

I don't know if it was that experience or just life experience in general, but I have ZERO desire to pick apart and analyze books anymore. My sole criterion now is do I love the book or not. I agree with Bernita that it's about being transported. Which means I read a lot of autobiographies by burly men and women (Arctic explorers, long-distance open-ocean swimmers, etc.) and YA and adult fiction that makes me laugh or lets me go play in another world.

I love a novel with rich language and memorable characters, but I need a great story first and foremost. I'll take novels by Charles Dickens and J.K. Rowling and Philip Pullman over "serious" literature any day.

quiche said...

Wow. One reason I love novels from the early 19th century is for the wonderful descriptions and formal use of language. I like the historical detail about the lace on the antimacassar but then I'm a geek. I like to see, feel and smell as much as possible.
But a novel written in the last few years? Nah, unless it's a different universe or place that needs the details. I like to figure stuff out for myself, don't need all the detail because it tends to take me away from the story at hand.

Rashenbo said...

Hello Bookseller,

I don't recall how I found your site, but I did... and I like it :)

I've been having a problem with blogger myself the last two days... so who knows if this will actually post or not.

Cheers!

Kendall said...

Please let me know if I should recommend it to customers. -- I finished it a couple of days ago and enjoyed it a lot! A lot of action, especially in the second half, but also characters I cared about following. I've become a Syne Mitchell fan; she's three for three with me. I read End in Fire months ago and loved it (depressing but excellent); weeks ago, I read her first novel, Murphy's Gambit; and although I picked up The Last Mortal Man when it came out, I didn't get to it till after reading Murphy's Gambig. I'm looking forward to what she does next!

I recommend The Last Mortal Man highly (as well as the other two I've read by her). But... I should warn you, the publisher nixed the series due to sluggish sales. Grr! So while it says it's the first in the Deathless series, and there're a few pages from a sequel at the end...we'll probably never see said sequel. ;-( On the plus side, though, she tied things up and the novel stands alone fine. I'm always skeptical of such claims, but (though I'd love a sequel) I feel it's fine as a stand-alone novel.

Orhan Kahn said...

Classic open to a post. Well done.

Anne said...

Yes, of course you can nominate books for the Cybils! Feel free. Tell all your friends to stop by cybils.com.

Thanks for the link.

Little Willow said...

I am looking forward to The Queen Geek Social Club. It sounds cute.

Sisker said...

As a writer, I am a terrible reader, way too critical of the printed page. I even blogged about it in Reader vs. Writer at my blog, Sisker's Lair, kaysisk.blogspot.com. Being slow has made me a more careful writer though. I hope to catch my own mistakes of "fictional fact" rather than have them caught for me!

Lisa Hunter said...

I read carefully if the writer has taken care with the language. Not every book is meant to be savored that way. I think there's a difference between great literature and great story-telling, and there's a place for each.

When I was a pretentious undergraduate, I'd always read the last chapter of a book first because I didn't want to get sucked into an "unworthy" pot-boiler book just to find out what happened. If the book didn't hold my interest once I knew the ending, I'd drop it. (Interestingly, lots of genre fiction holds up to this test -- especially novels like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, which I've always thought was vastly underrated.)

These days I have somewhat different standards. Now I can enjoy a good yarn just for the fun of it. But when the seams show-- when I'm too aware that the writer is writing -- I get pulled out of the story, so I drop the book. This can happen with both literary and genre fiction.

Diana Peterfreund said...

I read closely. It's the writer in me. I think good books hold up under scrutiny, no matter WHAT kind of book it is. You can be amazed a the author's use of language, or of symbolism, or intricate plotting, or a mixture of the above. Cotton candy holds up as cotton candy (so sweet, so fluffy!) and fine wine holds up as fine wine (so complex! look at that finish!) And that goes all over...

Book dharma, baby. Book dharma.

jules said...

yes, go vote! thanks for the shout-out....

jules