Close Reading

I love Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer.  Here’s her description of Close Reading:

“And as I wrote I discovered that writing, like reading, was done one word at a time, one punctuation mark at a time. It required what a friend calls “putting every word on trial for its life ”: changing an adjective, cutting a phrase, removing a comma, and putting the comma back in.

Prose, Francine (2009-03-17). Reading Like a Writer (P.S.) (p. 3). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

For the most part, this is how I read now and I prefer books that have to be read this way.    But I had not read like this since since high school.  And that because I was required to answer questions from the text.  Unfortunately, I suspect  the questions were designed to make sure we actually read the thing and not that we  understood it.  That would probably have been asking way more than hormone-challenged 17-year olds could manage.

So after graduation,  I put away my classics, or took them to used book stores, and purchased books from  various best-seller lists.  And until  I retired, most of my reading was for entertainment, or escape;  easily digestible, plot-predictable, “chick-lit,”  books that fit into my handbag, could be picked up from where I left off rushing to board the last flight,  coffee alone at Starbucks, etc.   Although for the most part, they had  something to say, I give myself credit for that much discretion, and I usually identified with them, or learned something.  And I enjoyed them; still do.  But their effects were short-lived.  They did not change  the way I thought or saw the world.    Out of guilt, or curiosity, I periodically tried the latest Nobel or Pulitzer prize winner or a  Dickens,  Jane Eyre, Dostoyevsky,  Bronte etc, but usually admitted defeat after a chapter or two.

But now,  re-reading  the same books, I get it.  Although that literature is not for speed-reading should be self-evident,   somehow I missed that as I sped through my revved-up life against a  background of noise around us so pervasive that I no longer heard it.  Speed-reading literature  would be as pointless as  skateboarding through a Van Gogh exhibit or playing Bach on fast-forward.  (Now that I think of it, I think someone actually has recorded a high speed version of Bach’s Inventions!)

So here’s my challenge.  I dare you. Find your favorite literature classic even if the last one you read was in high school.  Even if it’s not your favorite, just the one you disliked the least.  Take ten minutes to read the first page.   Take even five minutes to read the first page.   I think you will be amazed. I certainly was.  But be warned:   It could change the way you read, what you read and what you think.

Who knows what else?

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