I am a fast reader. By nature or nurture, I cannot say. My mother is a fast reader, as is my eldest son (he is a very fast reader). I've always felt it was a gift, a way to read even more in a world where so many of us talk about the pile of books waiting to be read on our bedside table or desk or overstuffed bookshelves. The list of titles on my Kindle can be scrolled for a good ten minutes and I have a Hold list at the library that I've lost control of.
So many books, so little time.
But I recently discovered the pleasure of so much time, and just one wonderful book: the time is spent in my car and the book is a recorded one. Who knew? All those segments of hours, spent driving kids to school and groceries home and husband to train, can be endured - no, thoroughly enjoyed - by plugging into a book on tape.
My virgin trial with an audio book was Anne Perry's Callander Square. I usually take about four or five hours to read an Anne Perry novel (less time for her Christmas series). Quite often, I pick up an Anne Perry book and don't put it down until I am finished (which makes for a very exhausted woman the next day). It took me almost three weeks to finish Callander Square. Three weeks. And I loved every minute of it, both the time spent in the car soaking up the marvelous voice of Davina Porter reading the hypnotic prose of Anne Perry, and the hours spent throughout the rest of my day, as I thought about Perry's marvelous characters (love the Pitts) and plot (dead babies found buried in a posh square), and landscapes (the drawing rooms and bedrooms and gardens of said posh square). As I went about my day, I was turning over the questions raised by Perry - whose death matters? What can propriety prevent and what must it reveal, to maintain both authenticity and humanity in an often-cruel world?
Then it was time for me to get back in the car -- what a pleasure to actually want to get in the car instead of dreading more time lost! Driving became time regained. Regained for what matters so much to me: reading great books.
I am never in my car for long periods of time, ten minutes here, fifteen minutes there. I had never thought I could listen to a book on tape in such short spurts; I thought the pace of the book would be too broken up and I would lose the thread of what the plot or the import of the characters. But I was wrong: each sentence comes to mean so much more, when it is one of perhaps fifteen I will hear before turning off my engine (okay, there are times when I sit in my garage and let the battery run out because I cannot beat to turn off my book - much as there are evenings when I stay up until the wee hours of the morning because I just have to find out what happens next?)
By listening to books in my car, in these short spurts of time, I have to come to appreciate even more the brilliance of great writers, for whom each sentence is a crucial piece of the puzzle, a touch of color or shadow without which the book would not be as good. Plots are built through such sentences, as are characters and landscape, conflict and resolution. Books are built, sentence by sentence, and slow reading allows a new appreciation of the construction.
Does this mean I will now become a slow reader? No way. I can't. Just like I cannot become a fast runner - I don't have it in me. I was born (or bred) to read fast, and I like it like that. I read so much, and by writing down my thoughts about what I read and the titles of all the books I so happily devour, I do remember the best plots, the most wonderful (or despicable) characters, the landscapes of Paris and Istanbul and Cincinnati, of backyards and dining rooms and bedrooms. But now I have another way to experience all the great writing in the world: slow. Slow-cooked versus seared: I love reading all ways, and now have a pile of plastic-encased CDs going up alongside my teetering piles of books.