One of the great regrets of my life is my inability to read faster. To say that I read slower than molasses would be an understatement. Therefore I insist upon living forever—I need the extra time to enjoy all the books I’ve yet to read. My reading list, my queue, is endless.
And while this disability, this quirk, of driving my eyes across words at a pace suitable for a school zone made me less suited for college and more on speed with the Book-of-the-Month club, I relish the written word. And well I should--I read slow enough to diagram sentences. But despite my embarrassment of being seen sporting the same novel while friends speed past me, reading many to my one, I take on a relationship with my book. It becomes a part of my life, a companion.
I learned about the camaraderie of a book from my family. My Dad was an avid reader. I never saw him leave the house without his newspaper or Time magazine—they were his companions. Dad claimed you could never be bored if you had something to read. Momma’s constant comrades were books, fiction most always. I can’t imagine her without a library book in tow. And my sister, well she became a librarian.
The snail’s pace method of reading is not without its merits. I become so immersed in the story, the style of writing, the voice, the characters—the whole package—that when it is over I wish I had read the last chapter just a bit slower. A book’s end is a goodbye. But like any experience, memories are created. And, even if your adventure was vicarious in nature it can still ring true.
Often a passage in a book (or a scene within a movie) will have me bawling like there’s no tomorrow and Boyfriend, in an attempt (fumble) to comfort, will remind me that “It’s just a story.” Just a story? Then why read in the first place if your suspension of disbelief is so shallow? The characters’ blight, heartaches, triumphs, very existence needs us, the reader, to breathe life into them. Otherwise they remain trapped between the dust jackets.
Last year I slipped between the pages of Ray Bradbury’s fictionalized childhood as seen through the eyes of Douglas Spaulding in the summer of 1928. Bradbury may be more widely known for his “Illustrated Man” or “Fahrenheit 451” but if you ever wish to remember the summers of your youth--the joys, discoveries and fears of coming of age--then step inside “Dandelion Wine” and live young and barefoot again. You will also be reminded that childhood is not for the faint of heart. And there is a bravery that is often left behind as we grow older.
Stephen King is another contemporary author who understands this all too well. He has not forgotten the sounds, tastes, and details of childhood. And he knows, just like every child knows, that there are monsters in the closet. King reminds us that those monsters follow us into the light of day and assume the cover of greed, war, authority. Monsters can and do inhabit the abusive husband or corrupt cop. But along the way in his storytelling he gives color and texture to the land and lives of his characters. As my friend, Marinnette, once said, “He makes you smell the toast.” And those are moments to savor and not speed read through.
Some years back while attending a panel discussion of Southern authors at the Tennessee Williams Literary shindig I became endeared to a Mississippi novelist by the name of Lewis “Buddy” Nordan. (What is it about Mississippi that produces so many prolific and startlingly brilliant writers?) This writer is one that takes the most (seemingly) ordinary people and landscapes and turns both into subjects of magical realism.
Nordan’s “Wolf Whistle,” a retelling of the Emmett Till tragedy, is a melding of historical fact and fantasy; beauty and depravity. The racial hatred and murder of a 15-year-old child accused of whistling at a white woman is stomach churning. But, Nordan’s gift of positioning nature’s beauty and human innocence against such a crime is compelling. The magic, both evil and beautiful, depicted in all his Mississippi based novels had me road-tripping to the region to see if indeed such a place existed.
For me, a good writer will have me traveling the very roads of my own city, realizing that it had been foreign territory before, and giving me a deeper sense of place. After Katrina, Chris Rose was able to articulate an entire city’s grief and for me loosen my tear ducts so I could finally have the cathartic cry I so needed. A bit later, Sara Roahen’s “Gumbo Tales,” would be read at a time when I desperately needed her rose-colored glasses to renew my affection for this City. And recently I read Dan Baum’s amazing “Nine Lives,” which makes no apology for our dysfunctions but reminds us of why and how we stand unique against the rest of the world.
While this City might hold more than its share of rarities it is necessary to experience beyond our borders. Books are the affordable mode of travel. My shelves are lines with books that have transported me to lands and times that no plane could access. And though I travel those tales more slowly than most…why rush a good time?
Visit your literary travel agents at the 2012 Tennessee Williams/ New Orleans Literary Festival March 21-25. For more info: TennesseeWilliams.net