#SlowReader

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There’s this neat trick that some of the websites have (I’ve usually seen it on Fast Company links, but you may have seen it in other stories), where somewhere in the top mess of advertisements and notations there is a statement of how long it will take the reader to consume the piece they are about to review.  I’ve always found these estimations a bit off; is this the estimation for the regular skimmer, or the reader like myself who sits and savors?

And I do savor.  I savor to the point of rumination.  I “close read,” which is what my advisor in college used to call it, not because I knew he would test me on something obscure and ridiculous (he wasn’t that kind of professor), but because he wanted everyone involved in discussion and he wanted us to be prepared for a round of devil’s advocate.  I didn’t want to miss the devil’s advocate in the text–I wanted to be prepared for it AND I wanted to see the writer pull from both sides of the coin (neat trick!)–so I read closely.  Also, I always felt that I was less intelligent than the other students because I was an unconventional student (read, older).  And literature was my major. So…it took me a long time to get my homework done.

It still takes me a long time to read.  I feel like I’m going to miss something if I don’t sit with it, even with books that top out at 160 pages.  Things that take a long time to do try my patience.  I’m also a writer, which is a craft that takes time to get right.  In today’s attention-deficient world, time-consuming stuff can be a problem if you want to feel some sense of accomplishment.  Still, it’s a lesson I am determined to learn…even in the face of glittering reporting on social media.

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Every year on January 1st the book-related websites and apps reach out to readers:  “What are your reading goals for this year?” In most cases they are called “challenges,” a long way from the bookworms we’d construct as kids with round pieces of colored paper at the library or in our elementary classrooms.  Some challenges are just numbers (Goodreads) and some have specifics (Book Riot’s Read Harder) that force the reader to read something they normally wouldn’t.  I find the numbers thing somewhat turnstile, even though this year I’m shooting for the same number that I would have read in my college days; how is one supposed to be changed or moved by literature that is skimmed to make a quota?  For the specifics’ challenges, I’m usually challenged enough by the fact that I’m hearing about books from a wide variety of sources:

  • My local independent bookstores;
  • Podcasts;
  • The New York Times’ book section;
  • Best new lists and themed lists off of Twitter or pictured in a stack on Instagram (Facebook for some reason doesn’t provoke me to read much);
  • What people I know are reading on Goodreads.

If I went with a specifics’ challenge, I would never read anything in my TBR (to be read) pile, or…I would never find a book by pick-up in the bookstore or library.

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I have always had this nifty gift of find the book I most need at the time when I most need it (even in college this phemonenon was more or less true).  Sometimes, needing it, I keep in longer than others might, dwelling with it.  I recently did this with Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, even though I ended up gobbling it in the last 100 pages.   I think my challenge for 2019 isn’t so much how much I can read, or how varied I am, but what I can glean from my reading…getting back to close reading.  Yes, maybe it will take me two or three renewals to finish Adam Bede, or maybe I’ll need to snap out of the habit of reading six books at once.  I think the challenge lies in developing my pace and keeping it, in the face of a world rushing through accomplishment.

Here’s to spending time with books.

#SelfDoubt vs #SelfConsciousness

There’s this actor, maybe you’ve heard of him, a fella by the name of Tom Hanks.

Mr. Hanks has been in a fair number of films, he’s produced some, he’s directed some. My personal favorite of his movies is the one pictured above, Cast Away, and it was my favorite movie of all time for a long time. I still watch it about once a month; it helps me process loneliness back in solitude and gratitude when I need to.

Cast Away did not make Tom look glamorous. Hanks’s character (and to play the character you have to look the part) started off the story overweight and a control freak of time (which he tries to explain to the Russians, if you want irony in 2017); by the end of the story he is shaggy and rail thin, no longer a lover of seafood, grateful for something as small as a Swiss Army knife, and someone in awe of time and fate. There are now a lot of photos and memes of this film on the web and social media of Hanks looking nearly gross; ain’t nothing gorgeous in it.

For the past three years Hanks has also been working on a collection of short fiction for publication. The work isn’t necessarily Pulitzer-worthy, but it’s entertaining and touching in some places; one short story is so funny it took me about two hours to read it. Shortly after I finished the book I looked for media supplements on the book; this task was a bit of a struggle because the book was released right before the release of Hanks in the film The Post, and most interviews involve the book for about 30 seconds and the film for about 12 minutes. But there was an interview filmed for The New York Times, on their program Times Talks, where Hanks was interviewed primarily about the book and answered questions from social media and the audience.

One question asked Hanks how he overcomes self-doubt. The question was ambiguous enough to apply to any career in creative work, and Hanks answered as though it applied to his acting, since that was the creative work most folks knew him for. His belief is that self-doubt is the same as self-consciousness; get rid of both and you can create. Sometimes the role requires that you look ridiculous or that you do something you don’t want to do to play the role because there might be a picture of it later…you have dispense of that. You have to make the mistakes and trust the process, he explained.

Just before I read the Hanks book I read another book, Sourdough, by Robin Sloan, that took me to the same place as Hanks’s thoughts on creative process. In the book the main character of Lois has to deal with Silicon Valley hipsters who are too cool for school in product development and nutrition; she also has to deal with analog purist foodies who think that anything high-tech is a fad or corruption. Lois, from the Midwest and feeling far from cosmopolitan, finds joy from simple food and makes mistakes in learning to cook and bake, not to mention making lots of mistakes in marrying tech and life hacks in that cooking and baking. Lois looks silly a lot. Lois is nowhere near glamorous.

Yet, in the reading of Sloan’s book and Hanks’s book and his interview, I feel like I’ve got a standard to move toward. Make mistakes, Jo; so I go back to cooking myself, making messes. I pull out the baseball novel I was working on and botch it up or improve it for one of my writing sessions; I do the same with sessions devoted to other writings. I very well may be making all kinds of mistakes right now in this blog post. I think that’s the place where the best stuff comes from, and I’ll continue to do so. ✨

Slow Food For The Soul

Several people have asked me, “Why don’t you blog on WordPress?” It just seemed too extensive of a buy-in. Widgets and buttons and fussings and God knows what else would have to be concocted, I was sure.

But what if I just WROTE? What if I started there, like the simplest of dishes, and moved on from that point? I want to create something that took TIME, not was cranked out in twenty seconds for impatient readers, but crafted, with love.

We’ll try.
Jo