Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Porpoise Spit

I fear I have been ripping through Les Misérables at a rapid pace. I read too fast at work. I've trained myself for speed in the workplace over years of working with words on a screen. Hand it to me on paper, I downshift at this signal to study with care. Also from a book I know how to look up and stare at the wide world, maybe half-unseeing maybe more, but the process is useful: it helps with the reading and it helps me to live while reading--I emerge, surfacing, for a breath of my own thoughts, my blank stare a mist-spurting blowhole of which my fellow train passengers, understandably wary, take note. They have seen something.

Whereas to look up from a screen (I will pause to salute, from a distance, the Kindle, from which looking up would be possible even though it is a screen; while to read Les Misérables, all of it, from something even smaller, say a phone--I can see nobility in that, if not actual greatness) while working at a desk, doesn't fit the way screens work. It can be done, in an indoor cloud-counting sort of way, but more commonly one looks aside--as if a phone or other task were calling--or shuts one's eyes entirely against (and this is key) the light, to rest them. The screen glows and the text embedded in its molten face is hardly still: up and up it floats to vanish quite away, like cinders in a chimney; re-reading is rewinding, a time-lapse reconstruction of a vanished structure undertaken to repeat its dissolution.

So I read too quickly but I've found a satisfying way to compensate, and go back a chapter or two (the chapters are very short, most of them) every time I start reading Les Misérables at work. This is a different way of living while reading: it's more like working. I'm sort of assisting. As if retracing Les Misérables on my screen were making it thicker and darker, turning it heavy and solid; as if looking longer and twice were the means of restoring it to book form.

No comments: