MIDWAY : Reading novels

My English teacher once said, “You don’t say, I am studying a novel. You say I am reading it.” Later as I read a lot of classics to understand why they are considered exemplary, I found something contrary to what she had told me. I discovered that to understand and get nourished from writings, you cannot afford to just ‘read’ them. There are various aspects of writing that help us judge them precisely. These aspects cannot be perceived by cursory readings.

The majority of readers are reckless as they read novels just for an interesting plot. When in Grade Seven, a friend of mine had read each book of the Nancy Drew series in just about 45 minutes. We believed that he just read the first few and then the last few pages. And when he got an idea of what the novel was all about, he returned the book.

Readers who treat classics this way pester me. These hedonists flit from page to page at an incredible speed and claim to have read the novel thoroughly. Of course, reading fast is an advantage. But the advantage of time is far less important than the advantage of understanding the slower reader is capable of achieving.

Here I do not mean that slower readers are better than the faster ones. In fact, a slower reader who does not read nobly is worse than a faster one who does the same. There are some other hollow ones who skip lines and passages they find boring without the slightest respect to the author. All these people make reading novels equivalent to watching movies.

I know people who force themselves to read novels just to tell others that they have already read them. When such individuals discuss a novel, they just chat about the story and are entirely apathetic about the author’s style, his forte, his weaknesses, time at which it was written and other elemental facets of the novel. Every reader should develop the confidence of evaluating a book critically after he has read it. This requires a bit of ‘studying’ it.

My sister, who forced herself through Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, once told me that I read novels at a snail’s pace. She added mockingly, “I mean you do not seem

to be reading but studying it.” Realising what she had said, I thanked her for the compliment. She was indeed bewildered.