As I said a couple of posts ago, I am a slow reader. Watch closely and you’ll probably see my lips moving. You know how some people are described as being ‘well read,’ meaning essentially they’ve read lots of books on diverse subjects or in diverse genres? Or how some people may describe themselves as voracious readers? I am neither of these. I’m a bit envious of these people. As a writer, I feel something of an obligation to do a lot of reading, but I find that a hard thing to accomplish. That’s one of the big pieces of advice if one wants to be a writer. Read a lot. Especially of the kind of stuff you want to write. Of course it makes sense. How else can you know what’s already been done, or over-done, or what the current trends are, or what editors are buying? I won’t even get into the obvious incredible learning that can be had from reading.
But I read SOOO SLOOOOW, I whine. And even at my snail’s pace, my reading comprehension, as they call it in grade school, is mediocre at best. I’ve tried various things to increase my speed and comprehension, but nothing has really stuck. I think maybe I have a mental block against reading fast. It doesn’t make much sense, because obviously there must be many, many fine, even outstanding, writers out there who can also read very fast. But I have this nagging little fear that reading fast will negatively impact my writing somehow. Like, how can I compose beautiful music if I listen to all my music on fast-forward?
I love the way words can sometimes be put together in a way that just sings inside me. I love it when I read it in others’ work, and I love it the rare times I feel I may have accomplished something close to that in my own writing. But really, does anyone even notice? The very writing that I may struggle on for a half hour just to get one sentence right may go past my readers’ eyes in nary a second.
In the past, I probably would have described my favorite passages of writing as lyrical prose. That made sense to me. Lyrics are the words in a song, and I can almost hear music in words sometimes. But in thinking more about this, and trying to nail down what I want to say, I looked up some definitions. I prefer to avoid looking like an idiot when at all possible. It happens quite often enough despite my best efforts, so I try to take advantage of resources at my disposal to minimize the risk.
Well, leave it to Webster to help a guy out. Three words came to mind while writing this piece, and I realized I needed clarity if I wanted to use any of them in a knowledgeable way.
Three words: Lyrical, Melodic, and Cadence.
According to a few online dictionary sources, Lyrical can essentially be defined as expressing emotions in an imaginative and beautiful way.
Melodic, on the other hand, according to Webster, can be defined as containing a sweet or agreeable succession of sounds.
Cadence, again according to Webster, can mean a rhythmic sequence or flow of sounds in language.
So, I reason, what I must really like in an extra-special way is what I’d call melodic prose. When I read slowly, which I always do, and it’s a piece I especially like, I appreciate the pleasing succession of sounds the words make in my head. My question is, then, do fast readers hear the melody in the words of an outstanding piece of prose? I can only guess it’s rather hard for those with the skill to read faster than they can sound out the words in their heads, but I won’t mind being told I’m wrong. I, personally, think I have to hear the sounds of the words in my head, so reading fast to me is like trying to understand an auctioneer explain particle physics. I’d love to hear (see how literal that expression is for me?) what you guys think or what you actually experience and whether you think it has anything to do with your reading speed.
I can grok that, based on the definitions above, reading at high speed could still allow the fast reader to appreciate lyrical prose just as much as a slow reader. And for many, if not most, readers, that may well be enough to absolutely love reading, to get the goose bumps, or feel that warm, wonderful tingle down one’s spine at a favorite passage. And to all the fast readers out there, I say Godspeed and more power to you. I still envy you your voracious reading skills.
Cadence, then, is the third characteristic in prose that I appreciate, and also wonder about. I can only imagine that fast readers can feel a rhythmic sequence in the ordering of words just as much as I can. It’s just that they are running while I am walking. I won’t get into my stumbling and meandering forms of reading right now.
At any rate, dear reader (pun intended), I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Let me know whether you consider yourself a fast or slow reader (or in-between) and what it is about reading that turns your crank. You can also let me know if you think this whole silly exercise is simply my way of trying to find reason or justification in my poorly developed reading skills.
In the end, however, I suspect I will still blame Uncle Joe of Petticoat Junction for movin’ kinda slow through my most formative years.