I had just finished reading sections of my novelette, "The McKenzie Harvest," at a recent gathering in the local library. Two members of the audience, who said they had already read the story, told me thatmy presentation had deepened their understanding of the central characters. Although I didn't show it, I wasn't pleased. It seemed that the written words--my words--had failed to do the job. The story needed an extra ingredient: my live performance.
But on reflection, I realized that these people are like virtually everyone today, accustomed to instant communication--instant gratification. That's only natural, with technology linking the world with wi-fi, Twitter, Facebook and a remarkable, constantly-multiplying array of services available at the touch of a finger. Because of ebooks, even reading has become a virtual experience. And speed is of the essence.
Granted, it's fine to read for speed if the book is a plot-driven thriller, a detective story, a blouse-ripping romance, or a travel book. But if it's a poem, an essay, or literary fiction--the kind that is character-driven, that explores aspects of societal behavior and looks deeply into the human heart and soul--it's worth your while to slow down. To savor the language. Picture the scene in your mind's eye. Read the dialogue aloud. Play with the ideas. Work with the author. He or she took the time to choose thosewords very carefully, to shape the characters and construct the plot, to burnish the images, to create that fictional world. The rest is up to the reader. The rest is up to you.