This is Keats; this pic is one of the first things that came up on Google when I looked for images using the terms "absorbed" and "reading." I don't know if I like Keats, to be honest, because I think I've read only one thing by him and I was teaching it to the laziest first-year English class that's ever existed. Nonetheless, he's going to be the mascot for this post.
Here at my "vacation resort" I have been pretty much trapped inside all day because the city's being pelted with southeast Asian-style torrential rains. I've been reading, of course - Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon is very, very good - and I've created version 2.0 of my questions for The Reading Lamp.
But I just noticed the following comment was posted to my entry on Dracula and instead of answering Kevin's questions there, I thought I'd do so here so more of you will be likely to weigh in, as Kevin (and I) would like you to. Here's his message:
I have a question, not about Dracula, but about the experience of
reading Dracula, in fact, the experience of reading any book, for that matter.
You say you read for hours in one sitting, which raises a series of
questions for me concerning the psychology of reading, in part because I can no longer read for hours, to sit motionless and disappear into fictional worlds entire, sadly.
When you read, do you see the scene unfolding in your mind's eye? Does the scene take on a life of its own, as it does, say, in a hypnogogic dream state? After you read a particularly beautiful sentence, can you recite it without re-reading it? Or only the gist?
I'm often astonished by how little I remember of a book, not only words in sentences but incidents and names of characters, not to mention the qualia of their inner lives. Very frustrating. Do you have this "problem?"
Maybe others will weigh in, too.
First, let's bow our heads in mourning for Kevin's inability to sit reading for hours anymore. Joking (sort of) aside, I didn't actually think I could do that anymore, until I did so on Sunday. The pleasure of the experience was pretty closely linked to my surprise about its occurrence, to be honest.
I think I was able to do it precisely because I'm on vacation and not being confronted with work, in any of its myriad forms; in other words, I'm in an artificial situation that likely won't be reproduced until the next time I go on vacation. Once I'm back in the bookstore, in Toronto, I'll likely go back to snatching an hour or 45 minutes here and there between more pressing commitments. Being an adult kind of sucks, doesn't it?
But to answer Kevin's questions:
For the most part, yes, I do see the scene unfolding in my mind's eye, unless the book isn't entirely good - i.e., if the writing is bad or inconsistent, I keep becoming aware that I'm reading words on a page, which can be incredibly annoying. This happened several times while I was reading Dracula, particularly when I found myself distracted by the inconsistencies in Van Helsing's grammar noted in my previous post.
That said, I'm usually never completely unaware that I'm reading; when I have become entirely unaware of the fact that I'm engaged with a book, I've lost track of time and space, and have found a book to be counted among my all-time favourites: The Brothers Karamazov, Cloud Atlas, and Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio come to mind.
Next question: No, I can never recite sentences after just reading them, no matter how beautiful. The lines that have been seared into my memory are the ones I've also taught: e.g., when standing on the stage of the Globe Theatre in London with a tour group I was able to roar out that "You do me wrong to take me out of the grave!", etc, but that sort of conscipuous display of readerly nerdiness is an exception for me.
The final question, which isn't phrased as a question: I don't remember a lot about most books I read either, but the more I remember of a book is generally reflective of how much I enjoyed it, how much it affected me. And my memories of books are almost always of how I pictured scenes in my mind rather than the quality of the writing or examples thereof, even though writing quality will make or break a book for me.
So, gentle readers, what say you? Can you read for hours? Quote beautiful passages? Remember the minutest of details? Do tell!