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A New Reading Strategy

April 23, 2011

VIRGIL: The taste of a good pear is such that when you eat one, when your teeth sink into the bliss of one, it becomes a wholly engrossing activity. You want to do nothing else but eat your pear. You would rather sit than stand. You would rather be alone that in company. You would rather have silence than music. All your senses but taste fall inactive. You See nothing, you hear nothing, you feel nothing – or only as it helps you to appreciate the divine taste of your pear.

BEATRICE: But what does it actually taste like?

VIRGIL: A pear tastes like, it tastes like… (He struggles. He gives up with a shrug.) I don’t know. I can’t put it into words. A pear tastes like itself.

BEATRICE: (sadly) I wish you have a pear.

– Yann Martel, Beatrice & Virgil; pg. 51

This was the moment when I finally looked up at the number on the top right corner of the page. I read it 2 days ago and have been trying to think ever since of how to present the glory of the pear-revelation since. But this is when I looked at the page number for the first time while reading this book.

It is a fast read, but engrossing. There is something about Yann Martel’s writing – it had the same effect in Life of Pi. It reads like a speaker who is intelligent but is never trying to convince you of their own intelligence – who is quirky with their experience and loves and descriptions, but not disruptively so. I like it.

But it is just because of its fast-readi-ness that I am thinking of adopting a new reading strategy. Most of the books I want to read I anticipate being fast-reading novels. A good 350 pages (this latest by Yann Martel is just shy of 200, and if it wasn’t for the joy that I was experiencing on each of those 200 pages, I would be quite frustrated by my full-priced purchase of it); few are much more than that. But the rare one is in the thousands.

And my new reading strategy, just to slow down the pace at which I read these shorter pieces of frequent brilliance, will be to read (as well as my nonfiction literature) a long piece; those books occasionally called masterworks because of their content and their length. I can’t decide what to read in the background though (and which, I am sure, will come to the fore more often than not).

Ulysses? War and Peace? The Brothers Karamazov? The Pillars of the Earth?

Perhaps War and Peace. It is on my Kobo already, requires no further spending. And it was only recently the centenary of Tolstoy’s death. But… what about James Joyce? I will have to keep you informed on where my decision lies. I am certain it will be made this week, and I will likely complete Yann Martel’s fable by the end of tomorrow, and would like to not rush through another three or four novels in the coming week-long holiday.

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