Savoring Reading (And Some Thoughts on Lexicon by Max Barry)

Lexicon by Max Barry
Lexicon by Max Barry

So I don’t typically talk about adult novels that I read on this blog, but I thought I’d make an exception for the first book finished of the year, primarily because I want to talk about how I read, and how there isn’t a wrong way to read (note here that there is a distinction between reading [which involves comprehension] and decoding [which involves the relationship between letters and sounds, and correctly applying said relationship to pronounce words]).

This book came in my Book Riot Quarterly box with a letter from the author. Barry said that it took him a number of years to write so we should read slowly and essentially savor it. And I get that. But what he’s also doing is telling me how I should engage with a story. And while I gave it a go, the reading teacher in me has problems with that.

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So for the first half of the book, I read slowly, and in small chunks instead of marathons. And what I found was that I had difficulty connecting with the characters and following the story lines (we get backstory and “present day” in alternating sections). So really what I got from this book was the reminder that I need to read how I read if I want to immerse myself in the story.

I loved the second half (when I started reading my way), but I can’t make any formal review/commentary until I reread it and figure out the things I was missing, because I definitely have questions and I’m not sure I’m supposed to.

All of that is really to say this:

What I teach my students is how to think about what they’re reading. How to notice when they’re not understanding and the strategies they can use before they call on someone else to bail them out. So many of them think that reading fast makes good readers and reading slowly makes for poor readers. And it is difficult to change this mentality.

But what I hope they learn by the end of the semester is that it’s not about speed so much as engagement and comprehension. As a reader, I have a hard time engaging in a story if I don’t completely immerse myself in it, which involves long stretches of reading, usually done fairly quickly. But that’s me. That may not be other readers. That may not be my students. And that’s okay. We don’t all bring the same schema to a text when we read it, so who’s to say that we all have to read the same way?

So Mr. Barry, I’m sorry I couldn’t savor your book the way you wanted me to. I wasn’t enjoying it that way. And really, which is more important?

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