June 24, 2012
On slow-reads, and Robertson Davies' The Rebel Angels
I spent most of last week reading Robertson Davies’ The Rebel Angels upon the recommendation of my book club-mate Patricia, who mentioned it after we’d read Lucky Jim and talked about campus lit. And it is just a coincidence that I’d read it after Sue Sorensen’s A Large Harmonium, which was another campus satire, and also mentioned Patient Griselda, who I’d never even heard of (and which is really a terrible story, actually). It also mentioned Cornelius Agrippa, who I’d read about in Frankenstein, the other book I’ve just finished. And then there were the references and allusions I didn’t get or didn’t pick up on, and there were plenty. But I still enjoyed The Rebel Angels very much, my first Robertson Davies beyond the Fifth Business I read in school. It’s a slow read though, slow to start and packed with detail. And because I’m a notorious speedy reader, it was a bit hard to get used to the pace. To just let myself give into it, to stop thinking that slowness was a problem, or a sign of one. To be patient and realize that I really do have all the time in the world to get through it, that the other books can wait. To realize that this book was demanding time and patience of me, but delivering richness in rewards. And it did.
Whereas Frankenstein, the book I read before it, was a book with a deadline, to be read before our book club meeting last Tuesday. On Saturday evening, when I’d only read 30 pages, it wasn’t really looking likely that I was going to get it read, and so I got down to it. I read most of Frankenstein in 24 hours, and what a joy to get so solidly inside a book, to take it in in almost one gulp, without distractions. Speedy reading can be wonderful.
But yes, there is a place for slowness, for stories that have to steep. I’m grateful to Robertson Davies for reminding me of that.