Both Eyes

July 12, 2008 at 7:43 am | Posted in Book Blather | 3 Comments

When I was seven, I spent a week trying to read one book with each eye.  I didn’t tell anyone else about it, because it seemed so obvious that it would work that I was sure I’d be doing it in no time.  I had a suspicion that adults did this when they read the newspaper – the left eye read the left-hand page and the right eye read the right-hand page.  It would also explain why older people read books so much faster than I did.

My methodology was simple.  First I just tried to read both facing pages of Alice in Wonderland simultaneously.  It didn’t work; both my eyes simply tracked farther to the left and right and the sentences jumbled together.  Most unsatisfactory.  I moved on to overlapping one book over another, so I would be reading both left-hand pages.  No better.  Then I thought I could read a page of one book through the page of another book, if the paper was somewhat transparent and the light was strong.  Indeed I could see all the words, but comprehension… Finally I gave up with a real sense of loss.  If I planned to read every book in the world, I wasn’t going to be doubling my speed this way.

Now I’m older, and I still can’t read a separate book with each eye.  I do read pretty fast, though.  More importantly, I don’t focus on speed but on comprehension.  Am I getting everything out of a book that the writer put into it?  Or at least, as much as I possibly can?  My passion is to learn to love a book.  I am appalled and annoyed by most criticism, because it usually seems like the critic just didn’t get what the writer was trying to do.  I’ve read numerous literary blog posts in which the blogger admits to not finishing the book but disses it anyway.  My theory is that, if I’m holding a book in my hand, numerous people before me decided it was worth publishing.  This goes doubly for award-winning books.  If I read a book that won a Pulitzer, or the National Book Award, and I don’t like it, what did I miss?  There probably aren’t going to be many books of that caliber coming my way.  So I ask myself questions while I read, and after I finish a book I do a “postmortem” in my mind.  Do I feel there are loose ends?  Was I surprised by the denouement?

I read a bit of everything.  I prefer nonfiction, but I freely admit to reading children’s literature, young adult books, self-help, New Age, graphic novels, and of course memoirs.  It’s a smattering of lowbrow, middlebrow, and highbrow.  According to my calendar, I read Finnegans Wake and a Lemony Snicket book in the same week.  If I read fiction, it’s generally something for my book group or something I’m checking off a list of Great Literature.  My main motivator is curiosity.  This book has a reputation – why?  What’s between these covers that people are talking about?  I believe this is indicative of my degree in history, rather than literature, as many of my friends would have predicted.  I don’t want to analyze a book and compare it to other books to figure out where they are lacking – I just want to know what it is that makes it interesting and culturally significant.

Most of my books come from the library.  I’m a tightwad, so if I buy a book it’s usually a cookbook.  I also download free e-books onto my old PDA and listen to audio books.  There are things I can’t always find at a library, so I use BookMooch, and right now I’m trying out both Paperspine and BookSwim for rental books.  I also use both LibraryThing and Goodreads to track my reading list – the former because it has a bigger selection, so my list of books I’ve read is more accurate, and the latter because it has separate sections for what I’m currently reading and my to-be-read list.

It turns out I enjoy virtually everything I read.  Is this a lack of discernment on my part, or am I just highly skilled at reading reviews and book jackets and figuring out what I’ll like?  I also almost always enjoy movies, though I rarely can be bothered to watch them.

This blog will therefore be dedicated to trying to convince other people to enjoy the books I enjoyed.  If my past habits are any indication, the selection will be all over the map.  Be warned:  if you express frustration that my pick isn’t in a genre you like, I will reply that you should open your mind and give something new a chance.  If you dislike a book that I liked, too bad.  I’ll just tell you to try harder to like it more.  Use both eyes.



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  1. Sorry, Jessica…I don’t know if I’ll ever enjoy An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England. But I do appreciate it more after your explanation of it. 😀

  2. Hi – I just found your blog and think I might stick around and visit a while. I know what you mean about people dissing books they can’t finish – I’m in a dilemma over Cather in the Rye currently – I’m half way through and just don’t like it – but I feel like I should finish it because everyone I speak to says its amazing! I think I’m going to walk away from it for a little while – read something else – and then hopefully come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes.

  3. It’s definitely true that your appreciation of a book can change depending on when in your life you read it. The first time I tried to read “The Magic Mountain” I couldn’t get into it at all, and I returned it to the library after about 40 pages. I tried again with a different translation, and I couldn’t put it down! It became one of my favorite books.

    I also think whether we enjoy a book depends a bit on what else we’ve read recently. It can be hard to “shift gears” from one literary style to another.

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