It took me a long time to read Peter Matthiessen’s novel Shadow Country, probably longer than it should take someone like me, someone who loves to read, loves to dig deep into a big fat book. At first, I felt sort of embarrassed that it took me so long–months really, at least three, maybe four–because a part of me just thinks I should be reading more quickly, getting to other things, moving on, leaving a wake of books fluttering behind me as I gun the engine and make my way through literature. But I guess that’s just not the reader I am. Just as I had to learn to be the writer I am (not the writer I imagine/imagined myself to be for years) and accept the writing life that is mine, I have to accept the reading life that is mine too. It wasn’t like I wasn’t reading other things while I was reading Shadow Country–stories, articles, poems, Whitman and Dickinson every morning, news, books and stories for school, student papers and exercises–my reading life is massive in many ways–and I certainly watched my fair share of television as well, which is always a reading killer. However, now that I look back at the experience, I’m glad I didn’t rush it. It’s the sort of book that needs a massive amount of space. It’s a tough, hard book. It’s a very American book. It is America–its people, its land, its racism, its landscape, its spirit of manifest destiny, its indomitable will to survive. Man, what a book. By allowing myself the time to really absorb this piece of art, I feel that I’ve been able to live it. It’s a serious book, too, but not dry and not without humor. It’s also a grim reminder of how we came to be America–by displacing and stealing and subjugating, by murderous, rapacious greed and unceasing invention and drive. By reading it slowly, I really found the voices living in my head, the people, good and bad, and I really immersed myself in the landscape of Florida. Since the book is a recreation of the life of Edgar “Bloody” Watson, it also deals with the power of the myth and how that myth is born of both truth and imagination. It took a long time, but it was a tremendously rewarding experience. Now that I’m done, I get to take part in perhaps one of my very favorite activities: picking a new book to read. The shelves are full, but I’m not going to pick right away. I chooses ’em like I reads ’em. Slow.


One thought on “Reading/Slowness

  1. As Clark may know, since he’s visited the wannabe Writing Institute on State St, Portsmouth, WIP is built on the mindfulness of slow reading, not to mention slow writing. We are on facebook, have a website, two blogs, and great hope that slow reading will spread as a discipline of mindfulness. Take a look!

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