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.