To start off, the title is a bit misleading. I can read, but not very well. Actually, the real problem is comprehension. I can’t remember a damn thing.
Back when I was a younger lad, I read all the time. Typically, one book every couple of days. It didn’t matter what. Sometimes a great novel, like Grapes of Wrath, and other times a cheesy book about a Star Trek adventure. I just plain love to read. Voracious at times. When I first moved away from home I went a very long time before getting around to buying a television, because I sat on the couch and read every night and was completely happy with that.
Just an aside here, that has nothing to do with this post, other than I find it interesting. When I did get around to buying a TV, I also bought a VCR. (If you don’t know what a VCR is, go ask your parents.) Anyway, the interesting part is my VCR cost me over $500. Can you believe that now? I mean what’s a cheap DVD player cost? Forty bucks?
So enough with going off the rails. Back to what I’m struggling with – reading. As I said, my problem is comprehension…or I guess, memory. By the time I reach about 1/3 – 1/2 of a novel, I completely forget who is who, what they are doing, and what the stories about. I’ll stare at the book like I’ve never seen it before.
Stephen King wrote an excellent book called On Writing. If you are a writer, or are thinking of becoming a writer, I’ve found no better book about the craft. Get it! I don’t remember the actual number (of course) but in it King states how many books he reads a year. It’s a lot. I wish I remembered enough to tell you how many, I only remember it was no small feat. He said it was important for writer’s to be avid readers. Considering he’s been somewhat successful, I’d love to follow his advice, but I just can’t. At this current stage in my life, I can’t think of anything I find more frustrating.
This is somewhat not so new. For decades I had a hard time remembering a book once I was done. I’d forget most of what I read, but I could remember whether I liked it or not. If you asked me about a book I read and how was it, I could only tell you what I thought of it….it sucked, it was okay, it was a good read, it should win a Pulitzer…I could remember enough to tell you all that, but I couldn’t back up why I felt that way.
Well, guess what? I’m reading a book right now. For the curious, it’s Fair Game by Josh Lanyon and it’s pretty good. How am I doing reading this one? I’m doing okay, but only okay for one reason – I’m writing everything down. Not word for word, but enough to help me comprehend what it was later. As an example, here’s some of my notes from Chapter 13. **** SPOILER ALERT **** Fair warning. I’m giving away a small bit of the story, so if you plan to read it, be warned.
Elliot meets Anne in Tacoma. Anne looks bad – tired. Elliot wonders why she seems uncomfortable. He tells her he’s looking for Gordie. Anne becomes rigid. Anne assumes he’s trying to get a reaction out of her. Assuming Elliot knows, she admits she and Gordie are having an affair…and so on.
This is a very tiring way to read. I miss much of the enjoyment of the action, because I’m too busy writing. Kind of like the reason I don’t like movies with subtitles. As much as I hate doing this, it seems the only way I can follow what is going on. Writing it alone helps me to remember and comprehend, but the primary reason it’s effective is I can go back and look at what happened. Forgetting who’s who is the worst. For example, (another spoiler alert) in Chapter 16, Elliot is told that someone tried to abduct Kyle. Of course, I have no clue who the hell Kyle is, but I had my notes with me and was able to refer to them to jog my memory that Kyle is Elliot’s teaching assistant. Elliot is a college professor.
I have mixed emotions about this writing stuff down thing. On the one hand, it is great to be able to read again. I enjoy it, and it’s kind of embarrassing to tell people I’m a writer, but I never read anything. But, is it worth it? Do I want to have to write a couple of paragraphs about every chapter I read? Well, the answer to that is no, of course. Whether, or not, I continue with this method is up in the air. For now, I have no other choice. I hope down the road, I’ll come up with a better solution.
Any challenges with your reading comprehension? I’d love to hear it. I’d also like to know how you’ve overcome it, if you have. As for me, I’ve got my book, my notepad and pen in hand. Time for me to get back to the novel and find out what happens to Elliot.