I don’t read novels slowly and I don’t read them quickly. At least not when it comes to literary fiction. Literary fiction (poetry and prose) begs us to savor each nuance in the way that gourmet chocolate or wine does.
When I read a literary novel, a non-fiction narrative or a poem, I choose to roll the words on my tongue and absorb the nuances of the work through all my senses. It’s true when we read genre fiction, we race towards the end or with romance novels, we skip to the juicy parts.
Although, with a well-written fantasy, we delve into the rich descriptions provided by the authors. We find ourselves swimming in the characters’ thoughts or even roaming the earth through their bodies. With literary fiction, the authors invite and welcome us to enter their crafted worlds. Perhaps, a thriller or a romance asks for speed reading, especially if we are reading a series.
However, literary fiction begs for a slow read that resembles meditation. In fact, bringing a mindful attitude to the story only enhances the reading experience while enriching us along the way. Picking up a novel with craft in mind indeed demands more of our time and attention. It is a commitment that might or might not pay off. Many readers would rather not take the risk. Or they recall the required reading from middle school, high school or college and have sworn off arty novels where they must decipher metaphors and leitmotifs embedded into the story.
I admit that when I’m in search of a quick read that I can engage in during a ferry commute, I choose to read lighter material. It’s only when I have a luxurious period do I pick up literary fiction. I tend to read the classics and poetry during the winter months when I don’t feel like being outdoors under a darkened sky.
As an author, I read the novels slowly because I am also learning from the way that the author creates dialogue, develops characters, and launches plots. I study the novels to see how backstory is handled and I also study the way the author navigates the middle of the novel (not an easy fete). I often learn new words and phrases when I’m reading a literary novel. Reading poetry takes me to a whole other level.
I believe that novelists benefit from immersing themselves in other people’s poems as well as, writing their own. I’ve often seen poetic phrasing and beautiful descriptions appear in genre novels. Not all genre novels are formulaic or written for mass appeal. Some sci-fi and fantasy novels became classics and share much in common with literary fiction, despite falling under a specific label. Lord of the Rings comes to mind. Granted, that series was written early in the last century and we’ve moved on to other conventions and traditions as authors (as described by the host for the Writerly YouTube channel).
It’s not that we can’t read genre fiction or even YA novels slowly. I suppose the pacing of the story also determines the speed in which we read it. And this is cleverly executed by the authors of the book, especially if they understand pacing and rhythm (every author requires this ability).
Personally, when it comes to page count, my novels fall on the shorter side. I tend to write economically, especially after I heard that adjectives and adverbs are out and watertight phrases are in. My goal is to write sentences so tight that you could bounce off them like a trampoline. However, this takes finesse and over twenty years of working at my craft as a writer.
Whether you write genre or literary fiction, read the work of others slowly with a writer’s gaze. Learn from the authors’ mistakes and their successes. If you find yourself imitating other authors, think of that as flattery to the authors. However, never forget to seek your authentic voice in the process. Nothing written now is completely original and we’re all standing on the backs of literary giants.
A writer who never reads the work of others can hardly call themselves an author. This is because we are not only participants in a tradition, we are also part of a collective and the continuum.
What are your experiences reading literary and genre fiction? How do you approach novels and poetry? Leave your comments below. And thank you for stopping by and following Belle Author. Also, don’t forget to follow Belle Author on Facebook.