Saturday, August 27, 2011

At a Slower Pace

My brain tells me that 87 degrees is not that hot. It's less hot than my body temperature and tolerable. Just try telling my body that. My body feels warm and uncomfortable and I'm considering another long cold shower. Anything to feel cooler, even for a few moments. Perception and reality don't always agree.

I recently read a book where the story took place at an almost glacial pace. At first, it was irritating and I just wanted the author to get on with the story; that was what I wanted when I sat down, a story that moved. As I got further into the book, I realized there was a point to the slow pace. The author was in effect demonstrating the time dilation effect (time carried by a iced snail) and how it appeared to the characters. To have moved at a different pace would have ruined the effect and the story. Some things you cannot race through, and that story was one of them.

At the end of the journey, I was satisfied with what I had read and the pacing, tone, and characters fit together perfectly.

Since I am curious by nature, and by temperament, I decided to check out the reviews on various bookstore sites. What initially irked me -- the pacing -- was something that irked many of the readers sounding off. They complained about how slow the book was and felt it was a strike against the book. The readers had missed the point of the pacing. The book was supposed to be slow so the reader could experience the endless hours with the character, and all the readers wanted to do was race through the book and get it done.

The perception was at odds with the reality of the situation. They perceived the book as slow when the story was told at the same speed the main characters experienced it, and was effect. Most of the readers didn't agree. I felt the same way about Heinlein and Austen when I first essayed their pages. I didn't see the point. Time and experience have given me a much different perspective and reality of both.

There are times when a really good book can't be appreciated because the reader isn't sufficiently educated about the style or at a point in his life when subtleties are lost. Subtlety is not a big favorite in a population where news is delivered in sound bites and movies are all about action, action, action, fitting the story in the brief (all too brief) pauses. Everything must move at the speed of sound, but the speed of light would be better. It seems that so few people understand or appreciate a more sedate pace.

Fast food restaurants, speedy oil changes, rushing to work -- fast, fast, fast. All we do is run. How many times do these high powered people mosey down the trail, meander along a lane overarched with trees budding, in full flower, or blazing with autumn colors, or simply stop and savor each and every bite of a meal -- even if it isn't a decadent chocolate cake so rich each mouthful is a sensual explosion of flavor? Gone are Sunday evenings in the park listening to the local band or taking a leisurely stroll in the garden or down the street in twilight or gathering dark. Gone are the subtleties of life, and those subtleties have been gone long enough that few people reember what it was like to stop and enjoy the moment.

Literature has followed and much of what is written today (thrillers, adventures, crime novels, etc.) are being driven by television and movies, by the blockbuster summer movies full of special effects and explosions and chases and by the holiday movies that contain their share of the same summer blockbusters trimmed with baubles and lights and people racing around trying to find the perfect toy for a child who has a house full of toys and games strewn everywhere. Short attention spans is what are being bred by this fast-paced world and they are so short people have lost the ability to appreciate a story that unfolds rather than races to a breathless conclusion. These are the people raised on time lapse photography that showed the birth and death of a flower or insect or storm in the space between commercials.

Many good books and authors are being remaindered and criticized for a slow pace when the pace is part of the style and tone of the novel. Maybe the readers just haven't reached the point where they can appreciate what these skillful writers have achieved, novels that will endure and continue to find fans who have not forgotten what it means to enjoy a book instead of race through it. They haven't reached the point I have so that Heinlein and Austen and even the often lethargic flow of Faulkner provide meaning as well as entertainment.

I can only hope that somewhere along this race track of life people get a flat or spin out and off the track with a broken axle so that they are forced to slow down and stroll back to the pits and just enjoy the sights, sounds, smells, and taste of life.

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