June 17th, 2008

Fast and Slow

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I am a fast reader. I don’t take pride in that because it is as much to my credit as having brown hair: I just came this way.

Sometimes I need to slow down, to pay close attention. Sometimes I want to slow down—what do you mean this wonderful book is over already? It becomes a question of how.

I think it was James Baldwin who said that the effect of a work of art was to make a person want to go out and make another one. It is a way of having a dialog with the artist, even if he or she is dead and gone: Dear Leonardo, thanks for your painting. You changed the way I see the world, see?

Of course this all works better if one happens to be excessively talented. I knew there was a catch.

But even the attempt does something. If I were to write to Leonardo and explain exactly why his picture of John the Baptist changed my thinking, I would have to work to understand it myself. The smile, the light and the darkness, the humility and the confidence—that with the Sunday school lessons in what John did and who John was—they add up to something if I am willing to do the math. I am as slow at math as I am fast at reading.

Which is why, sometimes, I have a sort of secular devotional ritual with books. I allow myself only a chapter at a time. And I use the chapter as a springboard for my journaling.

It definitely slows me down. Me and the tortoise, we’re buds.