I am sitting at the most comfortable spot in our sofa, playing with Bolano’s 2666 in my hands. It was a birthday gift from six months ago and I still haven’t got to it. I want to read it, oh! I have wanted to read it for so long – but I am thinking of all the other smaller books I would be giving up while I tackle this 900 page tome – Almost without thinking, I pick up my laptop and skit over to some book reviews to justify the time I will be spending. I come across this at Amazon:
“Definitely written for a modern audience, as, unlike past authors, Bolano doesn’t stretch anything beyond necessity, doesn’t linger on any side story unless it’s something the reader will inevitably feel to be vital. He keeps up a swift pace.”
My mind digresses. What is a modern audience?
The reviewer hints at impatience; we are people who need swift pace. Have we, the general reading population, collectively lost the ability to appreciate a lyrical, measured book that does not succumb to the pressures of being a page-turner?
I think back to the last “slow” book I read – I can’t really remember any. Goa Xingjian’s Soul Mountain – the book that won him the Nobel Prize in 2000 – comes to mind as the last slow book I attempted. But, as much as I hate to admit it, I didn’t really get through it. Speaking of books we abandon, check out Sonya Chung’s essay over at the Millions. Interesting topic, I will dwell on it another day.
But then, pace is subjective. Many of my favourite authors – Lessing, Hesse, Camus – they are not famous for their scorching pace. I would, any day, pick Jhumpa Lahiri over Dan Brown. But then, I finished Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music not because I couldn’t put it down, but because I resolved not to. I guess I don’t really have as much patience as I would like to believe that I have.
Have we changed? Were the audiences of yore particularly patient? Or was it just a result of lack of alternatives – less books to turn to, less distractions of technology? Or did they truly have a better appreciation for the finer aspects of a well-cooked, well-crafted, albeit slower paced, book? Are we – the modern audience – giving up all other qualities of a book in pursuit of just the dimension of pace?
Is the abundance of choice really a detriment to the overall development of literary quality? I hope not, but I can’t help but wonder.