Today I started a book, and though it was a bit over-written (it was a first novel, and she was really trying to get the right feelings in, that sense of “literary quality”, whatever that means), I liked it a lot. However, instead of reading the whole thing in one sitting, as I would have in the (very recent) past, I read ten or twenty pages and then, after I’d had a (very small) epiphany, I put it down. I put the book down and even as I did so I thought, “Hey, this is new. Since when do I put books down as soon as I learn something?”
Recently I have become more -something- in my literary taste. Not discerning. It’s not as simple as “only reading good books.” Picky is a good word. Let’s go with the food analogy. I still read just as widely as I did when I was a kid, snatching up everything: sci-fi, fantasy, dystopia, classics, biographies, non-fiction… I just read a lot less wildly now. I taste and savor the words I read now; rather than simply devouring a 100,000 word helping of Tolkein over a weekend, I take a bite of Babbit and chew it slowly, and then I’m done for the day. It’s the difference between a buffet and a sampler. The variety is basically the same, but you get smaller portions.
When I was younger I would have scoffed at smaller literary portions. After all, I can hear my younger self say, isn’t it better to read three full books a week, rather than one chapter from each? Maybe. But maybe I appreciate the lessons more when they don’t come in bulk. Maybe it’s better to spend ten minutes reading and two hours thinking, and maybe it’s better to consciously take in and meditate on a story’s meaning in a sort of still reflection, instead of just letting the words digest over the course of the day’s activities. Maybe it’s better, maybe it’s not. Either way, it’s what I’m doing, and it seems to be doing well for me so far.