The Difference Between Reading and Devouring a Book

I am currently reading a book that I first read 27 years ago as a high school assignment. This is without question, the most rewarding experience I’ve had since I committed several months ago to read a book a week. That’s saying a great deal.

It was in fact this new commitment and the near constant stream of thoughts it birthed which led to the authority in my life to direct me to resume writing, but about books instead of relationships or culture. People love to argue about relationships or culture he reasoned, but there will be very few in this era that even bother to read a book, let alone the books I read, and even less who care enough to read a housewife’s ramblings about said books. And so here I am, but I digress.

I am halfway through a book I was assigned to read my senior year of high school. It’s an acclaimed book, by a renowned author. It also happens that I have an intensely personal connection to the one of the central places where the book is set. The “rediscovery” of this particular author was emerging right around the time I graduated high school (1989), and this was what caused my AP English teacher to assign it.

I recall she thought that I, of all her students, should devour the book. She wondered what I thought of this and that and the other. I was not, at the time, mature enough to appreciate the historical significance of where I lived. I wasn’t particularly proud of it, and I didn’t much appreciate being forced to read about it. I’d been force fed history about my hometown from kindergarten, and I also knew a fair deal about this author who she was so excited was finally being acknowledged. I was bored.

Fast forward 27 years, and here I am, devouring this book. Seeing the broken and battered black Southern dialect at the end of reconstruction as beautiful as it was hard to read until I got 20 or so pages into it. I’m able to see the 125 year old churches that I actually sat in, walked passed, and sang in through entirely new eyes.

This is the difference between simple reading, and the ability to devour a book with equal parts contemplation and  wonder. It is what I want to pass on to my children, the legacy of being a devourer of books. To quote Booky McBookerson:

If you have books, kids will pick them up. If not, books will not likely be seen as of any import a lot of the time. I can’t imagine a house without books, and pretty well never consider a book purchase a waste of money.

If you’re reading here, I already know that books are a great part of your life. How are you passing that on to your kids?

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14 thoughts on “The Difference Between Reading and Devouring a Book

  1. People love to argue about relationships or culture he reasoned, but there will be very few in this era that even bother to read a book, let alone the books I read, and even less who care enough to read a housewife’s ramblings about said books.

    Haha! That was pretty much my rationale for doing an arts blog! It’s more work to write about this than random opinion pieces, but it’s good brain exercise.

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  2. Why thank you kindly, Miss Maeve! I stayed up far too late reading last night and was struck this morning by how much fun (and how much more brain cells are required) to read rather than watch or even read 1200 word opinion pieces. So much more rewarding.

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  3. I’ve found computers to be the enemy of books, if kids are allowed lots of computer time, they won’t care how many books are in the home.

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  4. Review will be up on Monday I hope. But you”re right, Jenny. I have found that my kids will pick up the books so long as electronic options are not allowed. So we have to ration screen time, then they read on their own.

    In reality 7-year-old is already a book lover while 9-year-old would rather dance and play than read, but she’s more inclined when books are about and screens are dark.

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  5. You touch on something here that one of my friends (you know her as PM) would say is the result of pressing “great literature” on children who are too young to appreciate its depth of meaning. The book that means so much to you now, the richness of experience, the beauty of your hometown… you get them all now, and you devour the book. But as a child, you read it merely as an assignment, resenting the list of things you knew you were “supposed” to be getting out of your reading (and which, if you were anything like me, you put in your essay) because those things were from the outside in, not vice-versa.

    That is why I don’t like depressing books. I read them in high school. I read them in college. I read them! And I don’t *want* to read one more word about how humans suck. (Although I do think you’d enjoy Anna Karenina. Don’t try eating *that* in a week, though – too big a meal). I think I might make you a list of books to read… I read some good ones over the years, I’ll try to remember some names.

    I read non-fiction, and I read silly fantasy novels – but what the novels I enjoy have in common is journey, walking through trials, and the triumph of good over bad. I don’t want to read happily-ever-after without adventure and striving, and I don’t want to read about despair and darkness. This makes my book list very, very short. Devour? Ha. I can chew a good book up in a couple of days’ time if I’m on it enough. I’ve mastered the art of folding laundry, eating, cooking, and shaving my legs with a book in my face. Mostly I don’t walk into anything… much.

    OH! You should read Vanity Fair. And Beloved, if you’ve not.

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  6. You’re right. It makes a big difference not only when, but why we read a book. I don’t much mind a dark read, as you know. And yes, some books are far too much for one week. Bigger books I just read alongside smaller quicker books.

    I read Beloved. Back when I thought I might have what it takes to be a writer, I read my share of Toni Morrison. I haven’t read Vanity Fair,

    I’m in a non-fictiom phase. Just finished C.S. Lewis last week. Reading a Gatto right now.

    I need to master reading while cooking, LOL.

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  7. I certainly devour casual fiction, but the more intensely I’m interested in a work, the more quickly I read it. (This is why I don’t read poetry often).

    I think it’s okay to have a world where books can be snack food, as steak dinners, or as sensory delights depending on the reader’s preference. As with most maturing palates, I find that mine is changing, and I appreciate the slower things a tad more these days. Not as much as some, but more than I did a decade ago.

    Oh. Was I praising the aging process again? Oops. 😉

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  8. I devour casual fiction, when I read it. I am still more likely to read nonfiction but my appreciation for fiction -well fiction written later than 1940- is growing quite a bit in recent years. That’s mainly because of recommendations from you guys.

    The notes about reading and eating have always been compared alongside one another was fairly interesting to me. That, and the characterization of things women read as basically “fluff” not nourishment.

    Lots of interesting things to ponder there.

    For me, I read snack food on occasion but I mostly prefer the hearty meal whether in terms of fiction or non.

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