Friday, May 22, 2009

This Is My Brain—This Is My Brain On Books--by April Halprin Wayland

I have something embarrassing to tell you. Something that makes me feel as small as a flea, especially in the kidlit blogosphere.

I am a v-e-r-y s-l-o-w reader.

Or maybe I’m simply a distr—did you see that!?!—acted reader.

Either way, though I do read, I don't eat novels for breakfast like every single solitary author, teacher and librarian I know.

On the other hand, I love listening to books while I drive. Those I eat for breakfast, lunch and dessert.

Reading is a sometimes frustrating search for that satisfying click in my brain. Why don’t I read as fast as my very smart husband? He’s a CPA but he reads as if he were a librarian.

Maybe it has to do with the way I was taught to read (an experimental method of the 1960s) or maybe my brain is just wired differently than yours. Probably.

In any case for me, getting into a book is like diving into black water with a braided rope I’m supposed to slip onto a hook on the bottom of a boat.

I can’t see, I don’t want to be there, I don’t like the yucky taste in my mouth. I just want to do it and get back to dry land, ASAP. My fingers feel the boat bottom. They slide over the slimy wood, searching for the blasted hook. Where the heck is it?

And then…wait. Here it is! I loop my rope over the hook and make a good strong knot.

I float. Look around. And hey—the water’ s clear here! And…was that a cobalt blue fish? Schools of silvery things swim past my cheek. Elegant plants sway with the current.

Now I’m in no rush. In fact, I don’t want to leave this place. Ever. Now I’m the one that’s hooked.

That’s what cracking a new book feels like to me. A grumbly sort of “should” on my to-do list…resentment at having to take the time…and then, finally, click: that glorious never-wanting-to-put-this-book-down rush.

Here’s a poem about reading, a WIP—work-in-progress—for my novel-in-poems about a girl struggling with issues of food, fat, faith and friends. The book is called THIRTEEN, FOURTEEN, FATTEEN.


I wade into a weedy,


squishy place.

Something slimy

tangles around my ankles,

drags me down.

I breaststroke


muddy pages,

close my mouth

against who-knows-what

in this water.

I put my head down,

pull hard against this current,

this black water,


my body


I flow

to the wide part,

to the clear water.

No undertow.



Each page

pours something silky-milky

into the bliss of my brain…

Let me linger.

Let me remain.

Let me never go back to dry land.

(So why—why—WHY!?!?—

aren’t I reading 24/7

instead of eating 24/7?)

from the unpublished novel in poems, THIRTEEN, FOURTEEN, FATTEEN © April Halprin Wayland

So, tell me--does anyone else feel like this? Please tell me I’m not the only one! **********************************************************************************

It's Poetry Friday--write a poem today! Try the following Writing Workout. It's one of my favorite ways to crank up my poetry engine.



One summer, Myra Cohn Livingston gave her Master Class several variations on this exercise. She liked our poems so much, she collected them into a collection called, I AM WRITING A POEM ABOUT...

It was like a game. Like magnetic words on the refrigerator door. A word bowl filled with slips of paper, one word per slip. A word written on the bottom of each shoe, tossed into the center of the classroom.

Play this game alone, in class, with a group of friends, with another poet via email.

Here's all you do: choose five nouns.

Four could be related in some way and the fifth? Completely unrelated. For example: match, flame, fireplace, logs, walrus.

Or pick five unrelated words like: piano, blueberry, pigeon, cliff, map


To find them, look around the house, use a dictionary, leaf through a book or newspaper, take a walk outside, or ask family members for a word. (I just called to my teen son in his room, "Give me a noun!" He called back, "Map!")

Don’t think too hard, too long. Pull them out of your hat and write them down. Now.

Feel the words in your body. Close your eyes and find associations. Play with the words! Write a poem. Rhyme only if it serves the poem.

Cut words. Cut more.

Poetry is meant to be read aloud. So read it aloud. To your cat.

Change what needs to be changed. Shift for the gold.

Read it aloud again. Is it finished? Do you like it? Then stand, stretch, smile.

Do the poetry dance!

Now, share your poem with someone you love.



EPOS Inc said...

I am so happy to have found another slow reader. And I have that "click" moment, too, when I finally get into loving the book, then savoring every moment until the book ends - hoping to stretch it out. Nice to know I have a kindred spirit out there like me! \0/

Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford said...

April, you are not the only one who feels this way! I am also a S-L-O-W reader -- just like my 10-year-old self. I will put a book aside easily if it doesn't grab me -- I only want to invest the time if I think it will be worth the ride. (Sometimes I've not been "hooked" until halfway through -- REBECCA comes to mind --and I was glad I persisted for whatever reason.)

I loved your poem!

MotherReader said...

My 10 yr old daughter is a slow reader and it's frustrating to her because her sister and I are so fast. I have to remind her that her father is pretty average in reading time and that grandma loves to read, but just reads slowly.

The whole thing has made me curious about reading speed- because it's not about being smart. So what is it that makes such huge variation in reading speed?

mary ann rodman said...

I have to say that when I left that two-week-reading list I forgot to mention that I am an extremely rapid reader. Not a speed-reader in the old Evelyn Wood school of taking in whole phrases, but a weird little system I developed in my librarian days when it was nothing for me to read twenty or thirty (children's) books a week. I have to force myself to slow down when I hit that special book...the one you want to live inside and make last for awhile---like a Tootsie Pop.
My husband is an extremely slow reader...with an MBA
(and is my worst critic...if he can't make it through the first two paragraphs without yawning, I'm in trouble!

Sarah Campbell said...

Our house also has two styles of readers. My oldest son and I devour books. We can't put them down and we read (almost) anything -- fiction, nonfiction, science fiction, mystery, magazines, medical charts, ... you get the idea. My husband and my two younger sons are more of the slow reading variety. My husband loves to savour his reading experience; he doesn't understand why you would speed through a terrific book. I have been known to read the last page and immediately open the book to the first page again. I often read books more than once -- especially the ones that I love. I can't tell that there's much difference in the intelligence levels around the house. Some of us are better at some things than others, but we're all successful enough readers to do well on tests and in school. My husband -- the slow reader -- recently said he doesn't like listening to audio books as much as he likes to read because he can't really concentrate on the audio in the same way he can if he's reading. I love to listen to audio books -- especially when driving or sewing or knitting or cooking. I have had the urge to buy the book anyway, though, because I want to page through and find a particular place and re-read it. That's so hard to do with an audio book.
Ah, well. We're all different. I am not sure I would be an avid reader if it felt as if I were diving into black water. Yikes!

April Halprin Wayland said...

Yes. I do believe there are the fast readers and the slow...I used to think it meant something about my intelligence, but I think it's more about wiring. Which is what makes us unique.

clutterbugs (me) vs clean desks (my husband), night owls (that would be me) vs morning birds (my husband), slow readers (me), speeders (my husband). I wonder if these are somehow connected...?
Thanks for all the comments!
~ a

gteamhj said...

Touching and wonderful post, with such thoughtful detail and description of what one person (probably trillions!) experience when they read. It' a very helpful/important reminder how fabulously different we all are. Something I'd like to add: I ache sometimes to see or hear the word "smart," or "intelligent." Not sure it's useful to try to tie these words to fast reading or other skills the measurer may admire. My husband stopped me years ago when I asked whether someone we knew was “smart.” He answered, “We’re all smart in some ways." Perhaps a good word exercise is to be more specific about what we really mean--is someone a happy functional being? Are they curious? Have they shown us something interesting that they've noticed? How has their “skill” benefited us? It might help us all be more specific/accurate and it might be a comfort to the many many folks who worry if they're "smart," an unknown something that they feel they've can't ever reach.

mary ann rodman said...

To comment on the previous or slow has nothing to do with intelligence or the ability to take a story into your soul. My fourteen-year-old daughter is highly intelligent...and highly dyslexic. She has been in tutoring and special education reading classes since kindergarten. The simple act of getting through a sentence is like watching someone pull rusty nails out of her head, it's that painful. Yet, her vocabulary and comprehension is so far off the charts that she was listening to middle school recommended reading books on tape when she was in second and third grade. It always makes me wince when someone asks her if she is going to be a writer, or if she loves to read. Reading is a mechanical skill that can be performed
fast, or slow or not at all. Understanding a story, hearing, enjoying (or not) is a skill that she DOES have and for which I am grateful, even if the school system predicates almost every judgment of a child's worth on whether or not they can read and read FAST. This may be off topic, and I am afraid this has turned into a rant...but I don't want anyone to think I am somehow superior because I read quickly. I just finished "suffering" though reading the Odyssey to my daughter...her last assignment for the year. I was dying. Classical literature is not my thing. Yet my daughter, who has heard the entire Percy Jackson series on tape and loved it, was enthralled. (She thinks of it as a soap opera in togas).
OK...I will leave you all alone until it is my time to post again. Promise!

Tarie Sabido said...

I am also a slow reader. I like taking my time with a good book, precisely because I never want to leave the world in that book. I also savor EVERY. SINGLE. WORD. Takes me forever to finish one book. LOL.