Saturday, February 25, 2012

I Go out on a Limb with my Academy Awards Prediction

Last night a friend and I watched the movie Moneyball and thereby completed our quest to watch all nine of the Oscar nominees for Best Picture. It was a decent, entertaining movie, we both agreed, but was it worthy of Best Picture? The answer: probably not. The story wasn’t “big” enough, my friend said, which didn’t really bother me. What I was hoping for were a few moments of heart-tugging, or something to make me cry “oh!” or have me swallow a lump in my throat or make my head spin later with thoughts about life or Art. (Although, I did enjoy looking at Brad Pitt.)
In my last blog post I wrote about what makes a great book and I think it’s the same for movies. I want them to make me suck in my breath, cheer, marvel, cry/be grateful that I got to share in the experience and/or feel pride that I live in a world where such a movie exists. I know I felt this way after watching Oscar movies of the past—Life is Beautiful, for example, and Titanic.(For all its sentimentality/moments of over-wroughtness, I got to the end of that one feeling like I’d been through a wringer—in a good, cathartic way. Plus, there was Leonardo DiCaprio to look at…)
I have no idea which movie the “Academy” will vote for this year, but here’s a run-down for those of you who did not see all of the 2012 nominees (or any):
1. Moneyball. I don’t really care for baseball, but even so I got caught up in the true story of the winning streak of the Oakland A’s. Brad Pitt plays the manager trying to figure out how to compete with much wealthier teams. He starts using a statistical model that flies in the face of the way teams are traditionally put together and there’s a bit of irony here too: he was once a promising player who fizzled out (if someone had used this new statistical method, his old baseball playing self would never have been picked.)
2. The Help. Okay, okay, I know the controversy surrounding this one. Is it appropriate for a white author to write from a black perspective? Why does Hollywood continually tell stories about the Civil Rights Era through white characters’ eyes? Why are black female characters always maids? Etc. But I have to say, that if you push all of these questions aside, the movie (and the book) tell a good, absorbing, thought-provoking story. I saw this movie with my 14 year-old daughter after she read the book and begged me to take her to see it. It was truly eye-opening for her to see the restrictive roles for black people (and women) during that time period. And it led to some interesting conversations later.
3. The Descendents. (God. I know I am starting to sound like a superficial flake here—but I do so enjoy looking at George Clooney.) I’ve read that some people thought this movie was slow, but I liked it. Premise: a woman is in a coma and her husband finds out that she was having an affair and goes to confront the guy, with his daughters in tow. Here’s what I liked: I couldn’t predict what was going to happen (I always like that element in a movie or book.) Also I loved the Hawaiian scenery and music. This is like one big tourist video for the place, so keep that in mind if you need tips for where to go on vacation this year.
4. Midnight in Paris. Full disclosure: I don’t like Woody Allen movies. Somehow, though, having Woody Allen’s dialogue coming out of Owen Wilson’s mouth, made this movie more palatable for me. As a writer, I couldn’t help being caught up in the story. Struggling novelist goes to Paris with his bitchy wife and falls into some kind of 1920’s wormhole where he gets to meet all of his writer/artist heroes: Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Gertrude Stein and Picasso. Makes you want to go to Paris yourself. (So you can do that, I guess, after your side trip to Hawaii.)
5. And speaking of Paris, Hugo, takes place there too. It’s based on a children’s book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, about an orphan boy living in the Paris train station in the 1930’s. If I had to bet on any movie winning, it would be this one. When it ended, the people in my audience applauded. I think it’s the spectacle of it. A cool premise, stirring music, gorgeous scenery (see it in 3 D; it’s MEANT to be seen this way). And you’ll love the story of a boy and his unlikely mentor, a once famous, now crushed and bitter, former movie director.
6. I had low expectations for War Horse. "Meh," is what I was thinking going into it. I don’t really like horses. And I had the sense that Steven Spielberg was going to give me this sweeping, sentimental horsy picture. Surprise: I liked it! Even thought it was a sweeping, sentimental horsy picture. So the story is basically told through the eyes of a horse, from childhood (fawnhood?—see, no idea of horse lingo) to adulthood, set against the backdrop of WWI. Very cool-looking war sequences that capture the absurdity and horror of that conflict. There’s one scene of British soldiers riding their horses across a field. They’ve got their swords out and the one riding our War Horse, admits that he feels bad about sneaking up on the Germans. It just feels unsportsmanlike. This is two seconds before the entire deluded group gets gunned down by machine guns.
7. I kind of felt the same "meh" feeling going into Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. I knew it was about a kid whose father died in 9/11 and I just wasn’t up to going through the pain with him. But I’m glad I did. The movie totally blew me away. I don’t know if the little boy is up for an Oscar, but he should be. The story is a perfect template for the Hero’s Journey. The boy finds a key that takes him on a quest. Of course, what he’s really doing is working through his anger and grief at losing his father. He’s also got all these internal fears and quirks to conquer too. He’s afraid of loud noises and cars and crowds and public transportation, which makes the quest all the more challenging. There’s one scene at the beginning where he stands at the edge of a bridge (I think it’s the Brooklyn Bridge; he’s afraid of bridges too.) Like in proper Hero’s Journey mode, the boy must cross that first threshold to start the adventure. You can see that he’s terrified and when he starts running shakily across, you can’t help but cheer for him.
8. I heard that The Artist is favored to win this year. If you haven’t seen any of these movies, I suggest you see this one, simply to watch how the director pulls off a silent movie about silent movies. Also, it’s in black and white. A famous, loved, silent movie actor falls from the top when “talkie” pictures become popular. The cool twist is that the character’s inability to make it in the talkie film world mirrors his inability as a person to talk or experience sound in the real world. It is becoming a cliché—my joy at watching handsome leading men—but this guy—whoever he is—some French actor I never heard of—is so fun to watch. He’s got to be. He never says a word until (spoiler alert) the last ten seconds of the movie.
9. Tree of Life. I left this one for last because it was my favorite. It is also, hands down, the WEIRDEST movie I have ever seen. I almost stopped watching it at one point because it was so freaking weird, but I’m glad I stuck with it. The story is simple, by which I mean that it is not simple at all. It’s a man looking back on his childhood, about his sibling rivalry with his now deceased brother, about the differences between his mother (an artistic, loving woman) and his father (a practical, business-minded, strict disciplinarian). Where it gets truly weird is when the movie goes backward, trying to figure out where things went wrong for the man, and keeps going backward, all the way back, to the Big Bang and the creation of the world, and dinosaurs, etc. So. That’s weird. But it was strangely mesmerizing and beautiful too. I think if you can let go of any logical narrative expectations you might have and just let the movie flicker over you, impressionistic-style, you’ll get the full experience. The scene at the end, this bizarre meeting on the beach of all the characters past and present, had me sobbing. This is the only movie on the list, by the way, where I cried out loud like a big baby. Three months later, I’m still thinking about it. My prediction: too weird to win. But it should.
PS: It also features Brad Pitt.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Review of The Fault in our Stars

I just finished reading John Green’s latest novel The Fault in our Stars and my head (and heart) are still spinning around (and sputtering softly and vulnerably) two hours later. It is truly a great book.

First, a few words about John Green. I bow down to this man. His books are brilliant and funny and philosophically thought-provoking, with moments of heartbreak flashing sporadically so that when you’re reading you sometimes have to catch your breath and put the book down and marvel for a minute at the guy’s freaking genius. I am not overstating here.

Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska (which won the Printz Award) are really good books, but my favorite (until roughly two hours ago) is the first book I read of Green’s, An Abundance of Katherines. The main character is a cynical, depressed boy who’s had the cruddy luck to be dumped by nineteen girls named Katherine. After yet another break up, he goes off on a zany summer road trip with his best friend. 

There’s clever dialogue along the way and something about a vicious boar attack and also an attempt to plot out the perfect mathematical equation—one that will pinpoint exactly when a person is about to be dumped.

I was cracking up nearly the entire time I was reading it and marveling at how spot on Green was at capturing a type of teen not often portrayed in YA novels— a kind of nerdy, gifted, wise-cracking boy. (Side note: everyone in my family got hooked on John Green’s books. My son, when fifteen, read all three books on a family vacation, literally toting the open books around with him wherever we went. This was a kid who did not read YA books and most of the time did not read any fiction at all. He had jumped at age twelve right into the world of adult non-fiction, stuff by Jon Krakauer and Bill Bryson. After reading the John Green collection he remarked that he hadn’t known there were books out there meant for him.

So Fault in our Stars came out about a month ago and I went right out to buy it but my son got to it first. He closed himself up in his room and basically didn’t come out until he finished it. Then he handed it to me, solemnly, tears in his eyes, and said, "This is a great book."

I put it off for a week because I knew what it was about. I’d read little snippets of reviews online. It’s a love story. About kids with cancer. Which doesn’t sound—how shall I say this kindly?—good. But this is John Green we’re talking about here. If anyone could pull it off, he could.

I read a lot of books. Specifically, I read a lot of books for young adults. So many, in fact, that lately I can sort them into categories without even reading past the first page. There are the “bad” books. Many more are simply “meh” books—quick (or not so quick) reads, a fast food equivalent of literature. (You know how you like that big mac for the 20 seconds you’re wolfing it down and then you kind of wished you hadn’t ever pulled through the drive thru?) There are a lot of good books, too. Page turners and slow builders. Cool flashy entertaining ones and books you want to get lost in and return to.

And then there is this other level all together. From the very first page, you’re in. The writing is effortless (which is to say that it was probably incredibly sweated over but after much work has been boiled down to its essence and seems effortless). Sometimes I read a pretty good book and I feel nothing but despair. I’m envious of the writer’s talent. I’m jealous of the cool idea or the clever execution. I look at my own writing and find it sadly lacking. But here’s something cool about a great book: there is no despair or envy. Instead I am inspired.

There are very few books that fall into this category for me. And this is a key point to make—it’s very personal, this response to literature. But if anyone’s wondering, here’s my list of all time greats—books that made me suck in my breath, cheer, marvel, cry, be grateful that I got to share in the experience and/or feel pride that I live in a world where such a book exists:

Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson
Story of a Girl, Sara ZarrItalic
How I Live Now, Meg Rosoff
Holes, Louis Sachar
Tale of Despereaux, Kate DiCamillo
Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
Bel Canto, Ann Patchett
Nobody's Fool, Richard Russo
Moby Dick, Herman Melville (had to read it in school and was totally blown away and shocked, I guess, that what I thought would be a dry classic by a long dead guy, could speak to me.)
The Fault in our Stars, John Green

It’s a love story about kids with cancer. Hazel Grace is stricken with an incurable lung disease. Augustus Waters has beaten bone cancer but lost a leg in the battle. Neither Hazel nor Augustus would like that I used the word "battle." It ticks them off that people frame the discussion of disease in terms of war. They also mock the "cancer perks," cool stuff well-meaning people give cancer patients out of pity, such as free tickets to Disney World. Or champagne. (But they’re not above taking the champagne.) They also discuss books, recite poems, play violent action video games, and have philosophical discussions about life.

I know I haven’t even scratched the surface of capturing this book, a shameful side effect of Great Bookism. A truly great book can’t be adequately explained or dissected or pitched. There really is nothing you can do in the end, but read it and share it with someone else.

So do me a favor and get your hands on this book. Read it and share it with someone else.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Thank Goodness for Bad Childhoods

I can’t remember where I read this or how it was worded exactly, but the sentiment struck me and has stayed with me ever since: If there were no bad childhoods, there would be no such thing as children’s literature. A writer, especially one that’s got a few relentless demons in the old childhood closet—in the form of vicious bullies, abusive and/or neglectful parents, or simply a nice stretch of angsty lonesome gawky puberty-infused years—can create some rich and interesting fiction.

I’ve read YA books where you can practically feel a raw wound throbbing beneath the surface. Take a modern classic like Sara Zarr’s novel Story of Girl, which centers on a girl who may or may not have earned her bad reputation. Apparently a year earlier she had dated an older boy and he “kissed and told.” Now there doesn’t seem to be anything she can do to change everyone's negative perception. More disturbing is the girl’s relationship with her father, who appears to be judging her too. I’m not saying that Zarr herself experienced this exact situation, but the pain the character endures—her shame and confusion and guilt—that’s the Truth with a capital T.

Why do I get the feeling that Laurie Halse Anderson (Prom) understands what it’s like to grow up in a struggling blue-collar family? Or that John Green (Looking for Alaska; Papertowns) once had his heart broken by a bewitching and beautiful girl? Or that the author of the debut novel The Girls of No Return, Erin Saldin, really knows the internal turmoil of a troubled teen?

I just read this book and it was absorbing and horrifying. The main character, Lida, is bitter when her father and stepmother send her away to a reform school/wilderness camp. There, she befriends Boone, who seems like the obvious antagonist in the story, a bully who takes it upon herself to “welcome” the new campers, and Gia, a magnetic girl, who at first glance doesn’t seem to belong in a school for troubled kids. Read along, though, and you’ll be anxiously rooting for Lida to figure out who the real enemy is here.

This book is a step up from a page-turner, a female riff on the themes of A Separate Peace. Sometimes it crosses the line into over-moralizing, but I can forgive that because the book has a palpable heart at its core, and that core is something I bet Saldin knows intimately—what it feels like to be an outcast, and the sickening sense of shame you get when you’ve done something terrible that you can't ever take back.
Let me repeat that I am not suggesting this novel (or the others mentioned) are autobiographical. There is a difference between telling the truth and conveying what is true. The most successful writers are able to tap into the murky pools of their pasts and translate those complex and universal feelings onto the page.

I heard an interview with Alice Walker once on NPR. She was talking about why she became a writer, and she said that she could trace it back to her eighth year. There is something about this age, 7 or 8 or so, she explained. It’s around the time when a child is first going out of the home and slowly becoming aware that there are other ways to live. You go to school and meet many other children. You notice that other families are different from yours. You start to look at yourself and your own world and compare. It is then that many kids make a subconscious (or not so subconscious) effort to fit in, to be like everyone else.

But what if something traumatic happens at this time in your life, something that makes you painfully aware that things—that you—are different? These hurting children may spend more time alone. They might turn to books for escape. They become more self-reflective. In other words, they’re potentially training to be writers. Here’s a funny thing: I can’t remember what it was that happened to little Alice Walker. I’m sure she mentioned her traumatic event in this interview, but all I was thinking about was the year I was seven. It was the year my father died. Which set in motion other events, like a string of dysfunctional dominoes knocking one onto the next.

When I was in college, taking writing classes, my first stories were thinly veiled autobiographical pieces. I was writing what I knew, as the writing teachers like to say we should. But really, what I was doing was more like psychotherapy. I remember sitting with a professor in his office as he scanned one of my embarrassingly painful, bared-heart-on-a-page vignettes. God knows what the poor man was thinking. (Actually, I can guess. Something along the lines of, this girl needs professional help.) Instead, we both pretended this story was just a story, and he said, “here’s something you can try. Write it again in third person. It might give you a little…uh…distance.”

I did. And it worked. A raw wound grew into a story with something real and moving at its center.
We all have scars. Some of us, though, seem to have collected a few more along the way, or we have a harder time letting go of them. Some of us figured out what I did in college: there was a wealth of material there if I was courageous enough to explore it, and if I was clever enough to manipulate what I needed. Then the trick is to let go of the "facts" and write.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Turning Points

One of my favorite writer blogs is Nova Ren Suma’s distraction no. 99. Every month lately, she’s been posing a question—what scares you, what inspires you, what’s your turning point—and invites a dozen or so people to weigh in. I’m not sure how she’s managed to befriend such a large varied group of cool writers but I bow down to her networking prowess. Full disclosure: I’m not a member of the varied cool group—I suspect that this is because Nova, although I refer to her by her first name, does not technically know me. Still that hasn’t stopped me from answering her questions for myself. For example, a few months ago I wrote about what scared me after reading a bunch of creepy responses on Nova’s blog. (here was the creepiest of those.) And this month I’ve been mulling over my turning point as a writer after reading this and this.

Apparently I am like a lot of Nova’s guest bloggers in that I’ve had more than one turning point. You can’t do this (by which I mean, write with little external acknowledgement or reward) without experiencing several decent turning points along the way in your alternating exhilarating and soul-crushing Writer’s Journey.

I’m picturing a yellow-brick road type of thing, with my ruby-slipper-clad foot starting out in the swirly center the way Dorothy’s did. In my case it was Me, age seven, probably not long after I learned how to read, writing a story called “You Are Cute” which answered that age-old question: Who is cute? My mother was my first reader and she gushed over the story. I think she even said the words that every writer longs to hear: “You are such a good writer,” and she passed my little story on to others (my relatives) who were equally effusive. That was my first turning point and I have to say it was a lovely way to start on what would turn out to be an extremely long, windy, exhilarating, and soul-crushing yellow brick road.

When I was in school, writing wasn’t really taught, unless you count how to draft dry book reports or how to answer questions in COMPLETE SENTENCES ONLY after skimming passages on Australopithecines or the Middle Ages or Henry Hudson. Creative writing—stories, poems, or plays—was rarely assigned, unless it was for extra credit. I loved those rare times, because I always got the extra credit. Plus, once in a while I got a nice gushy “you’re such a good writer,” from a teacher. (Side note: writing, including creative writing, IS taught in school now, at every grade level, and while that seems like a positive development, I sometimes wonder about it. When I was working with fourth graders during an extensive and demanding portfolio-writing year, I saw kids crushed after their stories and poems were picked to pieces. Teachers scrawled stuff like “Work on your dialogue” and “Let’s be more specific with that character” on papers. I remembered my seven-year-old self, so proud of my dippy You Are Cute story. What if a teacher had gotten her hands on that with a red pen?) The beginning writer’s ego is such a fragile, eggshell-encased little thing. I see it as a crucial turning point that I received nothing but praise in those formative years.

I needed that praise, because my next turning point happened in college when I signed up for my first official writing class. The students in those classes took it as their mission to rip apart each other’s stories and poems (and egos.) It was great vicious fun. Making it through somewhat unscathed is a point of pride. It didn’t hurt that I won a few awards for writing along the way either. More turning points. One, that’s kind of funny: Senior year I won the award for the best poem. I sat next to the guy who won the award for best story (fun fact: I had a crush on him. He was soooo creative. Sigh) and we opened our envelopes together and grinned like idiots the rest of the awards ceremony because the prize was a HUNDRED dollars. Which is a lot of money when you’re in college. (sad fact: it’s still a lot of money. Sigh.)

There’s a long stretch of yellow road here where I pretty much stopped writing. I was teaching instead. And then I was raising kids and cleaning my house and making meals and volunteering to chaperon field trips and sitting on contentious school boards. The creative part of myself, I thought, died. But every once in a while it would slip out like an aggravated ghost. This happened when I made my son an elaborate paper mache' model of a Viking ship complete with fifty toothpick oars. Or when I organized my daughter’s 8th birthday party around a Harry Potter theme and concocted butter beer refreshments and designed an interactive potions lesson and orchestrated a game of quidditch in the backyard. (The party guests ran around on broomsticks while I pelted them with bludgers, er, water balloons.) I won’t go into the story of the time I made a Sputnik cake for my son’s birthday. Let’s just say it was AWESOME.

It’s possible I was losing my mind.

Which leads me to a very important turning point. Somewhere between Vikings and butter beer, I wrote a story and I got it published and I used the money to go to a writing retreat. I must give a shout out here to the Highlights Foundation for the phenomenal retreats and workshops and conferences they put on. The one I attended was called Room to Create, and for someone like me—a busy stressed out mom with a buried battered writer soul—it was like winning a trip to an all-inclusive spa resort. Every day, nothing to do but write. Or read. Or chat with other writers. Or eat gourmet catered food. In an idyllic setting in the woods. I started the week unable to say out loud that I was a writer. I went home and told everyone I knew. And most importantly, I actually started writing again.

But the truth is, it was only a hobby.

Until four years ago when my husband was transferred and our family moved from one state to another and I decided against the advice of pretty much everyone not to renew my teaching license. Teaching had been my fall back career forever, the safety cushion, the Practical Responsible Adult Thing To Do, and I just let it go. It was one of the hardest decisions I ever made and yet, the moment I made it, the moment I said it to someone, probably my husband, hardworking bread-winning supportive fellow that he is, I felt lighter, better, like what I was doing was right.

If you’ve followed this blog at all, you know that for the last four years I have been on the verge with my writing—plugging along, following my dream, skipping and/or trudging down the last remnants of the freaking yellow brick road I’ve been on since second grade, about to cross over into the emerald green city, otherwise known as Published Book Land. Apparently there are more remnants to go. But I’m assuming there are more turning points, too. And like the ones that came before, these will be just enough to lift me up and give me the push I need to make it there.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Slow Building Vs. Page Turning

I love page turners—breathless, heart-pounding, cliff-hanging books—where the minute I start reading them I know I’m going to have to clear out my whole schedule because there’s no way I’m stopping to cook dinner or have a conversation or go to bed at a decent hour. Reading a page turner is like riding an amusement park ride or watching an over-the-top action-adventure movie. It’s fun and fast paced but it makes you a little dizzy. Sometimes I get near the end of one and I feel like a demonstrator in those speed-reading courses they used to advertise on TV—you know with the finger zipping over the words and the pages flipping so quickly all you can see are the blurred lines. With a good page turner, you’re not reading so much as scanning, your only object to see what’s going to happen next. If you miss a few details along the way—a clever turn of phrase or a vivid bit of sensory description, who cares?

I’ve picked up and torn through my fair share of page turners: The Firm and The DaVinci Code and Jurassic Park. Also, solid YA bestsellers like The Vampire Academy books and Twilight and my recent favorite, Ashes by Ilsa Bick. As a writer I marvel at how these riveting and entertaining novels are put together. I think it has something to do with introducing a sympathetic, somewhat flawed hero and hurling a bunch of problems at him. I heard former Philomel editor Patti Gauch talk about this at a conference. She said to imagine your character is a stool with four legs, and as you write, you keep kicking out a leg until there’s only one leg left. That’s when the reader is thinking: there is no way anything else can happen to this guy.

And that’s when the writer kicks out the final leg.

Her talk wasn’t about page turners, though. Her emphasis was really on the hero, the sympathetic, flawed character part of the equation. And page turners, stereotypically, are more about the plot—what’s happening to that poor beaten down fellow. If we care about that guy, we’ll follow him anywhere.
Even, interestingly enough, through a book that’s not a page turner. I don’t know if there’s an official term for this type of book, so I’m going to call it a slow builder. I love slow builders just as much as I love page turners. Maybe more.

I read two recently, the beginning of a historical fiction series, A Brief History of Montmaray and The FitzOsbornes in Exile by Michelle Cooper. Maybe it's not historical fiction. It’s set in the late 1930’s as Europe is slowly and inevitably lurching toward war. But there’s a fantasy element to the books because the characters are the last surviving members of a fictional royal family living alone in their crumbling castle on a made up island called Montmaray. There’s a crazy king and a missing queen, a carefree prince, a brilliant bookish princess, another princess who wishes she were a boy, and Sophie the narrator, who records their adventures, which range from interactions with the handful of remaining villagers to a shocking visit by the Nazis. It wasn't the adventures that drew me into these books.

Like most slow-builders, they start with a fresh voice, something funny and quirky, something I haven’t heard before, almost like the narrator is a cool new person I’ve just met but I suspect she will soon be a good friend. The characters are likable, of course, but maybe they’re a little annoying too (like people we know in real life). And the world they live in may be like ours, or it could be a place that we’ve never heard of, but somehow everything about it is familiar and real. Here’s the potential problem with a slow builder—it takes a bit work on the part of the reader—a bit of patience. And when we’re talking about younger readers, that may be asking a lot.

Something they like to do at children’s writer conferences is have would-be writers submit first pages of novels, then an editor or agent will sit on the stage and read the randomly selected pages out loud, giving the writers in the audience a first impression. It’s kind of an excruciating exercise to witness—whether your page is selected or not. So much of what your novel is has to be there on that first page—the voice, the tone, most likely the main character, and at least a hint of the conflict. Tell too much and you risk sounding like you’re summarizing the back cover. Tell too little and it’s a confusing mess. Beginners seldom get it right. And you can hear them grumbling under their breaths. A brave soul will come right out and say it—something along the lines of, is it fair that an editor will only read my first page? The implication is that the other pages are much better once the story gets going, etc.

Here is what an editor once said to that: “Well, I might read more than a first page, but a kid wouldn’t. A kid might not read past the first line.”

This is true. And anyone who dreams of writing for children is just going to have to accept it. Still, I do hope there are a few patient and kind young readers around who will give a slow builder a chance. Because here’s what always bugged me about that speed-reading course: it assumes that the only point of reading is to accumulate large chunks of info. Forget savoring or digesting or ruminating. With good slow builders, like the Montmaray books, you don’t want to scan, you want to take your time. When the end nears and you feel it building toward the climax, you’re often surprised to discover that you’ve been reading a page turner after all, but it’s one that’s much more intense and exciting because you've been so immersed in the journey along the way.