Perhaps all novelists dream of the close reader: perhaps every reader tries to be one. But no reader, however perfect, reads a text as closely as the novelist would want, with the adequate amount of concentration. And even if a reader has concentrated, so much is lost, because memory is so defective. The art of reading, like every art, is an art of detail. ... But no one can retain all the details, nor the details' thematic form. Mostly, what remains is an impression, an isolated sentence.Novelist Adam Thirwell in The Guardian ponders the haphazard oddness of his reading and lack of concentration in the face of so much material to read. The piece made me smile because I saw so much of myself in there too, constantly dipping into and nibbling round the edges of things, though I always have one book I am trying to approach as the "ideal close reader"!
Yet even when you have read something, the details slip away so fast. Thirwell is so right when he says :
The only hope is rereading. 'A good reader,' said Nabokov, 'a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader.' The only hope is continuous repetition. How else, after all, can anyone see the form? And if you can't see a work's form, then it isn't really reading at all. But who, therefore, has the time to really read?Thirwell, incidentally, has just won a Somerset Maugham award for Miss Herbert. May he find his own close readers!