Saturday, January 03, 2009

Swept Away


Richard Nixon reading.

In the NYT on Thursday, there was an article about reading--in the home section, I think. It was about how we read with such complete abandon as a child and gradually over the years, we become more critical, more aloof from the story, less swept away by what we read. The writer compared her three daughters' reading styles at age 11, 14 and 17. The eleven year old carries her book around, a finger in the place she's left off and reads lying down, sitting up, whatever. The older two are, in increasing degrees, less enamored.

I remember the feeling of time stopping when I read a book, but it happens rarely now. The last novel I remember experiencing this with was BEL CANTO by Ann Patchett and back in the seventies, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP. Friends tell me they felt this way reading A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANEY. What about you? Are you still swept away by novels? What was the last novel that took you "far away." Not just a book you loved but a book you LOVED.

30 comments:

Scott Parker said...

The last books that swept me away was the Harry Potter series. In the spring of 2007, a few months before Book 7 was published, I caught up: I read Books 1-6 in 6 weeks. I would listen to the audio in the car and read the book at night. I had not read like that since middle school. When Book 7 was published, I consumed it within a week. And, more than once in that reading, I got tears. It probably proves your point that the Potter books were considered youth fiction.

On the adult fiction side, Mystic River was the book where I lost myself. The Green Mile (King) to some extent. And Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card) was the last book where I literally finished the last page, turned the book over, and started again.

On the subject of audiobooks, I regularly get consumed with listening to my books, more so than when I read. The something engrossing about being told a story. The reader of Lehane's The Given Day was remarkable. He did a Boston accent, a southern black man, a Russian accent, spoke Italian, and even sang.

Frank Loose said...

I get truly caught up in a dozen books a year, out of the probably hundred or so that i read. These are books whose characters are super real, whose conflict situations captivate me, and whose resolution I feel an urgent desire to discover. The also-rans are "entertainments" that i can dip into and out of over a period of time, but those that captivate, hold me in check in one sitting. Looking back over the past couple decades, two come to mind that truly grabbed me to the point of nothing else mattering for me except for what was on the page. I would attribute your "sweot away" phrase to them. They are: Light in August, by William Faulkner. And Kate Vaiden, by Reynolds Price.

r2 said...

I just read a book, Paul Auster's MAN IN THE DARK, which swept me away. His books always do because of the strange atmosphere he creates and the sense that you never know where the story is going. In this one, the protagonist is killed off two-thirds through the book. That feeling you describe still happens to me several times a year.

Jacob Weaver said...

Growing up my absolute favorite book to get lost in was The Outsiders. I must have read 50 times and it always seemed like I didn't know what was around the corner.

I think as you get older there are things that take your attention away too often. The only times I can get swept away are late at night when the wife and kid are tucked in for the night.

I would say Huston's Caught Stealing was the last book I really got swept away in. I think I was changing diapers with one hand and reading with the other. I just wanted to know how the hell Hank was going to get out of every wrong turn he made.

pattinase (abbott) said...

A good point, Scott. How sometimes hearing them is more engrossing. I must read Card. My son was just telling me that although he liked Given Day, it wasn't as compelling to him as Mystic River.
Frank-Adored Kate Vaiden. Price was (is?) a great write. ANd I've read Light in August many times.
Auster's The Music of Chance and Book of Illusions are on my top 50 book list. Have to read this one.
I remember my kids reading The Outsider over and over. And I need to read Huston. That's a vampire one?

Todd Mason said...

Avram Davidson's THE ENQUIRIES OF DOCTOR ESTERHAZY would be the last one that hit on every available cylinder.

Jacob Weaver said...

Caught Stealing is part of the Hank Thompson trilogy, about a regular guy turned killer. Huston has another ongoing series involving Joe Pitt, a PI who also happens to be a vampire. I haven't read them but I hear they are just as good.

Dana King said...

I don't get caught up as often as I used to before I started reading as critically as a writer much, but a few books that stick in my mind are John Irving's A WIDOW FOR ONE YEAR, Richard Russo's EMPIRE FALLS, and Ed McBain's THE FRUMIOUS BANDERSNATCH. In the past year, I have let extended periods of time slip away while I engrossed myself in Robert Crais's THE WATCHMAN and Declan Burke's THE BIG O, books where life had to be put on hold for a couple of hours so I could see what happens next.

ARCHAVIST said...

The James McGee Hawkwood novels swept me away.

r2 said...

The New York Trilogy by Auster is also wonderful. I was also entranced with Dennis Lehane's book of Short stories: Coronado, except for the play, but that may have been my lack of appreciation for the form. Loren D. Estleman's books, most of the time, do it to me too.

Anonymous said...

I do get swept away in books occasionally these days. How wonderful to hear the description of that feeling as a child though. My mother would get so frustrated with me because I would literally not hear when she called.

I think the book this year that evoked that feeling in my was THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY. I just devoured that book in one whole gulp.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think we can somewhat agree that John Irving has the ability to sweep us up. His first five or six novels were magic for me. Than the bears, Austria and wrestling began to get to me. I have to read that Guernsey/potato thing. I know that's magical too.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Those Hawkwood novels are new to me. I'm off to check them out.

Stephen Blackmoore said...

I don't get lost in a book nearly as much as I used to. Mostly because I can't stop my brain from analyzing bits and pieces.

But sometimes it happens. Just not in a long time.

pattinase (abbott) said...

That's my problem, Stephen. And I am more distractible. But it's lovely when it happens.

Charles Gramlich said...

I do occasionally get swept away but it's much rarer than when I was a child. I still want it but it's harder to get.

The way I've heard it described for readers is that it's kind of like heroin. People who take heroin say they love it the first time or so and then spend the rest of their life chasing that first high. In a way, I'm still chasing that absolute swept away feeling I felt as a child in reading. And sometimes I get a flavor of it but seldom the whole effect.

pattinase (abbott) said...

It would be interesting to know if adults reading pre-late 20th century technology continued to feel swept away throughout adulthood. Is it a function of being an adult or is it the various technological pulls on us?

David Cranmer said...

It was the John Adams bio by David McCullough. I felt like I was right there with John and Abigail. History came alive reading this for me.

Scott Parker said...

All of McCullough's books are like that: they sweep you away. That's the essence of popular history, not some dusty tome only academics tolerate. McCullough is one of the best. Joseph Ellis as well.

pattinase (abbott) said...

A history that surprisingly swept me away, although on audio, was Master of the Senate by Robert Caro. It took us all the way to Cape Cod from Detroit.

Scott Parker said...

Patti,

I listened to that one, too. It's my record for number of cassettes: Thirty-nine 90 minute cassettes. It took a long time but it was never, ever boring.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Boy, I knew we listened to it all the way up and back but I didn't remember it as that long. I wonder if you didn't listen to the whole four books.

Steve Oerkfitz said...

Glad to see I'm not the only Avram Davidson fan.
The last couple books that swept me away would be Dan Simmon's The Terror and Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian.
Can't listen to audio books. I always start daydreaming about something else and lose track of the story.

Steve Oerkfitz said...

Forgot about Stewart O'Nan's A Prayer for the Dying. Perhaps the only book I have reread within a month of first reading it.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I forgot A Prayer of the Dying, too. Simply amazing feat.
And, yeah, I often have that trouble with audio books if they are fiction. History seems easier to follow audio-wise.

Michael said...

I call these "take over your life" books, and there just aren't that many of them. First of all, they have to be long, really long, or they can't very well take over your life. And of course they have to make you just tune out the world and read. Here are a few: "The Magus" by John Fowles, "The Sot-Weed Factor" by John Barth, "Shogun" by James Clavell, and, best of all, Anthony Powell's 12 novel sequence "A Dance to the Music of Time". Hard to believe the last one I can remember was McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove" more than 25 years ago. Maybe it's the books, or maybe it's that getting old makes me less prone to being taken over. But I sure would like to have a few more. Maybe I'll follow up on some of the suggestions provided above.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yes, it is rare, isn't it, Michael. It must be what the writer in the NYT said, it's a youthful thing to be swept away or to give over your life to a book. But, oh the joy in it.

paul d brazill said...

No More Heroes by Ray Banks.I knew I'd like it but didn't think it would hook me so much.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Gotta try that Ray Banks.

paul d brazill said...

I think you'd like Mr Banks. May give you flashbacks to Salford, though!