24 December 2014

from The Child that Books Built, chapter three, The Island (Francis Spufford)

At the same time, I couldn't read quite a lot of the words in The Hobbit.  I had accelerated into reading faster than my understanding had grown.  If I press my memory for the sensation of reading the second half of the book, when I was flying through the story, I remember, simultaneous with the new liquid smoothness, a constant flicker of incomprehensibility.  There were holes in the text corresponding to the parts I couldn't understand.  Words like prophesying, rekindled and adornment had never been spoken in my hearing.  No one had ever told me aloud to behold something, and I didn't know that vessels could be cups and bowls as well as ships.  I could say these words over, and shape my mouth around their big sounds.  I could enjoy their heft in the sentences.  They were obviously the special vocabulary that was apt for the slaying of dragons and the fighting of armies: words that conjured the sound of trumpets.  But for all the meaning I obtained from them, they might as well not have been printed.  When I speeded up, and up, and my reading became fluent, it was partly because I had learned how to ignore such words efficiently.  I methodically left out chunks.  I marked them to be sorted out later, by slower and more patient mental processes; I allowed each one to brace a blank space of greater or lesser size in its sentence; I grabbed the gist, which seemed to survive even in sentences that were mostly hole; and I sped on.

No comments: