Friday, August 06, 2010


I usually encourage my students to be totally focused when they’re reading, but I also ask them, now and then, to do sort of the opposite – to squint, you might say. I’ve heard that painters sometimes squint at a scene in order to see the overall colors and patterns, and perhaps that’s what I’m after with the students. After zeroing in on specific details for many pages of a novel, it’s good for them to occasionally “narrow their eyes” so they can see the big picture – the overall drift of the story, the general framework of things. It’s somewhat like skimming the pages (though I never use that word, for fear it will be misunderstood) – the way a painter might skim his eyes across a landscape in order to pick up the flow of shapes and colors. It’s also a bit like closing your eyes in front of a beautiful scene, and then quickly opening them just for a moment, just to take a brief peep at all the beauty. Sometimes that kind of quick glimpse can give us a wonderful sense of the overall splendor of a scene, and I guess that’s what I’m hoping for when I ask the students to squint through a few pages in a novel. Perhaps this fleeting peep at the pages will reveal something that an earnest and conscientious reading might miss. Emily Dickinson advised that we should “tell all the Truth but tell it slant”, and perhaps that’s exactly what I’m talking about. If authors sometimes follow her advice and tell their truths sideways, maybe my young readers should sometimes read in a sideways way. Maybe if they occasionally just took quick looks as they read they might experience, now and then, “the Truth’s superb surprise.”

No comments: