Saturday, July 14, 2012

"Howards End" by E. M. Forster

     After reading it aloud to each other for probably at least two months, just a few pages each day, Delycia and I finished the book yesterday, and I think we were both impressed -- perhaps even overwhelmed -- by the power of the ending. I don't mean that it was a surprise ending, something shocking and maybe gimmicky -- just an ending that powerfully pushed the book up from being an interesting story to the level of good -- even great -- literature. As we said to each other while sitting on the porch-swing after reading the final paragraph, the book has depth, something lacking in the great majority of merely "good" or "interesting" novels. Howards End, you might say, is like an ocean. The storyline moves fairly quietly along the surface, while vast currents of feelings and ideas swirl underneath. What's fascinating -- and I've seen this phenomenon in many of the great novels I've read -- is that the depth of the book didn't fully reveal itself until the final chapters -- actually the final pages. Forster's novel turned out to be a massive iceberg, with only the tip showing until the immense complexity and profundity of it all rose to the surface in the last chapters and pages.
    This brings to mind something I've always suspected -- that reading a book out loud, and collaboratively, with one or more fellow readers, can bring out the beauty of the book far more fully than reading silently by yourself. Delycia and I read the sentences aloud and slowly, with as much feeling as possible, and that in itself helped the force of the story come forth. However, we also paused whenever we felt it necessary -- to discuss a sentence, look up a word, highlight something, or notice again a theme we had seen earlier. You might say we strolled through the book instead of rushing through it. We weren't as interested in what happened, as in why and how it happened, and how interestingly and beautifully it was described. We got to know this book really well. To use the "depth" analogy, we dove into the book, page after page, and swam in its depths, and thus refreshed ourselves.

     Now, happily, we are going to spend a few days going back through the book, examining our many highlighted sentences, looking again for themes we noticed earlier, and reading scholarly commentaries on the book. After a true reading adventure, it's important to take a few days to look back upon -- and truly savor -- the experience.

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