Friday, February 12, 2010 |
The experience of reading Fall on Your Knees for the first time really brought home for me the importance of the element of surprise. It's often taken for granted with books, but getting swept away by the unexpected is one of the singular pleasures of reading.
Genuine surprise is hard to come by in our hyper-aware culture, where books are reviewed to death and film trailers offer the entire narrative arc in 60 seconds or less. Do you really need to see any movie after you've seen the trailer?
I think I got lucky this time. Unlike say, everyone else, I really had no idea what FOYK was about. I had been given a vague idea about themes from a friend, but other than that I was pretty unprepared for what was to follow — and for once, I was delighted by my ignorance. The novel holds many surprises, many unexpected twists and turns, and I experienced each one in the moment —I felt the story play out in real time. How rare is that? Can you remember the last time you were surprised by a moment in a book, or film?
Over the years, I've thoughtlessly shared many pivotal plot points with friends and family when I really should have just kept them to myself. The urge to spoil is great, is it not?
My delight at being given a pure, largely unmediated reading experience reminded me of a story one of my professors told me a few years ago. (Yes, I have another professor story — the nerd's repertoire is endless. Teacher's pets don't make friends; they make friends of their professors.) Like most English professors, she had read everything under the sun and had basically memorized the entire canon of Western literature. Consequently, event the greatest works held few surprises for her anymore. She had to take pleasure in dissection and analysis, in the familiarity that occurs between reader and well-worn text.
One night she went to see a production of King Lear, a play she'd read and written about for nearly 20 years. She loved it — that's why she was there. But the honeymoon phase was well over between she and the Bard, and it had been for years. Sure, they still dined together, but the conversation was sparse, they knew each other too well. At a significant turning point in the drama — I won't spoil it for you — the woman next to her gasped audibly. My professor was flabbergasted. It was clear to her that this woman seated next to her had no prior knowledge of the story — the tragedy was unfolding for her in real time, just as it must have for the first audience nearly half a century ago. For my professor it was a bittersweet moment. She was both thrilled by Shakespeare's enduring power and jealous of this woman for whom it was brand new.
This weekend, tucked in my bed with FOYK, I got to be that woman. And I liked it. I hope you get to be that unprepared exhilarated member of the audience with at least one of our Canada Reads books, too. Leave a comment here or head over to one of our discussion boards. We're always happy to hear from you. But no spoilers, please!