I am a fast reader. I gobble my books down like a handful of popcorn, barely bothering to chew. Observant readers of this blog may have noticed the rapid movement of titles in my "What I'm Reading" list. For me, reading is a reflex, an addiction. My automatic response to an empty moment is to reach for a book, and race my way through it at top speed.
This means that I consume a lot of books (good). But it also means that I don't absorb what I read (bad). A couple of weeks after I've finished a book, I struggle to remember exactly what happened. And this weekend I realised that sometimes I struggle to recognise what's happening even while I'm still reading!
You see, this weekend I went to yoga camp (good). I only brought one book with me (bad). By the second evening I had only one chapter to go. Cue panic!
I finished the book. It was William Golding's The Inheritors, his novel about a group of Neanderthals and their first encounter with homo sapiens. The Neanderthal protagonist doesn't understand a lot of what he observes - to him, the homo sapiens' boats are logs, their bows and arrows are bent sticks and twigs. Most of their actions are incomprehensible to Lok, who watches dumbly, confused and frightened.
After I finished the book, I dimly realised that something Very Bad must have happened. But I couldn't quite remember it happening. I had to go back and reread the last few chapters to pinpoint the exact moment of the Bad Thing. And sure enough, I found it. But like Lok, the first time round, I hadn't understood what I was seeing.
Lok had some excuse: he is a Neanderthal. But I was just reading too fast. If I hadn't been at yoga camp, I might not have taken the time to reread; I might have just moved on to the next book.
Perhaps this is the true lesson of yoga camp: slow down. Be mindful. Pay attention. Take the time to digest what you're reading, and be nourished by it.