Reading in the Moment

I’m often guilty of forgetting to live in the moment. Instead of being fully present, I’m counting down the minutes to the weekend, making a to-do list, or plotting out a story. I try to be in the here and now, but sometimes my brain just won’t shut up.

Sometimes, I read like I live. If a book has a twisting, captivating plot and I’m itching to know what happens, I can’t help it. I speed read instead of savor. That’s why I usually read books more than once.  

In addition to my mad Stephen King re-read spree, I’ve been catching up on the many works I’ve missed by another favorite author, Jodi Picoult. In the last month or so, I’ve read both “Plain Truth” and “House Rules.”  I was reminded right away of how much I enjoy her writing style and the life she breathes into her characters. But I’ve also realized that when reading Picoult, I’m more guilty than ever of the speed read.

If you’ve read Picoult, you know her style. Her plots are as varied as the weather in Maryland, but her plots and characters are always intricate. In “Plain Truth,” an Amish teen is accused of murdering her newborn. In “House Rules,” a high school boy with Aspberger’s syndrome is on trial for the suspected murder of a college girl.

With plots like those, how could you not be anxious to find out how things end? Oddly, I pretty much had things figured out roughly halfway through in both – and no, I didn’t peek. Even so, I was still so anxious to see how everyone fared that I plowed forward like someone in a race. On the one hand, that speaks to the strength of Picoult’s writing. Even if you’ve figured out the missing pieces of the puzzle, you’re still dying to know how everyone deals with the outcome. You care about these imaginary people.

The downside for me is that if I’m not careful, I race through some of her most powerful writing.

In Picoult’s books, all the characters get a say. In Plain Truth, you heard from the accused teen, her lawyer, her mother, her boyfriend, and many others. In House Rules, Jacob, the accused boy with Aspbergers, spoke up, along with his mother, his brother, his lawyer and the lead police investigator.

 Picoult shows you how everyone is doing in the moment, but gives you snippets of their past, as well. Everyone shares major life events and seemingly insignficant moments. Katie, the Amish teen, goes back to the loss of her sister over and over again. Jacob, his mother and brother all take you through their earlier years. By the end of the novel, you’ve felt the weight that a single mother of an Aspbergers child carries. You know how it feels to be the younger sibling of a special needs child, forced to grow up way too soon because your brother’s needs are all-consuming. You know what it might feel like to be 16 and not have friends because bringing someone home to dinner on Fridays, when your mother only makes blue food to keep your brother from a meltdown, is just too embarrassing.

You even get to see the loud, buzzing, flashing, overactive world through the eyes of Jacob himself.

These flashbacks are essential to the stories. They add the dimensions to these people that make you care what happens to them. Creating the beauty, tenderness, humor or pain in these moments is where Picoult shines the brightest.

But if you read like me, you might just deprive yourself of the power in those snippets on your mad dash to the finish line. A kid enjoys the sparkling ornaments on a Christmas tree, and the whimsy of leaving cookies and milk for Santa. But let’s face it – true appreciation of those moments is often just a little dulled by the anticipation of creeping downstairs on Christmas morning.

For me, that’s what reading these two Picoult novels was like. I KNEW I should savor those flashback moments, but I was too damn intrigued by the finish line to stop trotting and start strolling. I will have to return to these books again and savor them like a fine wine.

I used to think being a top-notch writer meant holding your reader in the moment every step of the way. But I wouldn’t have had Picoult do anything differently to keep me there.  So maybe top-notch writing is also telling it well enough that even if your reader jogged the trail at an excited pace on her first hike, she’ll return for a meandering stroll, and take time to smell the flowers on the second trip.


About hawleywood40

Writer, Steelers Fan in Baltimore, Frequent Visitor to the Shot Fairy
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15 Responses to Reading in the Moment

  1. Great blog…delighted to have come across these great pages..Eliza Keating

  2. Woman says:

    “Sometimes, I read like I live. If a book has a twisting, captivating plot and I’m itching to know what happens, I can’t help it. I speed read instead of savor. That’s why I usually read books more than once. ”

    I do that too!!! When I am here in Canada I will just speed through each and every page and then as soon as I flip that last page, I flip the book and just re-read it and savour it catching all the things I missed in the first read. When I am in China, I only allow myself one chapter a day as English novels are difficult to get my hands on. But that doesn’t mean I don’t read each chapter a dozen times in one day.

    Great post!!!!

    • hawleywood40 says:

      Love it – I have never gone back and re-read right away, there’s usually a few months or maybe even years between my reads. I will have to try that, maybe with one of these!

  3. l'empress says:

    I’m glad you enjoy Picoult. So much work goes into them — it shows — and I usually learn something I didn’t know before. But I don’t expect to read another one, because they are too edgy for a mother to read. Scared the h— out of me.

    • hawleywood40 says:

      I don’t blame you for that, l’empress. It seems almost all her novels deal with children in horrible situations – either criminal or medical. I love how much I learn and feel with each and every read, but can only imagine what the ride would be like as a mother.

  4. catierhodes says:

    I haven’t tried Jodi Picoult, yet, but I think you convinced me.

    Stephen King is another story all together. With him, it’s all about characterization. I mean, the plots are good, better than good. Usually, though, after a page or two King has me so invested in the character that the plot could be about anything. I’d still keep reading. Have you tried Joe Hill, yet? I just got around to reading Heart Shaped Box and was surprised and impressed.

    I race through Lisa Gardner. From what you’re saying about Jodi Picoult, I think the style of Lisa Gardner’s books might be similar. They’re fast, eerie reads.

    Thanks for a good topic.

    • hawleywood40 says:

      I’ve read a little Lisa Gardner. They’re somewhat similar, but Picoult tends to do more turning social issues into stories – they’re not so much eerie as grab-you-by-the-gut if you imagine yourself in the situation. I haven’t read Joe Hill yet, but I’m curious now – just started the Game of Thrones series for something totally different from my usual book choices (mainly because the TV series captivated me), but he will be next on my list!

  5. tsonoda148 says:

    Oh Wow, very well said! I like the “In Picoult’s books, all the characters get a say.” and I am going looking for Picoult’s books right now. You give quite an amazing book report! Thanks for helping me decide my next read.

  6. Patti Kuche says:

    Good reads always do this. What do you do when “engagement” hasn’t happened? Once upon a time I would have persisted but now more than ever I toss aside any reading which doesn’t grab me. Frees up my time for better reading!

    • hawleywood40 says:

      I agree – life’s too short for reading that doesn’t do much for me! However, I do hang on to some books that don’t engage me and will pull them out on those nights I’m tossing and turning and just can’t sleep. They give me something to do that won’t make me too alert or awake. If I tried reading a “good book” during these insomnia nights, I’d never sleep!

  7. akamonsoon says:

    Awesome post Pam! Ruben very often will go back and reread books as well. I am also guilty of skipping ahead at times because I just can’t stand the suspense. 😉 After reading this post I think I may have to make another trip to the library and get a Jodi Piccoult novel. Your description of her books has definitely grabbed my attention!

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