Ok, so maybe I need to rephrase that. I can read, but I can’t read when I am engaged in writing. Not the general engagement, but when I am actively writing several times a week. When I read one of two things seems to always happen. The first one is that what I am reading doesn’t really capture me. What I am reading either catches me or it does not. Often times I read the first chapter and I mentally slip down a back alley and onto an unlit street and am gone. Whether or not I continue reading depends on whether I consider the content essential for my mental, moral or spiritual health. If I don’t see its value outweigh the misery of plugging through then I set it aside, or better still, I give it to some other unsuspecting soul. If, however, it is good and essential to whom I need to become I will read. It may be like downing a dose of bad tasting medicine, but I will read. It doesn’t take long for me to lapse into reading the first sentence of most paragraphs and skimming the most interesting of the anecdotes. I can read this, but it only helps me fall asleep quicker.
On the other hand, if what I am reading captures me, it will pull me out of my seat and plunk me down in another world. Aprender is the Spanish word for learn. Ironically it also sounds like apprehend, the word police use to describe capturing a crook. Their words capture me and captivate me. I aprender, I learn what they are saying intimately. I begin to know the words, like a bride and groom begin to know each other the night they are wed. I understand the content through osmosis, their words reaching out and teaching me through impartation rather than through revelation.
When a read captures me at such a level there are certain qualities woven into the tapestry of words by the author. Usually the writer’s voice is similar to my own when I write. That voice is the voice of my imagination. It lilts and twitters through my mind. My own voice speaks many languages but is most comfortable with its own native tongue. When an author writes in that voice, that language, it speaks to me like a shiny spoon speaks to a large mouth bass. It lures me into their world of experiences.
These are the reasons why I can’t read. Once such a read becomes such a part of me, I hold their phrases and their rhythm, their prose and meter in my heart. My mind keeps singing the turn of phrases and the way they glide through the story like a luxurious melody woven by master musicians. I begin to hear them when I am unguarded, to repeat what I heard and what I loved. I unconsciously hum their melody, sing their lyrics. In other words I begin to plagiarize. Not content, though there really is nothing new under the sun. I plagiarize their voice, the fingerprint, perhaps even their soul print. I don’t do it because I don’t have something of my own to say. I have something to say and I am fiercely working most days at the keyboard in order to say it. I do it because they empower me, embolden me, and encourage me to come out with my voice that sounds so much like theirs.
My wife is reading a book. It is a book I wanted to read. She bought it because I bought her an electronic reader for her birthday. She told me I would love it. I read the forward. It was by another author who spoke my same language. His was the first book I had ever read that caused me to respond, “If I had written a book it would have sounded like that!” The book was named Blue Like Jazz. My experience was different, my outcomes a world apart, but that voice, it was that voice that captured me and made it my favorite read ever to that point. Now the author was talking about the e book I was holding in my hands. One paragraph at the beginning, one chapter in the middle and I knew that this was not a book I could read. It spoke to me in my language, my native tongue, the idiom of my imagination. In less than 500 words it caught me, drew me in, and whisked me away to another world. At first I was tapping my toes. It wasn’t long before I was humming along. By the time I forced myself to lay the book by Bob Goff down I was full out singing the same anthem.
I have the same problem with accents, by the way. After a scant two minutes of talking to someone whose culture causes the way they speak to be lyrically different from middle Americanese, I begin to find my own language mimicking theirs. I don’t mean any disrespect. I don’t even try to do it. It just happens. Irish, Italian, various Hispanic dialects; New York, New England, Georgia, and Texas. Perhaps they notice, maybe they don’t, but I begin at least in my own understanding to sound like them.
I can, by a massive exercise of my will, resist the temptation to drawl or brogue. Perhaps I can resist voice too, but the voice is genuinely mine. I lose it from time to time while trying to speak to others in the voice that they understand. I cannot talk to my clients the way that I write. They would think I had gone mad. Perhaps the other voices are like the other accents and dialects. Perhaps they draw me away and over time I forget my own native language. Maybe reading isn’t such a bad exercise for me after all. It may be what is helping me to be true to who I am. Perhaps it’s those who speak the language of my heart who bring me back to the roots of who God created me to be. Perhaps they remind me of my distinctiveness of heritage, my unique DNA. Maybe I shouldn’t be so afraid of sounding like them that I forget to allow myself to sound like me. Can I trust myself to do that? Sometimes, maybe most of the times, and in those times when the gauge reads “not so much” perhaps I can grant myself some grace to continue and enjoy the influence. Oh, Honey! Where is that e reader?