On Reading Slowly

March 24, 2015 at 12:12 am 1 comment

indexIt took me ages to start my full reread of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, better known as the inspiration for HBO’s A Game of Thrones. The series is nothing short of epic, five books and 4,272 pages of battle scenes, incognito heirs, queens in exile, twincest, secret shadows, knights on the run, and a mysterious supernatural threat to the Seven Kingdoms. Winter is coming.

This is not an easy series to wrap one’s head around. It is complex in the best possible way, and author George R. R. Martin demands a lot from his reader. You are meant to keep track of how one bannerman associated with one character in one storyline connects with a boy associated with another character in another plot; to remember hair colors and eye colors and what they can mean when they appear in unexpected places; to retain dozens of exotic-sounding names and peoples in a storyline happening half a world away from the rest of the tale; and to remember enough of what you are told about this world’s history to recognize the impact of it on the events currently unfolding. You’re meant to understand the rudiments of at least three religious belief systems, and evaluate and potentially accept the presence of various sorts of magic potentially derived from various sources.

All of this, while being swept up in a web of complex politics based on The War of the Roses with influences from Lord of the Rings and Arthurian romance. It’s no wonder Martin keeps pushing back the release of his next work, and actually forgot about half of his characters in A Feast for Crows. And it’s no wonder I put off delving back into this world.

I have a horrible habit of reading very quickly. It’s a habit I blame for not being able to remember the names of minor characters, sometimes even plot turns in books I have read and enjoy. For example, I wrote my master’s thesis on His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, and I cannot actually tell you what happens in the second book of that trilogy. I have no idea whatsoever.

SO I skimmed through these the last time, and though I still loved them, I thought they were super-dense, hard to follow, not terribly engaging….but I suspected the fault was mine, and that the books would reward a careful, slow reading. They command respect; they demand your full attention, and insist that you decide they are worth the time, effort, and focus to follow Martin wherever he goes. There’s a part in A Game of Thrones where a man is dragged on foot behind a horse — that’s what reading these works reminds me of, sometimes. Follow and keep up, or give up and die.

Unlike being dragged behind a horse, though, the experience is actually rewarding. Once you slow down, you can see the incredible, intricate detail with which Martin has crafted these masterworks. Martin uses various perspectives to turn his characters, jewel-like, so you can see how the light shines off of every facet and determine for yourself what you believe to be true about them, and how to reconcile (or not reconcile) their actions with their reputation, or with their words, or even with other actions they’ve taken. It is genius.

You are free to flip back and forth, finding the last thing you read about Rhaegar Targaryen, for example, or The Hound, and contrasting it with another character’s view, deciding who you trust and carrying forward from there. It’s an incredibly rich experience, and I only wish I had been reading these in paperback rather than on my Kindle, where I could annotate them and post-it flag them to my heart’s content.

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