Novel Digestion: A story deserves more than its pages

I recently finished Lois Hudson’s novel The Bones of Plenty. A few days later I picked up Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer, too soon.

I probably wouldn’t have been able to articulate this, wouldn’t have realized it about myself except for the wife being on the advisory board of the INSPYs awards. She had to finish 40-some nominated books in 40-some days; she’s finished more than 75 each of the past three years, which is quite a few if you ask me. Trying to get through one every day — that’s 356 365 every year for those of you even more mathematically challenged than myself — was very stressful. Apparently, though, others in the book blogging community that my wife regularly communicates with read more than a book a day on average.

I don’t understand why, let alone how a person would do that. The language in The Moviegoer has been beautiful in the first 20 pages, and I’m eager to get into the story.

But I can’t.

Not yet anyway. It’s too soon. It’s too soon after finishing Lois Hudson’s mesmerizing Great Depression tale. Jumping right into Percy’s poetic novel would be an affront, an injustice to her artistry. The story I just finished deserves more time. What good is it if they all run together, if there isn’t any time to chew on what a person just ingested?

I need time to digest.

Adding: I wonder if the same is true for film, to a degree. Perhaps for good film, anyway, and not most of the fluff Hollywood continues to put out (apparently because that’s what Americans vote for with their dollars, they say). But our investment into a film is so much less in general than into a book. In time, obviously, but also in imagination. Film leaves less to the imagination than a book, where we have to partially put our own faces onto the characters and further interpret the author’s description of a farmstead. The house is bright yellow; but what kind of bright yellow? Yellow like sunshine on a daffodil? Yellow like the light coming through stained glass? Even with purple prose, a book doesn’t do for us what a movie does.

About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

5 Responses to Novel Digestion: A story deserves more than its pages

  1. Yes, this. It also depends on how you read. If you read for the sheer entertainment value or the story alone and don’t enter into the book, I think it’s possible to read more books more quickly. Reading for the INSPYs for me, required me to be able to quickly abandon books that didn’t instantly engage me. I feel this could have been a loss, but it was necessary.

    Do you think you’ll finish by December? We’d love to have you join the Faith and Fiction round table.

    • pcNielsen says:

      When it comes to my own reading schedule I make no promises. If I had to guess though, it would more likely be the middle or end of December that I finish this one, if that counts. For you book bloggers these kinds of thoughts are probably old hat, but it seemed worth an entry to me in the context of TAE.

      And indeed it does depend on why you read to begin with. Very little in my own life do I do, at least it seems to me, purely for entertainment. My mind is always analyzing things, and I do enjoy this fact. There is certainly a time — though I might argue we as Americans do this way too often for our own good — for things that disengage the intellect.

  2. Thomas says:

    40 books in 40 days I could not handle. I am hoping that I can do 5 books in 7 weeks without burning out or not enjoying what I am reading. I could never make it as a book blogger.


  3. Julie says:

    I totally understand what you mean about needing to digest. The same quality is making it difficult to be making art – I’m doing a piece every day right now; maybe they are just explorations / experiments / lab work… maybe more. At the same time, taking two art history classes; we race through everything far too quickly; I know I’ll never recapture the present moment, but am ever in tension between absorbing more! more! more! and gulping it down, and pausing to sit and digest.

    • pcNielsen says:

      By the end of my BFA, I’d come to realize that college is a test of endurance as much as anything. Too bad a masters program isn’t much different in that respect?

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