Reading by Savoring

This morning, I googled to see if the word voracious has a verb form. I couldn’t think of  one myself: to vorace? voracify? vore? Turns out that though voracious does not, in fact, come as a verb in English, its Latin origin was vorare, which means to devour. I guess, then, that I can say “I am a voracious reader of books,” but I am limited in English to, “I devour books voraciously.”

I used to be quite proud of my voracious appetite for books. My mother’s extensive library was filled with novels like Lin Yutang’s Moment in Peking and Jules Verne’s Michael Strogoff, both of which tantalized me with their romance, tragedy, and promise of faraway lands. I would likely have gone through all our books in a year if it weren’t for the school library and the public library, both of which contributed to my reading addiction with such classics as King Matt the First by Janusz Korczak and Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott.

My love for books has not abated with the years. I often read 3-4 books at the same time, unless I get sucked irrevocably into one, and then I cannot put it down till it is finished. This happened to me most recently with A.C. Gaughen’s Lady Thief, the second Scarlet novel. I read the book in three seatings, rushing through it with baited breath, hardly pausing to turn a page. Now it is done, and I am left with a somewhat unsatisfied feeling. Had I even enjoyed the book? I ask myself. Was it good? And though I couldn’t put it down, I find I am not sure of the answer.

The word savor really ought to be the antonym of devour (or vorare). Savoring a book would be to enjoy the effect of its words, combination of words, collection of sentences. It would be to allow the trees of Sherwood Forest to rise in my imagination out of the snowy ground, to watch Scarlet slinking, nearly invisible, from tree to tree, barely leaving footmarks in the snow. It would be to change my reading habits, to pause, close my eyes, and be there on the scene. It would mean letting go of the need to know what’s next, of how the story will end.

I’ve been listening in the car again to Okay for Now, Gary D. Schmidt’s fabulous novel. Perhaps because I am unable to force the reader, Lincoln Hoppe, to read faster, perhaps because he reads so beautifully, and perhaps because I’ve read the book before, I’ve been able to savor every word, every moment. I even rewinded the story a few times to make sure I didn’t miss a word. I would very much like to change my habit and apply this savoring, this luxuriating in another author’s work, to every book I read. To paraphrase a suggestion from author James Baraz: I’d like to pick up each book and ask myself: why did the writer feel compelled to write this book, what made him or her invest so much time, attention, and love, into this particular creation?

Everywhere, we are inundated with messages telling us to enjoy every moment of life, to savor even time spent standing in line or being stuck in traffic. Thinking about my voraciousness as a reader made me wonder if the change in reading habits I am contemplating can also apply to my way of tackling life. In some situations, just as in listening to Lincoln Hoppe read, I can relax into the rhythm and savor life. In other situations, I get caught up in worry and fear and rush ahead in order to know what happens next, what will be the end. But the end is just that, the end. An end in which I am left with a somewhat unsatisfactory feeling and can’t really tell if I had enjoyed the book, the wait at the dentist’s office, or dinner with Dar, or if I just allowed the moment to pass me by.

Luckily for me, I am heading today to a National Seashore nearby for a backpacking trip, the perfect opportunity to slow down, savor the moment, reconnect with who I am inside. I am taking a book with me, of course, which I started reading with the intent of savoring. It is Terry Lynn Johnson’s Ice Dogs, and I don’t think I could have chosen a better book both for the adventure of being outdoors and the possibility of savoring life.


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Sigal Tzoore (650) 815-5109