Friday, November 12, 2010

Tristram Shandy, Day Twenty-Nine

I am past the midpoint of this book and Tristram is now either a few days old, or a few years old. The narrative has looped around a bit. I believe that in the main timeline, it is only a few days since Tristram's birth. His mother has gotten out of bed for the first time since her laying-in only to overhear her husband and Uncle Toby discussing the sad news that the firstborn son, Bobby, has suddenly died. We have not learned how or why, but we do know that Bobby was about to be sent off to tour Europe as all young men of station are expected to do, and we also know that Bobby was a bit of a dimwitted lad.

Other interesting news is that Tristram’s father has begun writing a book, the Tristrapedia, which will detail the necessary steps in the education of young Tristram and guarantee that he will not be so thick-headed as Bobby. It comes as no surprise to learn that for the first five years of his life, Tristram is entirely ignored as his father puts his energy into writing the Tristrapedia and not into actually raising the boy. Such is the way of the Shandys. Tristram, meanwhile, when he is a few days old (I think) has been inadvertently circumsized by a falling sash window. Ouch. And, yes, highly unlikely.

So Mr. Sterne continues to amuse and play formalist games but alas, I find that I have begun to skim over some of his digressions. That can’t be a good sign. No doubt one reason it’s taking me so long to get through this book is the tiny type and the yellowed pages; it’s just difficult to read the damned words, especially for an old man like me, reading mostly on poorly-lighted buses.


  1. I sometimes wonder if skimming is always a sign of a bad book.

    If there are digressions that you skim, or descriptions that I skim, or roosters that compel Domey to skim, or what have you... does that necessarily suggest that the writing is not up to snuff?

    The instinct for a lot of us, as both readers and writers, seems to be that that if the writing is good every single word should be savored and cherished.

    But, really, if we skim and yet walk away enjoying and understanding the book, was it a bad reading experience?

    I know analogies are limited and problematic, but I think in terms of them a lot anyway. If a group of us go to a museum and we spend a lot of time in some galleries, but take turns breezing through other galleries while some linger to absorb, does that mean the museum is less than ideal?

    Or that the museum offers something for people of various and diverse tastes?

    And does so in a way that allows breezing (or skimming).

    Given that there aren't many books whose every word is cherished by every reader, maybe skimming isn't necessarily a bad thing.

    Or maybe it depends on the reader, as much as on the writer.

    I'm not sure. I think I'm starting to ramble.

    Skim if you wish.

  2. Nevets: For me, skimming means one of two things. Either the narrative is not holding my attention (which I consider a bad thing) or I'm too tired or distracted to be reading (which I consider a bad thing). But, there are books I think of as "good books" that contain sections that made my eyes glaze over.

  3. Usually if I'm skimming, it means I'm not happy with the book; but occasionally I find myself reading a thriller at hyper speed and anything that doesn't equal a pay off - regardless of quality - must die (get skipped). Usually I can force myself to slow down or at least reread skipped material.