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The Rhythm Method

I usually have at least two books going: one for whenever and one for when I’m in bed. You’ve got to choose the bed books carefully, however–too exciting and you’ll be up all night, too slow and you’ll never finish. Right now, my bed book is Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, and it’s pretty much perfect. One of the most amazing things about it is the rhythm. It’s not often I read novels in which the rhythm of the sentences actually stands out over other syntactical or grammatical elements.

Here’s the first sentence: “I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I’m old, and you said, I don’t think you’re old.”

The line has its own dramatic arc: it starts out with a slow, steady build, then, with the aid of a series of pauses and the repetition of “said” achieves something like a climax–in both form and content–which then resolves into a perfect dénouement.

There are a couple directions I could go with this post… but instead of choosing I’ll have it both ways. First of all, do other people make decisions about what to read at night using criteria similar to mine? If so, what do you recommend? What are good bed books? And secondly, are there any other books you can think of written with such rhythmically forward prose?

9 thoughts on “The Rhythm Method

  1. great post, shya! i usually have 3-5 books going at once. i read philosophy-type things in the morning. depending on how “into it” i am, i’ll also rotate novels in the morning. recently, in bed, i’ve been making my way through proust, who i think writes rhythmically forward prose. i tend to read canonical books at night. i will also read people’s journals & letters in bed. i don’t know why. it’s just worked out that way recently.

    i read newer (esp. small press books) in the morning b/c i find they require a different type of attention.

    i read more slowly at night, esp. in bed. i savor. in the morning, i’m more frantic & frenetic. does that even make sense?

    1. If I read in the morning, I might do philosophy too–it makes sense as I’m most alert then. But for that very reason, those hours are devoted to writing and/or editing my own work. I know, I know, it’s very selfish of me to devote my best time to my own work!

  2. hmmm, typically, I have three books going –

    Night time in Bed – poetry or something else “small in chapter”. Since there is a good chance, I will be asleep in minutes, it has to be quickly self-contained. Currently, a Keyhole issue.

    Car – I listen to books on CD a bunch. Typically history or non-fiction. Something I would never read, and something that if I do not finish, it is not the end of the world. Currently, The World Without Us.

    “Regular” book – something I always have with me, reading all the time. Lately, a book by H. Selby – The Waiting Room.
    However, I have scrapped my regular book time to research all aspects of a novel (?) I am starting.

    1. I enjoy a book on tape now and then myself. But since I don’t commute, I rarely have occasion for it. I listened to Founding Brothers on my most recent cross-country trip, and consider it time well spent.

  3. my day book right now is Bernhard’s “Correction,” which I fear I will never finish, and which might work better as a bed book.

    I guess my bed book is Barry Hannah’s “Ray,” but I mostly just flip to a random page and read for however long. except it’s not really a bed book, because I read it all the time. I fear I have stopped reading books.

      1. good idea. next time I pick up Ray, I’ll start with the last sentence. I bet it won’t read too differently.

    1. Alec, I read Correction first as a bed book then as a day book. There is something wonderfully pre-somnolent about Bernhard’s rhythms, particularly in that book. That book changed me – don’t give up on it!

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