Monday, March 25, 2013

See Now Then

See Now Then: A Novel

A few years ago I went to a reading by Georgia authors Terry Kay and Lauretta Hannon. During his presentation, Kay talked about the importance of rhythm in the language an author employs. He talked about reading your work aloud and getting a sense of its rhythm before you call it done.

When I'm reading a novel, my awareness level isn't that sharp. I'm paying attention to the elements of the story itself - the plot, the characters - so that the language, for the most part, is secondary. Something might jump out at me - like the repeated use of a certain word, but the truth is, I am a shallow reader. I'm ankle deep in the experience, not knee, not neck. Ankle.

Last week, I plucked Jamaica Kincaid's SEE NOW THEN from the library shelf of new audio books. I knew nothing about it, but recognized the author's name. After a cursory skim of the synopsis, I figured I'd give it a try. I hadn't read or listened to any of Kincaid's work so why not?

Impressions are made on first encounters. If my introduction to you is when you are cutting me off in traffic, I'm going to think you're an asshole. I'm not going to waste any time considering how you might be late for an appointment or you just got off the phone with the school nurse and you have to go pick up a sick kid at school or that you don't really know where you're going and had to get across that lane before you miss your exit. Nope. You're just a jerk who risked both our lives by cutting into my lane on I75.

Conversely, if I'm driving through a busy parking lot and you're the nice person who stops and waves me on so that I can get to the spot I've spied, I'm sure in that moment that you are definitely not a jerk.

And so it is with this novel SEE NOW THEN. If my first encounter with this work had been the hardback (read an excerpt here), I wouldn't have made it through a couple of pages before I gave up. What's more, I likely would never again have tried to read something by Jamaica Kincaid. As you can see from reviews, this is not an easy read. Set aside the argument about whether it's autobiographical or not (and why is it that we care so much about that?), but the way Kincaid has employed repetition, in particular, drives readers mad. Stark raving, one star review giving mad.

But if you are introduced, as I was, to this novel as an audio experience, read by the author?

Wow. Now I understand what Terry Kay meant all those years ago. Rhythm.

SEE NOW THEN is a novel to be listened to, listened to, listened to.


  1. Ah hah.

    My mom tried to get me into audiobooks years ago, but I didn't get it.

    I can see how they might be a nice alternative to listening to the same music CDs over and over again on a long drive, though.

  2. Gladasya!

    (I may have to try that book; I bounced off Kincaid about twenty years ago, so maybe I've changed.)

    Are tendrils of spring beginning to curl around your feet?

  3. interesting.

    there is a big difference in writing for it to be heard versus being read, i have learned that. will see if i cont find it on audio.

  4. book listening interrupts my thoughts with noise, disallows my pauses. can't do it.

  5. I listen to half of the books I "read" anymore.

  6. I'm afraid I'll crash if I listen to an audio book on the road. Not that I ever have, I just project that scenario in my mind and, therefore, do not routinely purchase audio anything unless I can sing at the top of my lungs to it. But you make me curious.

    Pootly nautch,
    Fragrant Liar

  7. I'm a reader rather than a listener. I read the excerpt from your link and was immediately reminded of the opening of Alice Walker's 'The Color Purple'. I loved the way she developed Celie's character for us by her growing comfort with the written language.

  8. I could barely make it through the rambling intro

  9. I see/hear you. A beautiful but tricky excerpt, requiring lots of rereading for me too. I am reading a book like that now too. I'd probably enjoy audiobooks as I drive so much, but I'd be worried my thoughts would wander off anyway, I'm so brainless.

    But I'd love to hear an author like Kincaid reading her own words.

  10. Didn't click. There is something intimate about reading a book. You control the pace. I don't think I could allow someone else to do that. Then again, age-related macular degeneration runs in my family, so when I'm in my 70s, may have no other option.

  11. I love this post because it makes me think of audio books in a new light. If you're often "ankle deep" when reading a novel, that's about what I am when I listen to one. Granted, I've only given the audiobook thing a go but a few times, but each time I had a difficult time maintaining my concentration. (But maybe that's changed now since I've lately been eating up good radio journalism?) When I read, meanwhile, the rhythms of the language and the book go deep for me. I listened to just a few moment of Kincaid reading and could easily see how she drew you in.

  12. "He talked about reading your work aloud and getting a sense of its rhythm before you call it done."

    I always do that, with my blog posts & my novel.

  13. My husband really likes tolisten to books - I have not tried it. Your explaination give me another reason to do so.


And then you say....

(Comments submitted four or more days after a post is published won't appear immediately. They go into comment moderation to cut down on spam.)