Saturday, March 13, 2004

Inna (my French roommate's sister) and I once decided to read The Hot Zone together. We both had read it once the week before. We wanted to read it again. Ebola is neat. Of course, it's scary, too, but it is so morbidly gross one can't help but be attracted to it. But our urge to read it struck at the exact same time. We only had one copy. So we had to sit together and read it.

Reading from the same book at the same time requires that both parties read at the same speed or that one reader slows down. Nothing is worse than coming to the end of a page, dangling on a the werewolf, its teeth dripping with blood-flecked saliva, stood over the cowering nun and... And what?!!!

While one waits for the other reader to catch up, there are a few acitivities to while the time. One could reread the two opened pages, concentrating on the words skipped in the mad rush to find out if the werewolf got through the convent doors. Overlooked details take the stage. The werewolf is wearing rags that resemble the itinerant apple picker's overalls! A clue to the werewolf's identity! The nun's too-large wimple alludes to her impending bee sting! Foreshadowing!

One could also watch the expression on the other reader's face. The horror is evident as she discovers that the Japanese paper doors the convent added to attract maidens seeking a more zen-like Catholic experience are no match for the superhuman strength of the werewolf. The mild relief when the werewolf gets a papercut, followed by the crescendo of terror as the werewolf bandages its paw. The slower reader's face contorts back and forth through these emotions.

When the slow reader finally turns the page, the faster reader has to recall the aniticipation felt on the previous page. The wasted seconds provide an opportunity for the slower reader to gain a few words. With the slower reader ahead, the faster reader can hope to reach the end of the second page at roughly the same time. Sometimes, when both readers reach the nun's bodice hung only by an unraveling stitch, the page can be immediately turned. More often, however, the faster reader misjudges the slower reader's pace. The faster reader hurries to catch up and consequently overtakes the slower reader again.

This invariably disappoints when, on the next page, we find that the scene cuts from the half-naked nun in the clutches of the beast to Mother Superior calculating the convent's laundry expenses for a whole chapter, wholly unaware of the profanity occurring in the adjoining cell.

The one benefit of reading boring chapters together is that the slower reader will remember to scrub the bathroom tiles. This leaves the faster reader in sole possession of the book.

Once the slower reader returns, the faster reader is already at the aftermath of the nun's werewolf ordeal. As the two readers are now in different parts of the book, a wall separates their positions in the book. The slower reader leans over to the left to read her section, and the faster reader leans to the right to get in all the words on the vertical tuft of pages. Obviously Japanese and traditional Chinese novels reverse these positions. Once this wall separates the two readers, the faster reader can read at an unchecked speed. The drawback is that the faster reader must muzzle his mouth after a satisfying conclusion.

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