Of Asymptotes and Allusions

September 3, 2012 at 10:26 pm Leave a comment

I had a lot of free time this weekend because of Labor Day, and you can bet that I spent a good portion of it reading! After I started Olaudah Equiano, I jumped back into Clarissa. I read my portion for the day, but, when I reached the end, I decided to read just a little more. Why? Because the previous letters led me to believe that something big was going to happen soon. For the sake of those who haven’t read this book, I won’t say what this event is, only that it would be big.

So I read the next day. And when I got to the end of that I thought, “Oh, just a little more.” And on and on until I realized that the author was probably holding out on us until the end of the volume. Now, when I’d started that day, I was somewhere around 60% through the volume (I’m reading the e-book version. I don’t want to carry a 1000+ page novel around with me!). 40% is a LONG time to wait for something to happen. Now, you could argue that Samuel Richardson (the author) was using suspense very effectively, but I counter argue that it’s an ANNOYING kind of suspense. I was still waiting for “it” to happen when I just gave up for the day. That is NOT what you want your readers to do; there is such a thing as too-drawn-out, and this crossed the line.

When we bring into consideration that this event has been tossed around by various characters as a possibility since the previous volume (at least, I’m too lazy to go back and check), I can’t help but marvel at it in an odd kind of way. Think about it: it’s an event that gets closer and closer, bit by bit, but it never actually gets to where all this build up is going. That’s right, Samuel Richardson has invented the literary asymptote!

An asymptote graphed on my new calculator. For those not familiar with asymptotes, I kind of envy you. Seriously, though, an asymptote is a line that approaches a certain point (in this case zero, represented by the horizontal line), but never actually touches or crosses it, as we can see here. It keeps going along its curve, slowing down bit by bit. First it’s halfway there. Then there’s only a quarter of the way left. Then maybe a sixth of the way left… Maybe later it’s just an itty-bitty millionth away, but it’s still not there. It will NEVER GET THERE!

So by the time I gave up on “it” happening, I’d already gotten myself pretty far ahead of schedule. So the next day, after The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was fixed (See the previous post I decided to switch to that.

So, just a couple more quick thoughts. I always find it interesting when an author seems to express an opinion about the book they’re writing within the book they’re writing. For an example, you can think of my review of The Time Machine in which I mention H. G. Wells expressing opinions about Utopia fiction of his time period.

Of course, usually when an author does this, it’s to say, “Look how amazing I am!” by pointing out some literary thing they’d done well. So I was surprised when one of the Sherlock Holmes stories started out with Sherlock Holmes offering some observations and mild criticism of the job that Watson is doing in publishing reports of his cases. I found it particularly interesting because, since the book is set up as though the stories we are reading are the ones actually published by Watson, it makes complete sense that Holmes would know about them and have an opinion. I’ll have to give Arthur Conan Doyle credit on this one; he let his hero stay true to character rather than having him praise the stories that “Watson” is telling.

My second thought pertains to “The Adventure of Silver Blaze”. Holmes points out an important clue by saying “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.” Of course, he means that something about what the dog did during the night is important to the case, but when I read that phrase my mind immediately jumped to the book of the same name, which I’ve read previously for the 1001 list. I was delighted to discover an allusion that I hadn’t known the existence of. I suppose in some cases you can continue learning things about a book even after you’ve read it!

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Entry filed under: 1001, Books. Tags: , , , .

Book Doctor Juggling Books

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