My Inside Voice

February 4, 2011

Someone I know self-published a science fiction novel a few years ago.  I was obligated to buy a copy.  It was awful—dry prose, colorless descriptions, flat characters, pointless action.

I might have survived all that and read the story.  But the author’s narration was idiotic—it didn’t provide a consistent, credible voice.  The book stuck its hand up the puppet-bum of my inner narrator and babbled nonsense.  I refused to take part in it and never finished the novel.

Rotten though it was, this atrocity of language made me think more about how I read.  I hear the words in my head.  From what I understand, not everyone does that—some people see the words and understand them, without the intermediate step of pronouncing them internally.  I believe I’m reading with what’s called inner narration.

I searched around on the internet for inner narration and what others think about it.  I didn’t find any books at all.  A couple of Answers sites (both in the UK) had discussions on the topic.  (You may draw your own conclusions about international literacy levels.)  One of the discussions was entertaining, at least.

I didn’t like my own inner narration as a child and young adult.  I read too slowly.  I didn’t know the vocabulary.  I didn’t sound like the grown-up I wanted to be.  Maybe my story choices were poor.  I sometimes chose books others would expect me to like—I was trying to show off—rather than ones I wanted to read.  As a result, I thought reading a novel was beyond me.  I read non-fiction constantly, but in bite-size portions—articles, commentary, Reader’s Digest kind of things.

All that changed in a hippy-inspired college bookstore one day.  I spotted a shiny paperback copy of Jurassic Park on the shelf.  It sported the logo from the movie that launched realistic CGI films, digital sound, the Ford Explorer and the superstardom of Michael Crichton.  I picked it up and fondled the dimpled letters.  It was $6.99—at least two meals for an engineering student paying his own tuition.  But the toothy T-Rex was too tempting to me.  I bought it.

Jurassic Park was like no other novel I had ever tried to read.  It was, as they say, a page-turner.  It didn’t make me feel stupid.  It didn’t bore me to tears.  Even though Michael Crichton failed to tell me how to pronounce procomsognathus, I muddled through.

And I kept right on reading afterwards.  Just the other day I was searching for a particular book in my house.  (I like to buy and keep my books.  They are my trophy collection—my ode to belated literacy.)  I was surprised at how many books I sifted through to find the one I wanted.  Hardcovers and paperbacks stacked on tables, stuffed in closets, loitering on the floor and, oh, standing on shelves.  Proud piles of Wodehouse, Shakespeare, Bronte, Sedaris, McEwan, Austin and Forster.

I’m happy with my inner narration these days.  It grew up, finally.  It’s polished, a tad snotty, elegantly authoritative.  A bit like Peter Jennings.  A lot like me.  And I get to laugh when it has to say “puppet-bum.”


One comment

  1. I have the same thing! It causes me to read the same sentences over and over sometimes.

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