You can’t go home to Arrakis again

Dune5Recently, a link popped up all over my Facebook thread, informing me how I could begin breezing through books at a much more rapid rate than I do. If I don't know anything more about that particular link, it's because, f that noise. I see no need to read faster. I probably need to read better, but definitely not faster.

I tend to read pretty quickly as it is. And by that, I mean I'm not a read-every-word of a book. I don't have some plan, where I skip through huge chunks or paragraphs, but I know th at my patience is such that I tend to want to move things along. More than once I've had to go back and re-read something to discover what the future segment was talking about, but that's not a common thing. I'm reading and getting the most out of the book as it is.

That said, reading a book aloud, to someone else, is definitely the way to go if you want to make sure you read every. Single. Word. Almost since we got together, I've read books aloud to M, because I love reading aloud and I'm so incredibly lucky that he likes to be read to. Occasionally, we revisit some favorites of ours, and that's how I'm learning just how much I skip or skim over in many of my favorites.

Which brings us to "Dune." I first picked up the Frank Herbert classic in 9th grade, which means that even as a precocious reader it was going to go way over my head in a bunch of places. It was the hardest book I ever read by that age, but I got through it. Why? Because I wanted to see the David Lynch movie and understand it. Okay, fine: Because Sting was in the David Lynch movie without many clothes on and I wanted to understand what I was watching. Happy now?

Years later I went on in the series, and here's your heads up: While you don't have to read all of Herbert's original series (and you can absolutely skip the "prequels" written from his notes), to enjoy the books you should go until at least the third novel. Preferably the fourth. After that are some major shifts, and you've gotten the most bang for your buck.

Those three books — "Dune," "Dune Messiah," "Children of Dune" and "God Emperor of Dune" — actually changed the way I think. Sure, lots of folks come away from reading them having memorized the Litany Against Fear, and finding that as a mantra it's quite effective. But those books gave me a fresh new perspective on religion, and myth, and how they develop and why some folks need them. It's instructive and thoughtful and an incredible combination of storytelling, world building and philosophy. 

M has never read any "Dune" books, despite being a general fan of the genre. He saw the Lynch film, saw the missteps, and didn't go back to see if the books were worth it. So we're now about 3/4 of the way through "Dune" and … well, there's a lot of stuff in there I either don't remember or never read closely enough. It's been a real education doing a close reading of that book, seeing the details and the descriptions and even some plot points that I'd clearly missed in my previous go-arounds.

It's been less fun feeling critical of the text. Which is ridiculous: It's a classic no matter what I say, and anything I have to comment on will tarnish its image by exactly zero percent. But it's surprising to learn that a classic can feature many, many scenes in which point of view switches from one character to the next, within the same scene. That's a no, as I've been told! Herbert also doesn't seem to like the conjunction "and" — people will "stand up, speak" a lot rather than "stand up and speak." And so forth. And as M noted, Herbert is really, really in love with his own language. While his descriptions don't got on and on and on, they are incredibly flowery in places, sometimes veering all the way into pretension. It's nice that he had a liberal editor. It's just … surprising.

But the real surprise to me this go-around, now that I finally understand everything that I'm reading, is just how slow it is. Events are taking place over a relatively short period of time, and there's a lot of gazing out over the sand basins. Characters repeatedly remind themselves of revelations they had some pages ago, and the endless descriptions of Paul's prescience make me want to roll my eyes. We get it. He has some kind of foresight, and he's conflicted about it. M has become concerned that P is actually a thinly-disguised Mary Sue, but I disagree: He's got some super powers, but we know largely where it all came from. In fact, the constructed nature of his messiah-hood is one of the more interesting aspects of the bok to me, now that I'm getting this close read. I'd missed that before.

Is there a point to be had here? You can't go home to Arrakis again for the first time? Maybe. I won't say that "Dune" has been downgraded in my heart as a great novel and a great story. I'm even tempted to re-read the next three books (even though M will not want them aloud). It's just interesting how over time, the stories change for us even if the words remain the same. And also, that slower reading is more eye-opening in the end than rushing through.