Kage Baker had an odd way of reading books. She started from the middle, and worked her way out in long curves through the text; like reading a nautilus shell.
She’d read a little in the center; then a few pages from almost – but not quite – the back. Back to the front, to establish who the hell she was reading about in the first place. Back to the middle again. If there were illustrations – and to her dying day, Kage felt the only real books were ones with illustrations – she’d study each one, usually in reverse order, before she read more than a few pages of text.
She’d read the foreword, the afterword and the dedication. She read the blurbs and the jacket copy- blurbs became a huge thing in her life as her own writing career went on, and so she studied and analyzed them. She despaired when her own blurbs made no sense (and it happens, it really does, even to authors who oversee the entire process) and so when asked to write one for someone else, she always went at it very carefully. It might only be a sentence or two, but she wanted it to be nice, tempting to the reader and above all – accurate.
There’s a reviewer out there who thinks The House of The Stag is Christian symbolism. That made Kage insane, and she almost broke her personal rule against arguing with reviewers. She did ask pointedly in several public fora if that particular reviewer actually read the books they reviewed – their reviews are noted among many hapless authors for egregious bizarrity – but that was as close as Kage got to a quarrel.
Despite this weirdly non-Euclidian approach to reading a novel, Kage did absorb entire books in a swift and competent manner. There was no noticeable difference in her retention of plot and character and mine – me, who starts obsessively with the copyright data (I do. It’s a personal flaw …) and reads right through to the end. Usually including the information on the font used, the excerpt from the next novel (who doesn’t like previews?) and a glamour shot of the author.
I took straight lines, Kage took meandering paths through alternate universes. We both got to the end, and usually turned out to have read the same book. What always amazed me was that even when she re-read a book – her beloved Stevenson, or the Patrick O’Brian mega-novel – Kage read them that same way. In serpentine curves, in little back and forth canters through the plot; like reading Braille engraved on a sea shell. Backwards. In the dark.
How did she process it? I have no idea. I’m pretty sure, though, that it was no more or less than how she saw the hours of the days she lived through. Kage didn’t move through Time in a straight line; cause and effect, for her perceptions, were on interchangeable gears and switched places regularly. Ever see those trick machines with elliptical gears? They interact, but not in a regular rhythm. The track for some of them is a Moebius curve, and the escapement gear is an eternity sign …
I’m pretty sure that was going on inside Kage’s head. If it wasn’t, it was certainly how she saw what was going on outside it. I’ve only begun to suspect this since she died, but I think she really didn’t see Time in the Follow The Arrow To The Exit fashion most of us do. I think she made polite noises about it so as not to embarrass the rest of us, or have to waste time explaining – but things like the way she read gave her away. She saw things, she read things, from the inside out – on curves with only one surface, walking through the walls in as unobtrusive a manner as she could manage.
It makes following her act very hard. It’s like those weird pointilistic pictures where – if you let the focus of your eyes slip sideways and inside out – suddenly the candy-coloured balls reveal a bunny or a doughnut or a humourous sign hovering above the background of the picture. It always makes me feel like my retinas are being sprained. I can feel the movement in the tissue of my eyes, rotating through normal angles into something else.
Somewhere else. Somewhere Kage saw, all the time.