Description: The first milestone. Being a continuation of last week's noodlings on reading.
Date: 4 September 2003
The salutation of "Readers 57 & 58" probably alludes to whatever site meter I had at the time. This piece is okay, but I'm disappointed that I didn't get into the category of "notreading."
I ended last week's disquisition with the implication that I would pick up on the same theme, reading, this week. Sorry to say I'm not sure what I was thinking. But an implication is a promise, and I keep my promises (at least if they still interest me when they come due.) One thing I may have been alluding to is the material sensation of reading a book. I mean the heft of the book, the shape of the type. I start every year by beginning a 'big book' that I've been meaning to read, and one of the great rewards of this ritual is the joy of turning over the first page on New Years Day. It helps if you have a well-made book, like Knopf has always published, but many of the books I've read are used paperbacks which barely hold together, which have a charm of their own.
Or I may have been thinking about relating an autobiography of myself as a reader. This is one of the things that Guy Davenport does in his essay which set me thinking about all this in the first place. There are of course crucial reading events in my life, and books I associate with certain times and places. Once I wrote a comics-reading autobiography, which I may track down and post in a pinch. But even though I recognize that reading is contingent on other events in a life, its essence is in a mind confronting a text, which I think may be "purer" and less situationally bound than some would say. There's more to, say The Man In the High Castle than there was when I read it as a broody teen. In a sense, I'm still reading that book, and many others, because my engagement with it continues. Reading is continual revision, with long or short memory filling in the gaps.
Possibly I was thinking about the phenomenology of reading, of a mind entering a text (and a text entering a mind), that Sven Birkerts writes about in The Gutenberg Elegies. Birkets speaks of the escape to the interior that reading brings, where one forgets one's physical place in the world. But this is rarely my experience. I am always conscious that I am reading. I'm always looking at some part of a text, trying to put it together with other parts and other texts. Reading is work, very pleasurable work, not escape. Once I took a class in which a student criticized Joyce's "excessive" artifice for reminding us that we are reading, and not letting us retreating into the story. I can't imagine that Joyce would accept this as a criticism, nor can I imagine a book worth reading that doesn't assert itself as a book and therefore value its own reading. So powerful is the sway of reading that sometimes I think I'm reading when I'm not reading. In fact, I rather think I'm reading right now.
This makes the tenth consecutive week of "Simplest Things Last." I'm surprised I've made it this far, both because of the time it takes (which turns out to be not that much) and because of my reticent nature (a stronger factor than you might guess). The time really isn't that significant, and like reading, this writing is time regained. You have to steal the time away, and for me the experience of reading is fleeting. Strong reading, for me, is an act of memory, which fixes the elusive content of a book. Hence, Simplest Things Last.
In these past two entries I've strayed farther from my intent, to review specific artistic achievements, then I'd intended. So in coming weeks you can expect, O Readers 57 and 58, readings of some of the new albums and comics and everything I've got stacked up, and eventually a full explanation of my title.
movie: Guy Maddin's Dracula
books: I finished Cheever!