Departments

Reading

I want to make the argument for isolation, uncertainty, and dissipation in reading. Something in readers compels seeking the true way of reading, the one discipline that suits all books. The attractions are many. There is the sense of belonging in knowing what kind of reader you are; there is the confidence of knowing exactly what you will get from a book; there is the general attraction of focus in life, given by the relief of concerns beyond that focus. But readers, after all, are people who choose to spend unusual proportions of their time alone. The benefits of the independence and self-guidance a reader must possess to read at all hold for the choice of how to read. A reader does not read to rehearse an opinion, but to enliven it, to produce some motion in it analogous to the biology of growth, or healing, or death. If the book can produce the same motion in the idea of reading itself, why not permit it to? Some books are more focused than others; but the value of books as a medium is in their capacity. The benefits of reading a book for instruction, instead of running a search, or of reading a book for diversion, instead of participating in the lives of friends, is that writers, in filling up so huge a thing as even a short book, must call upon and involve their whole original experience and sense of the world, must turn themselves inside-out in such a way that someone else can put them on. If reading is to be creative—and why not let it be, if it can—then it must be by a parallel inversion, a counterpoint to writing in which reading calls on and involves you as writing does; which must therefore be subject to change as your experience and sense of the world changes. And for someone who chooses to be a reader, experience and sense must include reading itself. All of which is to say that I do not worry much about what kind of reader I am nor how I should read. I change and imperceptibly until I re-read a book after a long interval and discover how different a reader I have become.