Departments

Reading

We readers – some of us are compelled to seek the true way of reading, the one discipline that suits all books. The attractions are many. There is a sense of belonging in knowing what kind of reader you are; there is confidence in knowing exactly what you will get from a book; and there is the general attraction of any discipline in life – the focus that comes from the neglect of any concerns beyond that focus.

But we readers, after all, are people who choose to spend unusual proportions of our time alone. The value of the independence we must have to read at all holds for our choice of how to read. We do not read to rehearse an opinion, but to animate it – to produce some motion in it analogous to the biology of growth, or healing, or even decay. (Sometimes we read not to reinforce our opinions, but to escape them.) And sometimes a book should produce the same motion in the idea of reading itself.

The value of reading a book for instruction, instead of running a search; the value of reading a book for diversion, instead of participating in the lives of friends – the value is that the writer, in filling up so huge a thing as even a short book is, must call upon and involve their whole 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 of the world changes. And for a reader, experience must include reading itself.

All of which is to say that I try not to worry about what kind of reader I am or about how I should read. I change with reading, and I do not even know it until I re-read a book after a long interval and discover how different a reader I have become.