not reading enough

October 8, 2019

I’ve been joking with the others in my workshop that I’m on the Reading Recovery programme this year. Ha ha. But when I had my first meeting with Damien, and tried presenting this as an amusing quirk — ‘Oh! and did I mention? I don’t read, really’ — he did look a bit alarmed. Writers are all so different, he said, but the one thing all writers must also be is readers. And I said, ‘Well, yes, OK, I’m not saying this is a good thing.’

I remember once, a few years ago, I asked my friend Amelia what she was planning to do that evening. She said, ‘I think I’ll go home and read my book’. ‘My book’. That phrase — the ‘my’ and then the ‘book’ — made me feel a pang of resentment. I don’t have a book. Even when I’m reading something, I don’t think of it as ‘my’ book, but rather, as ‘a’ book.

So I have been thinking about my relationship with books and clearly it is not an easy one. I feel guilty for not reading enough, and jealous of people who do read. I admit that yesterday when I saw a woman on the 23 bus with José Saramago’s Blindness cradled on her lap, I actually hated her.

Emma Kate Martin
Excerpts from a Reading Journal, 2009

close a book

March 12, 2019

Books, like landscapes, leave their marks in us. Sometimes these traces are so faint as to be imperceptible  –  tiny shifts in the weather of the spirit that do not register on the usual instruments. Mostly, these marks are temporary: we close a book, and for the next hour or two the world seems oddly brighter at its edges; or we are moved to a kindness or a meanness that would otherwise have gone unexpressed. Certain books, though, like certain landscapes, stay with us even when we have left them, changing not just our weathers but our climates.

Robert Macfarlane
Landmarks

Sappho in Her Study

February 26, 2019

The files in the filing cabinet
Are all talking at once.
Mumble jumble, say the files
In the filing cabinet.

The desk, discreet,
Discloses nothing.

Rough drafts live
A roustabout life,
Tumbling from shelves,

While books, published
and smugly replete,
No longer feel the need
To compete.

Stationery sprawls,
Casual as sunbathers.

In the locked drawer,
Love letters lie.

Kelly Cherry

A real book reads us. I have been read by Eliot’s poems and by Ulysses and by Remembrance of Things Past and by The Castle for a good many years now, since early youth. Some of these books at first rejected me; I bored them. But as I grew older and they knew me better, they came to have more sympathy with me and to understand my hidden meanings. Their nature is such that our relationship has been very intimate. No literature has ever been so shockingly personal as that of our time — it asks every question that is forbidden by polite society.

Lionel Trilling
On the Modern Element in Modern Literature
Partisan Review January/February 1961

books

January 31, 2019

How marvellous books are, crossing worlds and centuries, defeating ignorance and, finally, cruel time itself.

Gore Vidal
Julian: A Novel

Reading at night –

January 18, 2019

I read at night, until three or four in the morning. The darkness around you adds greatly to the absolute passion that develops between you and the book. Don’t you find that? In a way, daylight dissipates the intensity.

Marguerite Duras
The Suspended Passion: Interviews
trans. Chris Turner

If books disappear

November 27, 2018

You said that we owe literature almost everything we are and what we have been. If books disappear, history will disappear, and human beings will also disappear. I am sure you are right. Books are not only the arbitrary sum of our dreams, and our memory. They also give us the model of self-transcendence. Some people think of reading only as a kind of escape: an escape from the “real” everyday world to an imaginary world, the world of books. Books are much more. They are a way of being fully human.

Susan Sontag
Letter to Jorge Luis Borges dated June 13, 1996

Reading

October 27, 2018

Books to read

Today you can buy the Dialogues of Plato for less than you would spend on a fifth of whisky, or Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire for the price of a cheap shirt. You can buy a fair beginning of an education in any bookstore with a good stock of paperback books for less than you would spend on a week’s supply of gasoline.

Often I hear people say they do not have the time to read. That’s absolute nonsense. In one year during which I kept that kind of record, I read twenty-five books while waiting for people. In offices, applying for jobs, waiting to see a dentist, waiting in a restaurant for friends, many such places. I read on buses, trains and planes. If one really wants to learn, one has to decide what is important. Spending an evening on the town? Attending a ball game? Or learning something that can be with you your life long?

Byron’s Don Juan I read on an Arab dhow sailing north from Aden up the Red Sea to Port Tewfik on the Suez Canal. Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson I read while broke and on the beach in San Pedro. In Singapore, I came upon a copy of The Annals and Antiquities of Rajahstan by James Tod.

Louis L’Amour
The education of a wandering man

 

sum of our dreams

September 13, 2018

sky trees and sea

Books are not only the arbitrary sum of our dreams, and our memory. They also give us the model of self-transcendence. Some people think of reading only as a kind of escape: an escape from the “real” everyday world to an imaginary world, the world of books. Books are much more. They are a way of being fully human.

I’m sorry to have to tell you that books are now considered an endangered species. By books, I also mean the conditions of reading that make possible literature and its soul effects. Soon, we are told, we will call up on “bookscreens” any “text” on demand, and will be able to change its appearance, ask questions of it, “interact” with it. When books become “texts” that we “interact” with according to criteria of utility, the written word will have become simply another aspect of our advertising-driven televisual reality. This is the glorious future being created, and promised to us, as something more “democratic.” Of course, it means nothing less than the death of inwardness – and of the book.

Susan Sontag
Letter to Borges

turned into writers

September 11, 2018

Morning mist

Like many others who turned into writers, I disappeared into books when I was very young, disappeared into them like someone running into the woods. What surprised and still surprises me is that there was another side to the forest of stories and the solitude, that I came out that other side and met people there. Writers are solitaries by vocation and necessity. I sometimes think the test is not so much talent, which is not as rare as people think, but purpose or vocation, which manifests in part as the ability to endure a lot of solitude and keep working. Before writers are writers they are readers, living in books, through books, in the lives of others that are also the heads of others, in that act that is so intimate and yet so alone.

Rebecca Solnit
The Faraway Nearby