Friday, May 31, 2013

How I Read

There is still maybe a tiny triumph for me in finishing a book. Perhaps it is a holdover from my early years of reading. Back then I had some culturally communicated sense that all those pages were an accomplishment and a virtue. I think the shift away from that started with The Lord of the Rings, read at age 13, when all of a sudden I was involved with a book so long that they had to split it into three books, and yet all its page numbers were forced to resolve into something puny under the enthrallment I felt for the narrative. Indeed, it was the first time I encountered the horror of page numbers passing by, like vacation days or bites of ice cream or blog post sentences. So since then I have been growing ever further from the idea of reading as virtuous. I don't think I need it to be virtuous. I just like it, or I'm addicted to it, or I need it to breathe or to escape. Actually it turns out there are a lot of open questions regarding motivation here.

But becoming friends with a particularly voracious reader who gives me a constant flow of recommendations, and also writing so much about books (and getting a growing list of recommendations here) has made me think more about what kind of a reader I am. I have been enjoying the term omnivorous, but many other descriptions, some perhaps more accurate, come to mind. There's gluttonous, indiscriminate, mercenary, and mercurial. I am delighted to try and strip all valuable content from a book through a use of book flaps, the epigraph, a page and a half at the start and then a couple random paragraphs. I'm more comfortable than I ever have been with reading 27 pages and thinking it's really good and never picking it up again. Of course the library is a treasure box and mostly I've adapted well to all these books promising the world. I open them up and if it becomes clear it's all lies I am equally delighted to despise the book. I can be very open minded, but sometimes a little hate is good for the heart. Wise people will tell you differently. Who knows, they could be right. You might want to test both. I love finding bits of knowledge I can pack into the shelves under the stairs in my brain. I can usually find it if you need it, but it will invariably be spindled. I enjoy reading thousands and thousands of books every year, but clerking and blogging can be time consuming so a lot of the time I stick to just reading the back cover, or the about the author, or a series of reviews on amazon. I especially enjoy it when someone tells me about a book and I can say "I won't read that." and they offer to synopsize it for me. It takes a minute and is almost as good, though usually it's much easier to get this kind of run down with movies or TV shows. But I also fall hard for books and read them over and over through the years. I love second reads because all that tension about whether I'm going to love it is replaced with a more languorous joy and anticipation of things I only vaguely remember but know I'm going to love. 

And that's about it. Mostly I was thinking if someone's going to be raving to you about The Eyre Affair or Birthday of the World and Other Stories a little context for it all can be nice. Knowing when you can disregard someone's book suggestions can be as helpful as getting a really likely recommendation. Of course, it's always a good idea to check out the back cover anyway, and the glowing quotes, and the author photo, and the first paragraph, and the epigraph, just, if you can.

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