Saturday, June 23, 2007

Thoughts On Reading

Did you ever put your book down for some reason, just for a moment perhaps, to answer the phone or replenish your tea--and then coming back to the book you realize you've lost your place. You were so immersed in the story that your mind is still There--still in the time and place of the book--but your body is back Here--in this world, this place, this time--and so you feel momentarily disoriented, even strangely dispersed, disconnected, until you find your place in the book at last and sink your feet into the loamy soil of the story once again.

I have this memory of a rainy summer afternoon. I'm fourteen or fifteen years old. All afternoon as the rain falls I'm sitting in the rocker on the back porch, reading Great Expectations. Or maybe it was Our Mutual Friend. Or David Copperfield. Are there still teenagers like that?

Another memory. I'm older now, reading at the beach. It was maybe noon when I sat down to read. A couple of hours have gone by, but how would I really know? Perhaps it was only a moment. I look up finally from my book and there aren't as many people around. The waves have crept up the beach toward my feet, the sun has slid down the far side of its blue dome so that its rays are slanting now, and cooler. I hear the distant cries of children and gulls, carried on the salt-wind, and it comes as a small shock to me to realize that so much time had passed in this world while I was away in the world of the book.

Very few of my friends share this kind of understanding. They don't read much, and what they do read is for personal growth, like taking vitamins. They think of reading as a task, like work, or maybe like going to the dentist, or swallowing medicine. Sometimes you just have to do it, because it's good for you. But you don't love it. Many people have separated the good into two major categories. First, that which is pleasurable (oh yes, we like that). And second, that which is good for us (but probably not pleasurable). Reading, it seems, is in that second category for many of us.

And I don't understand that. And I wonder how it happened that we became, as a people, so imaginatively impoverished. Can anyone tell me how that happened?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

it's a mystery