Tuesday, January 24, 2012
i read therefore i am
spud was wittering on facebook the other day about reading. she'd been listening to a radio program where various writers talked about what reading meant to them. i wanted to immediately go and listen to the program, but i stopped myself, because i wanted to think about the question myself, without the filter of someone else's answer.
reading. i do it daily. and i don't mean all of the reading i do on a computer screen - i mean reading with an actual book in hand. i cannot fall asleep without reading at least a little bit before turning out the light. sometimes i fall asleep with a book in my hand and wake up in the middle of the night with it fallen on my chest and turn off the light. i come by this honestly, as my father does this too. i think when he wakes up to find the light on, he just reads a little bit more, where i tend to turn off the light and put down the book.
and although i can see the convenience of reading on an iPad or other device (what? there are other devices?), i still prefer the heft and solidity of an actual book in my hand. and tho' i largely read newspapers online, i do also love the sound of a turned page and the smell of a real newspaper, especially on sunday. it's strange, i have a sort of separation in my head as to what it's ok to read electronically and what has to be read as an actual book - sherlock holmes, that was just fine on the iPad, but murakami? i want to hold the actual book in my hand.
as i've admitted previously, i am unafraid to write in books. including library books, tho' i've been trying to restrain of late. it was one thing to have a dialogue in the marginalia of the books in the reg at the U of C, it's quite another to leave my musings in a book belonging to the royal library in copenhagen.
i think it's difficult to say exactly what reading gives to me - especially the reading of novels. i suppose it's largely a way of processing the world. of coming to terms with human motivations and feelings and reactions. a means of being transported to another place and time, to witness events. to come to a deeper understanding through metaphor (think life of pi, which is one long metaphor about humans pushed to their outer limits - tho' i hate the ending of that book). when i read jonathan franzen, i feel he has looked deep into my midwestern roots and wrung the very meaning from them, helping me to arrive at a better understanding of myself.
from the mind of a seemingly rational madman like raskolnikov to the mess of madame bovary to the prototype of brave, independent, smart girls i found in both the laura ingalls wilder books and trixie belden mysteries i read as a kid...i found the models that have shaped my understanding of the world. i would go so far as to say that my models of the world are built of the blocks of all that i've read.
i think literature can, like theatre and art, help us to a deeper understanding of events and people and places. for example, i have a clearer picture of the tensions that still exist today between china and japan thanks to reading the novels of murakami. and my love of the russianness and the depths of the russian soul comes far more from dostoevsky, gogol and bulgakov than from putin. perhaps my lack of much of an understanding of the world wars of the last century is because i've never really read novels that interpreted those events.
i heard on the radio the other day about a small theatre in copenhagen that's planning on staging a play based on the manifesto written by norwegian mass murderer anders breivik. even before it's been written and anyone knows what it is, there are many opinions about it. mostly outrage. but i think it's a brave thing to do. not to give voice to that cold-blooded murderer, but because art - theatre, literature, painting - is the very best means we humans have to get at an understanding of ourselves. how better to come to terms with the horror of what he did than to explore it through art?
why do you read? and what does it give you?