I wasn’t sure what it would get me, what approval it might win, or how long it might take to complete (forever, I had an inkling), but for once those weren’t my first concerns. Alone in my room, congested and exhausted, I forgot my obsession with self-advancement. I wanted to lose myself. I wanted to read. Instead of filling in the blanks, I wanted to be a blank to be filled in.
WALTER KIRN, from Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever
“You never dip into the same book twice.”*
Systematic reading is of little help. Following an official book list (of classics, of literary history, of censored or recommended reading, of library catalogues) may, by chance, throw up a useful name, as long as we bear in mind the motives behind the lists. But the best guides, I believe, are the reader’s whims—trust in pleasure and faith in haphazardness—which sometimes leads us into a makeshift state of grace, allowing us to spin gold out of flax.
All true readings are subversive, against the grain, as Alice, a sane reader, discovered in the Looking-Glass world of mad name givers. The Duchess calls mustard “a mineral”; the Cheshire Cat purrs and calls it “growling”; a Canadian prime minister tears up the railway and calls it “progress”; a Swiss businessman traffics in loot and calls it “commerce”; an Argentinean president shelters murderers and calls it “amnesty.” Against such misnomers readers can open the pages of their books. In such cases of willful madness, reading helps us maintain coherence in the chaos. Not to eliminate it, not to enclose experience within conventional verbal structures, but to allow chaos to progress creatively on its own vertiginous way. Not to trust the glittering surface of words but to burrow into the darkness.
ALBERTO MANGUEL, A Reader on Reading. New Haven, Conn : Yale UP, 2010 7-8.
Photo: Amy Ng