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A Paradox At The Heart Of Reading

Posted on 08.22.2013 at 14:10
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The other day while waiting for the bus I saw a young girl start Cat Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. At that moment I felt an overwhelming ambivalence. On the one hand, I really wanted to talk to her about it—to ask her why she picked the book up, to ask if she knew there’d be five in the series, to say I knew the author and she was a fantastic person. On the other hand—leaving aside the reasonable wariness a girl would have being approached by a man my age, even with her father nearby—I didn’t want to  disrupt her reading, especially at the very beginning, when the possibilities and mysteries are the most numerous. This to me is one of reading’s paradoxes—it isolates us (at least in some ways) even as it presents an opportunity for connection.

Most of us read alone. (I have read along with others, and it has always given me a frisson of joy.) Even when we read together, though, we read at different paces and, far more importantly, our imaginations are distinct. Sure, the fictive dreams in our heads would be similar, prompted by the author’s words, but they would not be the same. A film, meanwhile, doesn’t rely nearly as much on its audience’s co-creative powers, so our experiences are far likelier to match up. (Yes, even then our experiences won’t be identical, but I think overall the similarity would be much higher.)

And yet, we are social, have this deep-seated impulse to communicate. To share. Art seems to routinely stir this impulse. Think about it. How disappointing is it seeing a movie alone? Even more than the stigma of being alone in a theater (unfair as it may be), not having someone to talk about a movie with afterward makes the solo outing unappealing. The almost natural reaction to a film, even among people who wouldn’t think of themselves as critics, is to talk it over. I feel that desire to discuss with pretty much every artistic product, including books. Others must feel the same way. Why else would book clubs be so prevalent? Or look at the success of Goodreads and other sites designed for bibliophiles.

To some extent, that’s why I write here on [sic]—to express my thoughts on literary matters with a definite aim toward starting a conversation. (I have admittedly been writing less about specific books, something I mean to remedy soon.) I think that, post-MFA, I’m lacking that community of people to talk books with. My fellow students all read a lot, but our frames of reference are wildly different. I suppose, then, if I can’t find what I’m after, I’ll do what any artistic type does when faced with an absence in the world—create something to occupy it.


stgreyhounds at 2013-08-27 00:28 (UTC) ()
You need a book club! (I found mine through MeetUp)
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