Some thoughts on long books, withdrawn library books, and reading to define our own experience (the last from Alberto Manguel).
I have noticed this many times in the past. When I’m reading a really long book (most recently Don Quixote), the beginning 200 pages take forever. I feel like it’s a novel that will take months to get through, that it will never end. Sometimes this is okay, but in the case of Don Quixote, I didn’t like it so I dreaded the rest.
Once I get through the bulk of the book, however, it began to go much quicker. The last 200 pages were a breeze. I’ve noticed on books I like too: the last 200 pages are much faster reading.
Have you noticed that too?
I recently saw a copy of NYRB’s Love in a Fallen City by Eileen Chang at my libraries’ book sale! I was delighted to take a copy home with me. Until I realized that this particular copy is the one I checked out from the library last year. It has been withdrawn from circulation. Now no one can check it out.
This has prompted me to rethink my “read from my own shelves” goal. I now want to go check out all of my favorite books just to ensure they will remain on the shelves. It breaks my heart that books are withdrawn. I’m assuming it was because it hadn’t been circulating (I was the only one, maybe, to check it out?).
Librarians, please chime in. Are book withdrawal decisions all about circulation numbers? It makes me so sad that now no one else in the library district can read this particular book.
In his first essay in Into the Looking-Glass Wood (published 1998), Alberto Manguel dicusses the ways in which reading helps us assign words to our own experience. Some choice quotes:
Words, the names of things, give experience its shape. The task of naming belongs to every reader. …Readers must make books theirs (page 14).
The books we read assist us in naming a stone or a tree, a moment of joy or despair, the breathing of a loved one or the kettle-whistle of a bird, by shining a light on an object, a feeling, a recognition, and saying to us that this here is our heart … (page 15).
Systematic reading is of little help. Following an official book list (of classics, …) may, by chance, throw up a useful name, as long as we bear in mind the motives behind the lists. The best guides, I believe are the reader’s whims — trust in pleasure and faith in haphazardness — which sometimes lead us into a makeshift stat of grace, allowing us to spin gold out of flax. (page 16)
Do you agree? How does reading help you define your experiences?
I feel it does for me. For me, I think maybe Jane Eyre’s recognition of herself. Elizabeth Bennett’s feelings toward Darcy. (I was always a romantic.)
What about his last statement? Do you find that systematic reading helps you define experiences, or is whimsical reading more helpful?
I personally am conflicted by his comments here. I see what he’s saying: reading a course work of books is not going to necessarily help one come to understand his or her own life. I personally am trying to read more on a whim these days. But, I find that reading through the lists of classics helps me define out-of-the-box experiences, ones that I might not personally experience in my own life. So, those “not me” books may not help me define my experience, but it does help me put life in perspective. After all, my sheltered experience is not the only experience with which I should be familiar.