Thursday, October 18, 2018

Note To Three Friends On Reading After Reading Joseph Epstein On His Reading

I’m the reading slug in this group. And I still see myself as a slouch when measured by what Epstein describes as to his own reading. It would bother me weren’t I at peace with what, how, how much (or better, how little) I read and the time wasting I do, time wasting if reading is the ideal activity that not reading is measured against.

Pleasure is interesting for me. Easier books like crime fiction and certain fiction are entirely pleasurable and a constant temptation. Harder books don’t come easily to me. There’s a certain amount of self coercion involved in getting myself to read them, which, once begun, then usually yield deep pleasure of a sort of hard fought kind. I have to say that some of what I read is partly fueled by the sense of “should be read.” I’ve now eased up some on that felt sense of obligation. I’m not sure it’s such a bad sense. 

Mind you, while there’s certainly pleasure in the physicality of reading actual books, and while that has its own advantages, there are definite advantages to ebooks and audio books. Epstein makes too much of this point, of dismissing all but actual books as the true way to read and in qualifying for bookishness. But if he’s not being prescriptive but only describing his own idiosyncrasy, then that’s just that.

The thing I’ve come to a lot, a lot, over the past couple of years is audio books. I often/regularly drive and listen to them, fiction and non fiction in roughly equal measure, easier and harder books in roughly equal measure. I understand there’s no loss of comprehension in listening to books. I find a skilled reader brings out both the drama and nuances of character in fiction and makes the books come vividly alive. And for parts I want to linger over, I simply replay them. 

As for memory, I find that a real problem. I’ve always had a problem remembering much of anything I’ve casually read. Same with movies. People who with the lapse of time can remember details impress me as doing something I can’t. As an answer to that I began putting in my blog synopses of what I’d read with a view to saying what I thought the theme of the book is, the idea that makes it all make sense, even ambiguous sense. I liked doing it and what I wrote triggers my memory. But of late I tired of it and now find that a Wikipedia plot summary does much of that without the analysis.

Finally, I can’t fathom how Epstein can read so slowly, 25-35 pages a day, together with his lingering and pondering and relishing, and yet read as much as he sets out. 

P.S. My analogue to the pleasure of used books stores is browsing through used record/CD stores. 

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