Thursday, February 9, 2012

What I'm Not Reading

I can read whatever I want to. That may sound strange but after three years of grad school I'm done with my coursework. This is very exciting! But also very daunting. How can I possibly read all the books I've been introduced to? How can anyone?

With Intent to Read
Currently, I've got these checked out of the library: The Printmaker's Daughter: A Novel by Katherine Govier (about Hokusai's daughter), Bleak House (Crime Classics) by Charles Dickens, New and Selected Things Taking Place by May Swenson (poetry), and. And bought these recently: Malaquias Montoya a new monograph of the artist-activist-professor, Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists' Writings (California Studies in the History of Art), and Picture This: The Near-sighted Monkey Book  (comic and instructional book) by Lynda Barry. That's a lot of books I'm not exactly reading. I know what they are all about, but I'm not sure I'm going to get through them all. Is it cheating to only read part of a book and then try to talk about it?

Sometimes, I pick one up, open it, get the idea, and close it again. Other times I realize that great gems are hidden inside. If I see a glimmer I'll go back and immerse myself in the entire book from the beginning. Like all creative works—including artists' books, film, music, plays, etc.—this particular piece may resonate with me or it may not. The work itself may or may not be ultimately inspiring, but the search should yield interesting results.

A couple months ago I read How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard. Bayard is a professor of literature in France who is also interested in psychology. He writes that he is a lover of literature, but that he can't possibly read everything he wants to read. He suggests that books are situated in certain places, that you don't need to know exactly what is in them to know what they are about. If you know what they are about you can talk about the ideas within. Bayard has a hilarious classification system that includes: books read, books he's heard of, books he's read and forgotten, and books he's never heard of. If you have forgotten a book is it like never having read it? I have a whole bookshelf of books I've read and vaguely remember. This makes me feel uneasy.

Bayard also makes the point that you may not read an entire book at once (or ever) but you may live with it your whole life as you dip into it from time to time.  Perhaps living with a book is more important.

I guess I am relieved that I can also not read whatever I want. I just have to find more books I can live with.


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On a somewhat related side note: I finally saw the excellent and passionate 2008 film The Reader with Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, and David Kross. It is a love story, a thoughtful exploration of moral and social responsibility, and a look at emotional confusion and indecisiveness, with books and reading as the pivot point.

2 comments:

dinahmow said...

Perhaps you need something like David Bader's "One Hundred Great Books in Haiku."


As to talking about what you have NOT read...this seems to be what many people do, including some who make money from it! ;-)

Alisa said...

Haha! Thanks for that dinahmow. I took a look at a preview online. For those who haven't seen this book, the full title is: fHaiku U, from Artistotle to Zola: 100 Great Books in 17 Syllables by David M. Bader. Definitely amusing.