Writing versus reading

A Reading Note

…what is interesting about a text—which is not the work itself but the qualities it shares with others—might be best perceived by a critic who closes his eyes in the presence of the work and thinks, instead, about what it may be.

Bayard, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, page 29

There was a time when I read books in, shall we say, the romantic manner, which is to mean all the way through and usually in one sitting. I had, at one time, an enormous patience for spending hour upon hour with a single text; on rainy days, I sometimes still do. But more often than not, I read a dozen books or more at once, flitting from one to the other, looking for the connections, finding the spaces between them where I can inhabit safely. This is one way of “not reading” which Bayard rescues and promotes, in that it rejects the singular book in favor of the entire library. And, perhaps more importantly, it recognizes that to lose oneself in another’s work is to fail to make a work of your own: only by pushing books away does the writer find her voice.

At its root, this is a vision of reading couched in discontent. It is discontent—or, more completely, a sense that any given text is insufficient—that makes us close the book at hand and tilt our head back in thought. What resides on the page is often just a catalyst for further thinking (or writing). It’s what feeds the culture around books—for a book that is never talked about is like the tree that falls in the forest: it leaves behind no evidence that it ever made a sound.

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