Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Aimee Bender, On Reading

"Reading. First off, it's incredibly intimate. Me, and the writer, meeting on the page. Paul Auster has a great line, something like 'writer and reader make the book, both' and I think that's a beautiful way of stating it. There's a duet in play. Part of my job, in reading, is to try to take in what the writer has put on the page, to bring enough of myself to it so that something activates.

Reading is often a non-linear experience for me. I'll race ahead a few pages to get a tiny sense of what's to come if I can't stand waiting. Then I'll go back, slow myself down, sometimes going extremely slowly, to get there. When I'm reading a book I love, I'll often read the lines twice as I go to take them in. I slow myself down again, to make sure I'm aware of what I'm reading. Sometimes it's too much. It depends on my general level of concentration. Also, my eye darts around, going to the bottom of the page, the top, reversing, back forward.

I did a map of this once for the journal Ecotone, it's the third map:

'Three Maps' (Ecotone, Volume 2, Number 1: Fall/Winter 2006).

If I'm reading a book where the language doesn't really move me, I'll read very fast, and sometimes it's nice to take a break like this and read a thriller or a cop book just to read for plot alone, because reading as a writer is often a painstaking process. A very meaningful one, but a slow one. It took me months to read Marilynne Robinson's book Home. A couple pages a day, sometimes.

That said, I also read for how the words look on the page, and Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein is a joy to read because it's so strange and funny and fresh and exciting, but also because it looks so great. The words just look really good together."

Aimee Bender is the author of four books: The Girl in the Flammable Skirt (1998) which was a NY Times Notable Book, An Invisible Sign of My Own (2000) which was an L.A. Times pick of the year, Willful Creatures (2005) which was nominated by The Believer as one of the best books of the year, and The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (2010). She has received two Pushcart prizes, and was nominated for the TipTree award in 2005, and the Shirley Jackson short story award in 2010. Her fiction has been translated into ten languages. For more information, visit her website here.}


  1. I like Aimee Bender's books so much.

  2. I find myself, sometimes, reading too quickly when I really love a book and I have to remind myself to slow down!