Friday, August 13, 2010

Ken Sparling, On Reading

"My dad gave me a copy of Catcher in the Rye when I was fourteen. He said he read it when he was a young boy and loved it. What I felt reading Catcher in the Rye excited and confused and frightened me.

There was swearing in Catcher in the Rye. It was the first time I’d seen the word ‘fuck’ in a book, and it excited me to think this was possible, that someone would be allowed to write ‘fuck’ in a book, and that I would be allowed to read the word ‘fuck’ in a book, and that no one would try to stop me, and that, in fact, my dad had actually given me a book to read knowing that it said ‘fuck’ in it. This confused me. This blurred my understanding of the world in a way that made me understand that there were things possible coming toward me that I could never anticipate. I wanted to go toward these things and feel this blurry confused excitement again and again.

The only book I remember reading before Catcher in the Rye was The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. This book also frightened and confused me. I hated the fact that every time Bartholomew took off one hat another one appeared in its place. This drove me nuts. I was scared to death when the king threatened to cut Bartholomew’s head off. It didn’t seem fair. It seemed awful to me that a king would do such a thing. It seemed awful that there seemed to be nothing Bartholomew could do to save his head, no matter how good his intentions were. It scared and confused me to read this book. And yet I went back to read it again and again.

I think I must like to read things that hurt and confuse me. When I think about the best things I’ve ever read, they are things that hurt so much I’ve had to stop reading and go back into the world. And when I get back to the world from these books that throw me back into the world, I feel the pain of the world in a new way, a way that confuses and excites and frightens me.

Somehow, the pain of reading certain pieces of writing seems to help me confront and encounter the pain of the world in a way that makes the pain of the world seem worthwhile. I try not to run away from the pain of the world, but at some point I always do, and often I do it by reading. And then I again have to find some way to escape the numbness that robs me of the pain that makes life feel so good when I don’t run away from the pain of being alive.

Sometimes I do read simply to escape. A lot of times, actually. But sometimes I come across a piece of writing that operates exactly the opposite of the things I read to simply escape the world; a piece of writing that throws me back into the world where I can again feel the pain that I hunger to feel when I’ve found myself with the strength to withstand, and even embrace the pain of the world."

Ken Sparling here to get any of his Pedlar Press books, including his most recent novel, Book. Visit Ken here to find out about his book Hush Up And Listen Stinky Poo Butt, published by Artistically Declined Press.}

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