Friday, May 20, 2011

A D Jameson, On Reading

"I used to have lots of concerns about reading, I felt a lot of anxiety, when I was in college. I felt that I hadn’t read enough. I’d buy books compulsively back then, thousands of titles. Some I read. More than a few I never got to. And even the ones I did read, I mostly read long ago, and now have forgotten. (Although I tend to take pretty good notes.)

I eventually rid myself of this anxiety, or most of it. My life goes on, regardless of what I’ve read. Or haven’t read.

And reading new books leaves me less time for rereading. And reading at all leaves me with less time for going to movies, or listening to music, or visiting museums, or walking, or cooking, or working out, or dancing, or having sex.

And no matter how many things I’ve read, and will go on to read, I’ll die without having read all that much, in the grand scheme of things. So it’s better to make use of what I have read, whatever’s at hand.

I feel the same way about movies and music and visual art. About everything, really.

Though I understand now (or I think that I understand) what I was so anxious about back in college. It was not not having read all that much: it was not knowing all that much about books. I didn’t know who was who, so to speak, or what was what. If somebody told me, 'Thomas Pynchon’s new novel is coming out next month,' I didn’t know what to make of that fact; I couldn’t use it. (When somebody did say that to me, in 1996, I borrowed Mason & Dixon from the library, read the first ten pages, returned it. It wouldn’t be another two years till I read a full book by him.)

(And I’ve still never finished reading V. Nor his two newest ones, although I looked at both, purchased one.) (But why did I buy it? Out of some sense of obligation?)

I do enjoy reading very much. These days, I read more and more online. I read a few blogs, occasionally, mainly political ones. I read lots of film reviews. And articles on the card game Magic: The Gathering, of which I’m a fan.

I like reading magazines and newspapers—for instance, the New York Times Sunday Magazine, which I steal when I can (I love doing the crossword). And the Chicago Reader and the Onion, which are both free. And the British Film Institute’s journal Sight & Sound, which I have been reading for over ten years now, and which I joyously purchase every month (it costs $9.99 exactly, no tax).

I read lots of poetry, a few poems every day. I reread my favorite ones over and over: poems by Frank O’Hara, Kenneth Koch, Lorine Niedecker, Philip Larkin… Plus song lyrics—especially ones by Morrissey, my hero.

As for books, sometimes I read a whole bunch in a row, and then don’t read any for several months. I often start books and fail to finish them, or wind up skimming them. I’m reading right now:

The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara (I’m almost done);
Moby Dick, by Herman Melville (I just started; this is reread);
Angels & Demons, by Dan Brown (I greatly enjoyed The Da Vinci Code);
Lion in the Valley, by Elizabeth Peters (I may not finish this one);
The Zapp Gun, by Philip K. Dick (He’s one of my favorite authors; I’d like to read everything he wrote).

I like reading several books at once; it helps to show their individual structures. I also reread books a lot, in whole and in part. That helps me to see their structures, too. (I really like structure.)

That said, it’s good to read very widely, as broadly as possible. And to read about books: where they come from, who their authors are, what others have chose to write about them. Indeed, it might even be more important to know about books than to actually read them. (I am a disciple of Pierre Bayard.)

I like reading best while riding the train, or staying up very late at night, reading a book straight through. (I often do this while on vacation.)

To a very large extent, what I have read, and what I find I most enjoy reading, is arbitrary. My dad owned a lot of Ian Fleming novels, and a lot of Kurt Vonnegut novels. My mom had a lot of children’s books. I read them all, because they were there. I also read the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew and J.R.R. Tolkien and Lloyd Alexander. And to this day, I adore mystery novels and spy thrillers, and science-fiction and fantasy novels, although I rarely read them. (I love the idea of them more than anything; I love those genres.)

I also, while still a child and a teen, read thousands of comic books—more comic books than anything else, I’d guess. Mostly issues of Uncanny X-Men and G.I. Joe; I got hooked when my grandmother bought me a Transformers comic; I read it to tatters.

But why those things? They were what was around. I could have just as easily fallen in love with Westerns and romance novels. Or technical user manuals. Had I grown up around those things.

When I allow myself today to dream about reading, when I fantasize, 'Tonight I will draw a hot bath and sit there as long as I’d like, reading,' I often picture myself reading comic books. They’ve given me the most pleasure."

A D Jameson is the author of the novel Giant Slugs (Lawrence and Gibson) and the prose collection Amazing Adult Fantasy (Mutable Sound). Adam is also a video artist, performer, and soon to be Ph.D. candidate at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In his spare time, he contributes regularly the group literary blog Big Other. For more information, visit his website here.}

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