Sunday, October 9, 2011

Alissa Nutting, On Reading

"I grew up in a very safe, boring home. It’s no accident that ‘boring,’ as a verb, means ‘to drill a hole.’ Life as we currently experience it gives us a lot of holes, from boredom and many other places; voids that we fill with a variety of things, by necessity, in order to feel full enough to keep going. I’ve tried quite a few methods of easing the pain of lack (an inescapable pain that even the best live-rs will feel now and then, given our temporary lives, faulty bodies, and general dearth of control). Of every salve I’ve tried, I would like to give my endorsement to books.

As a child, books were the spaces where I could go make all the unwise decisions I knew deep down I wanted to make but was not permitted (they still are, except now I’m the one not permitting myself). For every urge, there is a book (and if there isn’t, you need to write it please). For every problem, there is a book (and if there isn’t…). Putting yourself between covers—inside an open book—is just as intimate and vulnerable an act as putting yourself between the sheets of a bed. You and the author are communing together in a way that no one else can ever know or experience.

Plus reading is the most polite selfish act ever. Sitting in a corner and reading, I emit very little waste or sound. I am not distracting to others. This is a benefit not to be underappreciated in a crowded world.

I mainly live in books, and have ever since I could read. Vicarious is an ugly word to many, but not to me, not when it comes to reading. Unlike a movie or video-game simulation, the act of reading is as personalized as a fingerprint. No two people have the exact same thoughts or visualizations when reading the same book. It’s an experience that is yours, and belongs to you, just as all that any of us ever have beyond the present—our memories—belong to us. Except for the current moment, we have nothing, really, but the slides stored in our imagination.

As a form of acquisition, reading makes me wildly greedy. I try to read up on anything I’m curious about, afraid of, obsessed upon, or unfamiliar with. Reading is another word for more—more experience, more knowledge. More understanding. When I want more, I read, and it feels like I get to throw a few more handfuls of dirt into the chasms, the omissions of life that sting."

Alissa Nutting, an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at John Carroll University, is the author of the short story collection Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls. Her website is}

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