Friday, June 25, 2010

Kate Bernheimer, On Reading

"It is a cliché but reading has always provided me with the greatest escape from the scary container of my own life and other people’s fearsome behavior. In reading I find rare consolation. I learned early on I could create the sensation of safety and solitude by entering nearly any book’s pages—as a kid this was often a comic book or magical novel, but I’ve always been omnivorous in my literary taste. The book is the thing. In desperation I can find consolation in other printed matter—one particular manual for an 8-track player at a mean friend’s sleepover party comes quickly to mind. But immersing myself in a book is sublime.

I read recently somewhere that scientists have confirmed something we bookworms always have known: that the scent of books , especially library books and old books, can release happy feelings, also known as endorphins. Some perfumeries are apparently trying to reproduce 'old book smell' and put it into their little bottles! Why don’t doctors prescribe constitutionals to the public library, I wonder?

One of my earliest memories of experiencing the reading sublime involves my first memorization of a poem. I remember discovering the poem in the library of my grade school. It was around fifth grade, and I had begun to be bullied around the same time.

Its first three and a half lines immediately etched themselves into my memory. These lines used to constantly pop into my head as I sat alone at recess, often under a giant tire in the playground where also were many spiders and worms. Though this is, in retrospect, an eerie poem, in childhood the poem did not trouble me—no, quite the contrary. The lines kept me great company for many years, made me feel safe and blissful in my quest for anonymity among other kids.

'I'm Nobody! Who are you? / Are you – Nobody – too? / Then there's a pair of us? / Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know! / How dreary – to be – Somebody! / How public – like a Frog – / To tell one's name – the livelong June – / To an admiring Bog!'

Sheer bliss, that poem. I think when I first found it, it was as the epigraph to a middle reader novel—with a supernatural plot. Though I never have confirmed this. Of course now I know it’s by one of my favorite writers of all time, Emily Dickinson, whose poems I read daily."

{Kate Bernheimer's first story collection, Horse, Flower, Bird, is forthcoming from Coffee House Press and is illustrated by Rikki Ducornet. Her third anthology, My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales, is forthcoming from Penguin Books. She is the author of the novels The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold and The Complete Tales of Merry Gold and a children's book, and founder and editor of the literary journal Fairy Tale Review. Associate Professor and Writer in Residence at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, she is married to the poet Brent Hendricks.}

No comments:

Post a Comment