Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Matt DeBenedictis, On Reading

"I first read out of spite, hoping to just see one series of bookshelves destroyed. Far from an actual decimation I only craved to see the ideas within the books worth little more than dust.

My families' library stood larger than the room itself, certain bound volumes created a shadow larger than myself while other books emitted a musty smell I have (thankfully) not come across since. Where a posed family photo should have stood a picture of Ronald Reagan commanded the room. He was riding a horse passing the part of America where militias attend christenings.

Inspired to defy I read anything that waved a blade at that room. It wasn't until much later that I began to read out of love for a story, a drawn feeling for a style, or anything close to literature.

I wish I could have started reading for that reason younger; uptight, over-political younger years, a defiance purely bred in the 'burbs.

I could have lit a match and read what matters to me now so much sooner."

Matt DeBenedictis is the author of three chapbooks including Congratulations! There's No last Place if Everyone is Dead. He runs the press Safety Third Enterprises and talks with music artists for a un-secure living. His internet home is wordsforguns.com.}

Monday, November 22, 2010

Joshua Mohr, On Reading

"I used to think reading could change the world--that if we looked through different characters' eyes and hearts and souls, we might learn empathy. We might learn to be nicer to one another. But I'm getting older and more 'seasoned' (see: tired, lazy, disillusioned), and now I think of reading/writing mostly as entertainment. It's better than TV because it actively engages your brain--quality calories versus empty calories--and if the writing is good, for a moment, however brief, you connect with the world in an entirely new way. Of course, you come down and go back to being your normal self, but there's that flash, that blinding, ephemeral flash where you embody a character and experience a life that's entirely new."

Joshua Mohr is the author of the novels Termite Parade, which was an Editors’ Choice on The New York Times Best Seller List, and Some Things that Meant the World to Me, one of O Magazine's Top 10 reads of 2009. He has an MFA from the University of San Francisco and has published numerous short stories and essays in publications such as The New York Times Book Review, 7×7, The Bay Guardian, ZYZZYVA, The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, among many others. He lives in San Francisco and teaches fiction writing. Please visit him here.}

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Rolli, On Reading

"The love of my life - wife, mistress, concubine - has always been - books. I am, unashamedly, a promiscuous, polygamous, adulterous lover of books. I've taken to bed a different book every night of my life. Apologies, of course, to those who can (and do) read the same shop-worn soft cover for twenty or thirty years at a stretch, but I could never manage it.

I love the figure of a well-made book, the texture. I never take up a book without cracking it down the middle first, and taking a good whiff. Age is unkind to books in every respect except odor. The older the better, here, with the oldest smelling, I find, of spice cake, or watered-down rum. The scent of thousands of books together is - narcotic.

My mania for books and reading started early. By age 20, my personal library exceeded two thousand volumes - a number some bibliophiles would sniff at, but to me seemed like the whole Bodleian crammed into a modest four-bedroom. There were books in cupboards and closets, on tables, under them, in piles lining the walls. It was never surprising to come across a volume or two between sofa cushions, in a flowerpot, to come tumbling out of a liquor cabinet. I more than once found a book in the Frigidaire.

Suffice it to say, amongst so much fine reading material, there was practically no room for me. So little that, exasperated, I came close to tying up a few essentials on the end of a stick - Boswell's Life of Dr. Samuel Johnson, Bleak House, and one or two others - and turning vagabond. It was the thought of all those books going untouched and unappreciated, alone, that saved me from vagrancy.

If books have been my life, they've very nearly been my death (and may be yet, who knows). A good host, I'm occasionally obliged to sleep on the floor, and make room for guests. With memorable results, this is just what happened one Christmas Eve. Of course, family begged me not to - the room in question sported two leaning towers of bookcases notorious for toppling over without warning - but I, the good host, insisted. 'It's perfectly safe,' I said, with a dismissive wave of the hand, trying hard not to show my trepidation. And as I lay there, late at night, in my sleeping bag, precarious shadow-mountains of books all around me, I'll confess - I was afraid. But I soothed myself, tallied up the probabilities, and satisfied, at last, nodded off. And then, at half-past three in the morning ... a crash ... then another ... then a deep, muffled scream. Of course, everyone knew what must've happened, and came rushing in from every direction - to start digging. What could've easily been an exhumation proved a rescue, fortunately, when they pulled me from the rubble, bruised and shaken, but still very much alive. It wasn't so bad, all things considered. I was unconscious for the initial avalanche; and the week of bed rest that followed gave me plenty of time to catch up my reading. A few scars still remain, 'potent reminders,' friends tell me, of the dangers of bibliomania. In fact, if you look very closely, you can still see HAMLET branded on my right cheek.

Thankfully, the fever to hoard has abated some in recent years; and while I read as much as ever, don't bother snatching up every book in sight, and storing them in the fireplace, or the garden shed, like some dotty squirrel. I've even paired down the collection, giving away, selling, and tossing out masses of volumes. I'm happy with my condensed library of a thousand-or-so indispensable favorites. They should be enough for a lifetime of reading. But I'll have to start right now."

Rolli is the author/illustrator of the acclaimed poetry/art book Plum Stuff (8th House Publishing), and the forthcoming gothic novel-in-poems Mavor's Bones. Visit his website here and follow him on Twitter here.}

Friday, November 12, 2010

Peter Trachtenberg, On Reading

"In the morning I feed the cats, make a pot of coffee and sit down on the sofa and open a volume of Remembrance of Things Past, in the Montcrieff Kilmartin translation. At the moment, I’m on The Guermantes Way, just after Marcel unexpectedly succeeds in kissing Albertine; he reflects on how inadequate the lips are for kissing. I read for an hour, almost as slowly as if I were reading in French. Sometimes I feel like I am reading in French. To navigate the topiary maze of Proust’s sentences, which can twine and undulate for an entire page, often requires reading out loud. The challenge is not just to follow those sentences’ syntax but also their turns of mood:
On certain days, thin, with a gray complexion, a sullen air, a violet transparency slanting across her eyes such as we notice sometimes on the sea, she seemed to be feeling the sorrows of exile. On other days her face, smoother and glossier, drew one’s desires on to its varnished surface and prevented them from going further; unless I caught a sudden glimpse of her from the side, for her matt cheeks, like white wax on the surface, were visibly pink beneath, which was what made one so long to kiss them, to reach that different tint which was so elusive. At other times, happiness bathed her cheeks with a clarity so mobile that the skin, grown fluid and vague, gave passage to a sort of subcutaneous gaze, which made it appear to be of another colour but not of another substance than her eyes; sometimes, without thinking, when one looked at her face punctuated with tiny brown marks among which floated what were simply two larger, bluer stains, it was as though one were looking at a goldfinch’s egg, or perhaps at an opalescent agate cut and polished in two places only, where, at the heart of the brown stone, there shone like the transparent wings of a skyblue butterfly, her eyes, those features in which the flesh becomes a mirror and gives us the illusion that it allows us, more than through other parts of the body, to approach the soul. (1009)
As much pleasure as my morning reading gives me, it’s also a struggle. This isn’t because of the difficulties of Proust’s style, which, to be honest, is part of the pleasure of reading him--how often do you get to experience a sense of accomplishment while sitting on your ass in your bathrobe? It’s because I came into the kitchen with my Blackberry. If describing a Blackberry for a visitor from the last century--say for Marcel Proust, had he been somehow plucked off the Boulevard Hausmann in 1916and deposited, gasping and palpitating, in the eastern U.S. in 2010--I’d say it was about the size of a small cigarette box. That might connote its addictive properties. But it’s more like a black hole, a phenomenon that no one even imagined until decades after Proust’s death in 1922, a black hole that sucks up not matter but attention. I can’t go ten minutes without looking at it. If no new e-mail shows up in my message box--announced by a tiny red and white explosion that might be made by a tiny bomb--I use the Web browser to read the Times. Often I become so engrossed in an article--or, more often, in the clever or boneheaded but usually vituperative reader comments about an article--that fifteen minutes race by before I think of horny, hyper-aesthetic Marcel and his circle, and when I return, the spell they cast on me is broken. I open the book and it’s just words, lots of them. Too many.

Is the competition between Proust and the Blackberry a competition between literature and news? I don’t think so. If it were an actual newspaper on the sofa beside me, a paper one, I wouldn’t bother looking at it until I’d read at least ten pages of the Recherche. The competition is one between reading and something that resembles reading but is really a hybrid mode in which the familiar work of decoding clusters of tiny strokes and squiggles and extracting a world from them is a front for the hypnotic activity of pushing buttons and staring at a light-filled screen. The Blackberry allows its users to think of themselves as human while doing what lab rats do, except lab rats get rewarded with pellets of food. The reward of the Blackberry is the buttons and the screen."

Peter Trachtenberg is the author of 7 Tattoos: A Memoir in the Flesh and The Book of Calamities: Five Questions About Suffering and Its Meaning. For more information, visit his blog here.}

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ben Mirov, On Reading

"Reading is difficult. When I was young it was a physically unpleasant experience. I've never felt like a natural reader. Today as an adult, it's still a task to sit and read for a long period of time. I've never felt like a person who is a natural reader, who can consume large amounts of material with a high level of comprehension."

Ben Mirov grew up in Northern California. He is the author of GHOST MACHINE (Caketrain, 2010). He is also the author of the chapbooks I IS TO VORTICISM (New Michigan Press, 2010) and COLECTED GHOST (H_NGM_N, 2010).}

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Shya Scanlon, On Reading

"I have the kind of relationship with reading you can only have with something you know you’ll never quit. I love it; I hate it; I fear it; I beat my head against it; I use it as it uses me. I like to think it’s co-dependent, but I doubt reading needs me. It can walk away at any time, and that’s why I’m so jealous of its other lovers."

{For more information about Shya Scanlon, visit his website here.}

Monday, November 8, 2010

Savannah Schroll Guz, On Reading

"Reading, for me, is a completely delicious escape while also an opportunity to reconnect, since my view of the world and my internal monologues are often driven by what I am reading. I love Baroque descriptions, exquisite adjectives, stunning nouns. I’m especially fond of reading psychological descriptions. What does someone else’s internal world look like? This is why I go to Joyce Carol Oates’ work when I need to restock my own ‘word larder.’ There’s an intense beauty to her descriptions of angst (because with JCO, there’s always angst). Also, I return again and again to G√ľnter Grass. I’ve read his work in the original German, but it’s the translations—the really good translations (I know how hard it is to match meaning)—I go back to again and again. My favorites are Tin Drum and The Flounder , translated by Ralph Manheim in 1961 and 1978, respectively (my copies are badly dog-eared). Both are like that really good first shot of bourbon, which seems to brighten and sharpen the look of the world. I seem always to be thinking about reading The Flounder when I’m writing, and conversely, reading any of the above makes me want to get back to writing."

{Savannah Schroll Guz is author of the short story collections,
American Soma (2009) and The Famous & The Anonymous (2004), and editor of Consumed: Women on Excess (2005). She divides her online life here and here.}

Friday, November 5, 2010

Andrew Borgstrom, On Reading

"Eating the tail and being the tail and eating the tale and being the teeth. It is only because I consider myself a reader that anyone considers me a writer."

Andrew Borgstrom resides in the Matted Welcome Desert.}

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Howie Good, On Reading

"I wasn't a reader as a kid. I was way too restless to sit still and read. I did daydream a lot, though, making up stories in which I was generally the hero. I suppose all this imaginative activity contributed to my becoming a writer. It also -- and earlier -- contributed to my becoming a reader. I entered new and better daydreams through reading than I could find on TV or make up on my own. This isn't to suggest that reading for me was or is primarily an escape. It isn't. Rather, it's a kind of liberation from mental and physical contraints. You sit still while reading, but you can go anywhere in your head."

{Howie Good is the author of the full-length poetry collections
Lovesick (Press Americana, 2009), Heart With a Dirty Windshield (BeWrite Books, 2010), and Everything Reminds Me of Me (Desperanto, 2011), as well as 23 print and digital poetry chapbooks.}


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

ca-caw, ca-caw