Saturday, December 17, 2011

Mark Leidner, On Reading

"Reading is like getting a ride somewhere. You don't have to fight traffic, worry about cops, old maps, malfunctioning GPSs; you don't choose the music, the speed, or how aggressively or defensively to drive; you don't have to use your body, or your eyes if you don't want to; you're not responsible for anything, etc. The driver handles all that. You just sit there and look around while all the scenery you have no control over washes through your field of vision. In this way reading has always felt lazy and unmeaningful to me, compared to writing. But sometimes you're in the hands of a driver so capable, and the ride is so spectacular, that you forgive yourself for not having caused it. I think that's called humility... I'm not sure."

Mark Leidner is the author of The Angel in the Dream of Our Hangover (Sator Press, 2011), a book of aphorisms, and Beauty Was the Case that They Gave Me (Factory Hollow, 2011), a book of poetry. He grew up in Georgia and now lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.}

Friday, December 2, 2011

Claudia Smith, On Reading

"I wish I could read the way I read as a child. When I write, I still lose myself the way I did in books back then but now, things are hectic. I can't luxuriate in a book all night, listening to the rain, impervious to time. There are too many things to do.

My grandparents had a room they called 'the junk room.' It was filled with canned goods, decorations for every season, dry goods, and what my grandmother called various and sundry things.

There were also books. We weren't allowed in the room. It was where Santa kept his presents, and thrifty Santa shopped for Xmas all year long. But I read whatever I found.

I was sickly and somehow I always got well when I stayed with my grandmother. She believed if you were sick you had to stay in bed. I didn't mind this at all. I read for hours in the big blue room with a shaggy dog named Poppy curled up beside me. She was a mutt with Beagle eyes and she would gaze at me with love as I read all the Grimm's fairytales -- the ones with the most unfortunate endings -- aloud to her. At some point my grandmother had belonged to the book of the month club, and these books had wonderful titles. She was a James Herriot fan. I read So Dear To My Heart and I discovered Betty Smith. I found a book called Apple Tree Lean Down and must have read it three or four times one summer. I discovered a whole series of Nancy Drew mysteries published in the nineteen-teens. I read Hans Christian Anderson. One winter, my grandmother gave me an old brass bell and told me to ring it if I needed her. I only rang it a once and I was treated to a tray of Campbell's tomato soup with cheesy fish crackers in bed. Sometimes I had a plate of apples and cheese. I gained weight, stopped vomiting all the time, and read and read and read.

That room seems very precious and close to me even now. There were high windows, and trinkets on the dresser. I read At The Back Of the North Wind on a cold sunny day, with curtains stirring slightly in the breeze. I remember this! I also remember discovering Wuthering Heights. I didn't know what it was about at all, and this was my most delicious find. I remember finding the old paperback in a closet. Healthcliff and Cathy were kissing on its cover, and all the muscles of her beautiful white neck were taut. Heathcliff was wearing something velvet with a puffy white shirt. He was tall, dark, handsome. That is my first memory of wanting to kiss someone.

The book started out humdrum, and I almost put it down. But then came a dream with a waifish girl begging to be let in, and the ghost story transformed into a dark love story! I read that one pretty much straight through. I had no idea what Wuthering Heights meant to English departments around the country. I just knew I loved the moors and that twisted romance more than any of the gentle romances I'd pulled off the junk room shelves.

The joy of reading -- and it is my joy -- for me is much like the joy of writing. When I read that dark romance so many years ago, there was nothing and no one between me and the page. It didn't matter how many had read those words; in that blue room, Heathcliff and Cathy were mine alone. I didn't even read about them to Poppy."

{Claudia Smith is the author of The Sky Is A Well And Other Shorts (Rose Metal Press) and Put Your Head In My Lap (Future Tense Books). Her stories have appeared in several journals and anthologies, including Norton's The New Sudden Fiction: Short Short Stories From America And Beyond. More about her work may be found at}