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How’s this for a description of reading?

August 5, 2011

I was going to make this post another Delicious Descriptions, but decided it needed a more direct heading. It’s another quote from Kim Scott‘s That deadman dance and has been used by several reviewers of the book. But I think it needs a post of its own:

When Bobby Wabalaginy told the story, perhaps more than his own lifetime later, nearly all of his listeners knew of books and the language in them. But not, as we do, that you can dive deep into a book and not know just how deep until you return gasping to the surface, and are surprised at yourself, your new and so very sensitive skin. As if you’re someone else altogether, some new self trying on new words.

… and new ideas, emotions, ways of being, eh?

What say you to this? Do you you have a favourite description of reading?


15 Comments leave one →
  1. August 6, 2011 03:57

    This is wonderful and such a perfect description! Thanks for sharing it 🙂

    • August 6, 2011 20:01

      And thank you for liking it. I love the idea of the “new and so very sensitive skin”.

  2. August 7, 2011 02:42

    What an interesting description. You know, that’s kind of like the reaction I had when watching The Tree of Life… “dive deep” into limitless depth and expanse. I finally went to watch it again, and jot down lots of notes. After gathering thoughts and came back up to the surface from the depth, I wrote a review. What an experience. I just read a couple of days ago that Terrence Malick is preparing a director’s cut of the film, 6 hrs. of it… Here’s the link if you’re interested

  3. August 7, 2011 02:44

    oohs, the link seems to suggest the length of the film! If you like, you could embed it. 🙂

    • August 7, 2011 19:57

      LOL Arti, thanks … and I have! I saw your review come through and planned to get back to it … have had major medical crises (father having major surgery and husband in Emergency 3 times in 2 days) over the last 10 days which has limited my blog reading. But I’m glad you reminded me as I might have time tonight as I’m keen to read what you have to say.

      • August 8, 2011 02:28

        Husbands and fathers collapsing around her and she apologises because she’s not reading enough blog posts? The woman has ovaries of steel, my friends.

        • August 9, 2011 08:29

          Thanks DKS – I think! A bit of blog reading takes me away for a while but …

      • August 8, 2011 07:09

        Oh whisperinggums, you must take good care of yourself… I wish all the best to your family’s speedy recovery. Our blogs can wait. 😉

  4. August 8, 2011 06:37

    Although I like being summoned to depths by this or that surface, water, or rebirth metaphor, I’m partial to literature as libretto, eliciting music that explodes in the silence of one’s head. Cheers, Kevin

  5. August 8, 2011 10:18

    It strikes me that I can remember very few fictional accounts of reading. Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer has some interesting reflections on movie-going, but the narrator reads nothing but Arabia Deserta.

    The first accounts that occur to me to are about Homer: Keats’s sonnet, of course, Mandelstam’s poem beginning “Insomnia. Homer. Taut sails./I have read the list of ships more than halfway”, Kinglake’s reference in Eothen. That’s two poems and a travel book. So why don’t novelists write more about readers? John Williams wrote an excellent novel, Stoner about a professor of English literature; yet the only account I remember of the effect of reading is when the young Stoner, a student then of agricultural science, encounters one of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

    • August 9, 2011 23:36

      One of the famous statements about reading – for me anyhow – is jane Austen’s defence of the novel in Northanger Abbey:

      “I am no novel–reader — I seldom look into novels — Do not imagine that I often read novels — It is really very well for a novel.” Such is the common cant. “And what are you reading, Miss — ?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language. Now, had the same young lady been engaged with a volume of the Spectator, instead of such a work, how proudly would she have produced the book, and told its name; though the chances must be against her being occupied by any part of that voluminous publication, of which either the matter or manner would not disgust a young person of taste: the substance of its papers so often consisting in the statement of improbable circumstances, unnatural characters, and topics of conversation which no longer concern anyone living; and their language, too, frequently so coarse as to give no very favourable idea of the age that could endure it.

      • August 10, 2011 02:51

        Proust likes to write about reading — and if you made me a cannier person I could probably go searching in Blanchot, but I am not a cannier person, and, so, Proust, Swann’s Way, Moncrieff’s translation:

        It is true that the people concerned in [books] were not what Françoise would have called ‘real people.’ But none of the feelings which the joys or misfortunes of a ‘real’ person awaken in us can be awakened except through a mental picture of those joys or misfortunes; and the ingenuity of the first novelist lay in his understanding that, as the picture was the one essential element in the complicated structure of our emotions, so that simplification of it which consisted in the suppression, pure and simple, of ‘real’ people would be a decided improvement. A’real’ person, profoundly as we may sympathise with him, is in a great measure perceptible only through our senses, that is to say, he remains opaque, offers a dead weight which our sensibilities have not the strength to lift. If some misfortune comes to him, it is only in one small section of the complete idea we have of him that we are capable of feeling any emotion; indeed it is only in one small section of the complete idea he has of himself that he is capable of feeling any emotion either. The novelist’s happy discovery was to think of substituting for those opaque sections, impenetrable by the human spirit, their equivalent in immaterial sections, things, that is, which the spirit can assimilate to itself. After which it matters not that the actions, the feelings of this new order of creatures appear to us in the guise of truth, since we have made them our own, since it is in ourselves that they are happening, that they are holding in thrall, while we turn over, feverishly, the pages of the book, our quickened breath and staring eyes. And once the novelist has brought us to that state, in which, as in all purely mental states, every emotion is multiplied ten-fold, into which his book comes to disturb us as might a dream, but a dream more lucid, and of a more lasting impression than those which come to us in sleep; why, then, for the space of an hour he sets free within us all the joys and sorrows in the world, a few of which, only, we should have to spend years of our actual life in getting to know, and the keenest, the most intense of which would never have been revealed to us because the slow course of their development stops our perception of them. It is the same in life; the heart changes, and that is our worst misfortune; but we learn of it only from reading or by imagination; for in reality its alteration, like that of certain natural phenomena, is so gradual that, even if we are able to distinguish, successively, each of its different states, we are still spared the actual sensation of change.

        • August 10, 2011 21:06

          Wow, that is a lot to take in … I like “he sets free within us all the joys and sorrows in the world, a few of which, only, we should have to spend years of our actual life in getting to know …” and the point that in reality the change can be so gradual we do not necessarily notice it, whereas fiction tends to intensify, thus revealing truths to us. Thanks DKS … I like it.

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