Saturday, February 20, 2010

It's my party, and I'll read if I want to...

Day 11 of the “What are you reading, and why?” project, and I am writing this one in advance, to post on Day 11, early in the morning, if I can connect to the Internet, right before or right after I take my daughter way the heck south on U. S. 51 to her volleyball tournament and before I board the train north to Chicago for a birthday party poetry reading event there, a sort of house concert, with discussion, dance, and guitar!

(Happy Birthday to me! Yippee. I love my birthday. Since time is not linear for me, I don’t even mind growing old! I like it! It makes me younger, in a Merlinesque kind of way. Ah, who is reading The Once and Future King? Anybody?!)

Today I devote myself to books on reading (and some books on writing, which always include plenty about the importance of reading if you want to be a good writer). Behind me on my bookshelf is the wonderful book (another Babbitt’s find!), A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel. I love this book for its solid historical information, its pictures of the brain and the physiology of reading comprehension, and its wonderful contemplative tone. I used it to reference things I advocated to poets recently, in a little workshop on reading their poems aloud. Different parts of the brain are stimulated by reading and by hearing, so when we read aloud a poem that is also in the hands of our listeners, their brains are being stimulated in multiple ways. If they are just listening, we might want to read a poem twice, or slow it down, or give a little context, etc., to help the reader listen more attentively. When we read our work aloud, we are both seeing it and hearing it, so we are stimulated in the multiple ways, and can share some of that energy with our audience!

You can read and hear an interview with Alberto Manguel about his newest book at PBS! The Artsbeat on the Newshour!

Also on the shelf behind me is Reading Like a Writer, by Francine Prose, A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them. Oh, I do so enjoy reading about other people’s reading experiences, doing a bit of compare/contrast, getting inspired to read something new, just heard about, or to re-read something in light of what a writer like Prose has told me about a book. She provides a wonderful list of “Books to be Read Immediately” at the end, and it’s like that list of books that went around on Facebook, to be copied and pasted as a “Note,” checking off the ones you’d read, to compared with the lists of the friends you’d “tagged” or who had “tagged” you. (I remember when tag was a game we played in the park!)

A favorite book of mine is Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings, which recounts her voracious and indiscriminate reading as a child, and how, gradually, eventually, she became the kind of reader Prose is talking about, “reading like a writer.”

One of the first things I did upon leaving my fulltime college teaching job was to read Jane Smiley’s book 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, which is in large part a grand account of reading novels, with wonderful summaries provided at the end. I read this to get myself ready to return to writing my novel-in-progress (a novel in progress since before the birth of my second child, who is now 15), and I read everything but the chapter you are not supposed to read until you have completed the first draft of your novel. (Have I sighed lately? Sigh….) Of course I read Smiley’s novel Good Faith, because she uses it as a “case study” in this book. And I made mental notes to read many of the novels she writes about, and I see, looking back at my first edition, that I also made numerous pencil notes all over the text.

(Instead of finishing my novel, by the way, I sat in my back yard for 4 years and did a lot of reading and wrote hundreds and hundreds of poems. I am math-challenged and have not been able actually to count them, but I suspect it is indeed hundreds and hundreds. They are collected into 3 chapbooks, already out, 4 more chapbook-length sections of a longer manuscript in progress, and might sort of count as a novel-in-poems, which has been done by other writers, except that there is narrative arc only in one of the sections…and, sigh, who reads poetry?! Or, to be more apt, who actually buys poetry? Which is why I work part time in a used bookstore. Anyway, I am very happy. Reading and writing is good for my soul.)

So, as always, what are you reading? I’m talking books, here, in or out of print, but books you can hold in your hand and write notes on, or magazines and literary journals, etc. Print media. I am looking at the state of it. And, pertinent to today’s entry, what are you reading about reading?

I will be back, on the train, tomorrow, and will, at some point, tell you what people I saw at the birthday party are reading.


Mike Peterson said...

I'm reading Prose's list. I find the books jaw-dropping. Right now, I'm reading L.P. Hartley's "The Go-Between." Many of the books on the list I'd never heard of. Wait a minute! You don't believe in linear time- you look forward to getting older. I doubt it can be explained, but try in one of your posts. Maybe you already have.
Mike Peterson

Mike Peterson said...

Kathleen: I'm reading Prose's list. At the moment, "The Go-Between" by L.P. Harley. Prose has a lot of good advice on how to learn from great writers, as you know. I love your blog!
Mike Peterson

Kathleen said...

Thanks for loving my blog, Mike. I love your comments!

I'm not sure I can explain the nonlinear time thing, but I mention it again in the "Enlightenment is a Bitch" entry. I guess I'm coming to understand the each-moment-is-all-moments aspect of life. In the now, linear time doesn't exist, or doesn't matter, or is just another way of seeing things. It works as an organizing tool...and seems to be here re: history, evolution, etc. But human experience also has this simultaneity thing going on. Great thinkers and poets and mathematicians and physicists I think have tried to explain this to us, or convey it to us, in various ways...but maybe if we got it, we'd explode.

Wait, didn't the world just tilt on its axis with that last earthquake? It might already be happening! Aaugghh, enlightenment IS a bitch!