Sunday, August 12, 2007

On Reading and Libraries

(Across from Humbolt University in Berlin, this monument memorializes the tragedy of the atrocious buring of manuscripts by some of history's most skilled thinkers and writers by members of the Nazi party)
I’m currently reading a book I borrowed from a friend. It’s a Cormac McCarthy novel called No Country for Old Men. The movie version has just been released, directed by the Cohen brothers whose work I greatly admire. To me, McCarthy always feels keenly aware of what his writing is meant to accomplish, terribly keyed into his maleness, a new-millenium Hemingwayesque character—which is a compliment to his skillful writing, particularly in re dialogue—but I suspect he might privately rejoice in the comparison. From my perspective he’s a “man’s writer,” and his fantasies don’t intersect with mine.

My preliminary opinion of this writing aside, it's wonderful to read a book! To sit with the tangible manuscript and know that when you open it, you will be entering into someone’s imagination. Isn’t this just the most incredible thing about language, how we have the gift of being able to reconstruct what someone has imagined, add our individual interpretations and visualizations, and read this person’s story without ever having to be near the storyteller.

I have always loved books and stories; was a voracious reader who couldn’t be separated from a book. I got in trouble for reading during class discussions. Reading is immersion—escape. I know I’m not alone in this worship of the story. Let’s face it, books were the original video games, our mind’s eye was the matrix.

Contingent to the book lover’s devotion to the book comes a love for libraries. Recently Meredith shared with me a Garrison Keillor reflection on libraries, you can read it
here. And I wrote a response that she suggested I post, so I shall:

“Just to expand on this for a moment, because the love of libraries is something that commences when one is young and inscribes the subject with the smells, subtle rustling noises of pages turning, chairs scooting, rumps shifting, and access to imaginative worlds that seem to roil in the atmosphere of those exalted buildings. As the child of parents who barely spoke English, the library WAS America for me. In tangent with school, it taught me everything. I lapped both vehicles for learning up like an eager puppy, realizing that with these resources I could find my own way—I wasn’t stuck turning my curious face only to my parents for the secrets to the ways of the world. This, I think, was how a girl who might have tended to be a bit too dependent, learned the thrill of self-determination.

"My library, like Keillor's, was beautiful. Even in the sterile, pre-planned landscape of Westchester, California, it felt like history resided there. The structure was stately and the librarians were my heroes. I remember the look of the worn wood shelves, and the typeface of the labels that faced out from each row of books, and the mystery and subsequent mastering of the Dewey decimal system. It was a place that surely supported the basic ideals of quantum physics (that you can beckon, on a molecular basis, some sort of atmosphere that you desire).”


At 8:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just lovely! Good to see you back in the blog again.


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