Writerly Reads

What is the relationship between the physicality of books and the act of reading? How important is the first to the second? Pretty damn important, says Andrew Piper in a recent article at Slate.

As someone who needs and enjoys solitude I found this article about the uses of solitude by John Burnside fascinating.

The New Yorker‘s Adam Gopnik reviews two new books about the connection between geography and history: Robert D. Kaplan’s The Revenge of Geography, and Why Geography Matters: More Than Ever by Harm de Blij.

Jack Shafer’s essay slash review on the subject of George Orwell’s newly published diaries is a great read in and of itself.

A few months ago, I reread Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady; the experience was all the more delightful for the fact that I had read it so long ago that reading it again was like reading it for the first time. Now, Michael Gorra has written a book about the book: Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece. Of course, it’s going on my To Read list. James Wood has a long but very much worth reading literary critique (of the novel) at the London Review of Books.

Finally, if you have enjoyed reading these essays, you might also enjoy Simon Schama’s extended ode to the essay genre (at the Financial Times, of all places).

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Kathy Kattenburg

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  • kathy,

    Thanks for your collection of essays with such great links to read- or “read”. I often squander my time on the internet wandering through whatever catches my eye and ending up with no sense of having “gotten” anything. Not here.

  • Re books vs ebooks:
    I’ve been using computers for 50 years, so I’m used to the hardware. I prefer paper.
    It’s partly a matter of how I read, skipping back and forth over a page, sometimes to the previous page. That’s hard to do if you have to scroll an eReader (and even with my reading glasses, a readable font size requires scrolling).
    I can read about 350-400 WPM in most fiction. I doubt if I could do much more than 100 WPM on an eReader.
    Most professional programmers I know use 2 or 3 screens simply to get a ‘wider’ view of their work.
    I get the same by looking at program listings on paper.

    I also prefer books for convenience. One would think that the ability to tuck an eReader into your bag and pick it up where you left off would be handier than a book, but I find it just the opposite. My wife takes her Kindle to read in a doctor’s waiting room – I take a book.

    Another Little Secret. There is a sensual aspect to reading and a piece of glass/plastic/metal just is about as comfy and homey as a broken beer bottle.

    Re solitude:
    There is a time for companionship and a time for solitude and the two reinforce each other.
    One might say that true solitude lets one get closer to humanity – one’s own and others’ – than being constantly in the ‘madding crowd’.
    Far from being a hermit in attitude, Thoreau looked at his solitude as a benefit to his relationships with others.

    A novel or play offers plenty of room and material to cloak the writer’s ego, but an essay offers no place to hide: the author is up-front and vulnerable
    That means essays are generally written by those who think they have something worth saying (and are insulted if you disagree) and those who know they have something worth saying and don’t give a damn what you think as long as you listen/read.

    I don’t know if others see as much personal stuff in my novels as I inadvertently included, but it’s there and it’s really inescapable, for any novelist if you know how to read between the lines. It’s just that essays don’t pretend otherwise.

    Re Orwell’s golden-eyed toad hooking a reader:
    Fiona Robyn’s novel Thaw opens with the following:

    These hands are ninety-three years old. They belong to Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. She was so frail that her grand-daughter had to carry her onto the set to take this photo. It’s a close-up. Her emaciated arms emerge from the top corners of the photo, and the background is black, maybe velvet, as if we’re being protected from seeing the strings. One wrist rests on the other, and her fingers hang loose, close together, a pair of folded wings. And you can see her insides. The bones of her knuckles bulge out of the skin, which sags like plastic that has melted in the sun and is dripping off her, wrinkling and folding. Her veins look as though they’re stuck to the outside of her hands. They’re a colour that’s difficult to describe: blue, but also silver, green; her blood runs through them, close to the surface. The book says she died shortly after they took the picture. Did she even get to see it? Maybe it was the last beautiful thing she left in the world.

    I read that and ordered the book, not caring much what it had to say, but entranced by how she said it.

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