ComPulsEory Reading [june 2014 ]

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.”— Dr. Seuss, “I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!”


Ok, point taken. But I do recall that we engaged in long reading sessions [class lecture], especially in high–school. You bowed down over your desk, bored into the narrative and that was pretty much it. Apart from jabs into your neighbors ribs if a passage struck you to be ever so slightly sexual or otherwise open to being interpreted as funny. And sighs, of course, to express to your fellow students that you certainly were not interested in this kind of activity because you had such heart-breakingly more important stuff on your teenage plate. Like lying on your bed, listening to embarassing music, staring at the ceiling, wondering when you‘d ever gum up the courage to talk to that particular boy/girl. Rather than read Dickens.

            And as much as one might wish to agree with this quote the question inevitably arises as to which bloody environment in our noisy world is not alien to long-form reading? On the train&subway there is the constant, more-than-necessary loud chatter of phone conversations, people trying to form in other people a favorable impression of their own recent life [so that in time they might come to believe this themselves], uniformed folks asking to see your ticket, the greatly annoying cohort of babies aka mindless, elimination-challenged hyper-egomaniacs, etc. At the beach there is the lovely somnolence of lying in the sun with eyes shut and that other great imaginary activity: fantasizing about sex with random yummy

…wherenow instead u become a fervent, amateur lip-reader [and cliche-monger of the worst ilk]

strangers given the working material these half-clad bodies provide whenever you do peek a glance….it‘s a super-tough time for the most page-turning of tomes to keep up with that.

            Fine then, what other possible habitat for long-form reading? Where could it carve out the type of eco–cognitive niche that could assure its survival for the coming centuries of media history? The library! our inner voice of reason cries out. Reason, haha. But have you been to one lately? In the US [ever since the Teflon Don‘s doings, I assume] they double as homeless shelters, whereas over here in Europe while still retaining traces of civility, they are just as often over-run by rabidly reverie-inducing talent [mostly studying law or economics, mostly dressed to kill in faraway places like Milano/Paris, forget Lucerne]. And if not them, it‘ll be a slow day where an old-timer accosts you and gets you involved in an asymmetrical conversation that is unlikely to involve the likes of Dickens et al. [by which i simply mean decent lit].

Or the place is simply bursting w/ students cramming for mid-terms or finals and the countless collateral whispered conversations, disputes, querry which amount to street- rather than white-noise. You get the soundscape. Which all is to convey that rarely ever is the library still a hallowed, high, book-lined space of silent reading & contemplation. Unless of course you‘re willing to venture, cranium first, deeply into the stacks where I wish you the best of luck with finding a non-crippling seating opportunity to indulge in the type of prolonged cogitation that is the hallmark of any biblotypical cogitation. Though I‘m ready to admit that there are weird, marginal hours and near-radioactive summer-days [imagine transforming into a human-shaped lobster sub-300 secs after laying out flat on ye fav‘ photonbombardment spot], blistering summer days [where the whole idea of „good weather“ is stood on its head from a cancer prophylaxis PoV], such days then where you do recapture some of the musty, hushed

Regenstein in full poly-lithic effect

splendor of a 1950s NYPL or a 1961 Regenstein Library or what-hath-thou-fond-childhood-memories-of-silence recollection places. Where the only audible sound waves will be those emitted by the rapturous turning of papyrus‘ descendants and, perhaps, the silent squirm of the formation of beads of sweat upon thy brow. No halation of either the in- or ex-variety as surely everyone‘s breath is bated in anticipation of ill‘umination; straight-up the truth dawg.

            Be that as it will. The silent library appears to be going the way of the silent movie, though at [anecdotal] present-day headphone-usage-hours quietude might after all stage a huge, most unbidden comeback. Ye geddit? Whereas look at a half-way decent school. You better STHU or you‘re coming in Wednesday afternoon or doing extra-homework or God-knows-what-kinda-anti-tennagerial-activity the stern-looking teacher can come up with. Clearly in cahoots with the contra-fun Forces in charge of reality [as witnessed away from screens]. But then you sit down, you hunch over the accursed rectangle of black-on-white squiggles, you start scanning the letters, reluctantly let them collate into words, from which the wonder of sentences arises and you-be-damned, some of this so-called Reading is actually fun!

            And fun is not even the right word, one realizes. It‘s partially uplifting, educational in stretches, indignating in others, then again thrilling and/or depressing, heart-rending, mind-numbing for dozens of pages but also, even still, rarely, undeniably, life-enhancing. And it just about dawns on you that there can be, however tenuous, an interrelation between the adjectives on the dustjackets and the wordified experiences wrapped there within. And all this, mind you, is happening [or can happen] in school. Due to having no bloody choice but then discovering that not having so-called freewill can actually at times be a good thing for this very freewill. This is not alienation, this is elevation. And it most certainly is long-form. And on top of it all it is happening in school!

            Because, have a wild guess, once one has graduated from it, the chances of picking up a book, be it a novel or a hard-candy chunk of non-fiction, plummet through the floor. There is no outside compulsory force and, mayhap, if you‘ve been unfortunate, you can only remember engaging with someone else‘s thinking&writing as the most tedious actvity known to humankind. You‘d rather be flogged with a dead horse than ever saccade down a paperback page ever-bloody-never again. And if not all supra be pure truth, the empirical literature, which at this point I‘m honestly too tired to even simply spotlight on my AB, has 100% got my back on this. I remember that the researcher‘s surname is flatulence-inducingly hilarious if that counts for anything. Smthng to the effect of Shwantzuel Bolckenschmorz or thereabouts. The whole widely beaten about point being that school is [can be] simply integral, nay congenial to what longform reading is about. And if you still argue only for intrinsic Fun then that‘s your [hearing-]loss.

Wear the old coat and buy the new book. —Austin Phelps






About tmabona

writer, reader [bolano, DW, bellow, deLillo], runner, badmintoneer
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