A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.
– Henry David Thoreau
Hughmmm…. aye, agreed. Though in my particular case, and which case isn‘t, particular I mean, the word intellectual might be grabbing a little too high, as we say in droll ol‘ German. It is the literary labor, or maybe more precise yet, the toil of the reading brain, involving all of plot-coherence production, aesthetic appreciation and auto-biograhpical comparing. En masse that last one, as you try to figure out how you yourself might attain the glorious heights and but also avoid all the protagonists‘ unnecessary, grievous pratfalls; at least I do. Anyway, this here is about the general effort involved. It is curious when suddenly one feels compelled to put in that extra cognitive work and drill on, sleepy or no sleepy. There are a number of plausible scenarios I am familiar with:
A] INVESTMENT – you are onto page 170 or so and the book is about 300 pages long. For the longest time you have fooled yourself into thinking it will take a turn for the good, any good, this on the strength of recommenders you utterly trust [foolishly, evidently]. But it hasn‘t. But also, not finishing it and the minuscule remaining chance of some literary or even just plot-technological gem still cropping up in that dwindling last third or so, the possibility of the existence of this chance, this seems to negate the possibility of abandoning ship. Not even midshit. You would be left with an incomplete book, the not-entirely-read-novel about which you have no fully sustained right to either debate, type a disparaging good-reads entry nor even genuinely gripe. Plus the opportunity cost, dear friend of macroeconomics: minus 170 pages you haven‘t read in some scintillatingly brilliant novel like Stoner or somesuch.
B] Principle. What can one say? It sounds like principal for a reason: stern, misguided, frumpled around the edges, the butt end of jokes. If a past decision is more important than the considerations of your present brain activity, you‘re not only fucked in the reading department. Amigo.
Dang – initially the idea was to relate when we literarily labor due to POSITIVE INCENTIVES. Ford‘s Independence Day makes me do it, to be specific, Frank Bascombe. As complex as the sentence structure or the thought-construct might get, stuck, there, as he is, at the moment of writing and even still now at any reader‘s moment, on some Eastern Seaboard highway considering the ins and outs of his Existence Period, I want to read on through the thick and thin of it. I want to know what Frank thinks, what makes him tick and what explode. His fate might look all US-American and 1980s from a certain perspective but, at heart, it is human: this suffering, this insecurity, these anxieties, this blinding search for love by one Frank Bascombe. And I wish to be there with him.
Just as I wished to peek over the shoulder of Hal
Incandenza. Or be there, line for agonizing line, as Herzog penned out his mental notes to the publicly signifcant figures of his era, winding through the cracked maze of 60s Chi-town, family as patchworky then as they are said to be now. We concentrate, our mind bears down on the pages, the sentence, the words even if it has to creep from one to the next. Our mind becomes a unified meaning-making-machine, fuelled by the author‘s original imagination or the narrative‘s own propulsive nature.
What happens next? What do you think next? Curiosity might kill the cat but it sure as hell motivates the reader to keep on keeping on. You end up reading sentences four times as your mind drifts lala-wards.
The novel blends confusingly with the oncoming dream, the character becomes someone you know or something. And you are taught patience, as, page for page, you wait for all those aesthetic and cognitive payoffs to be doled out until one sunshiny day, a situation or other arises in your own existence period, your own version of Chicago and, puzzled smile creeping onto your mug, you find yourself wondering: What would Bascombe do? And what Zuckerman? What I?