Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Reading among Readers

 Faro's Daughter by Georgette Heyer

For every year since 1991 I've kept a list of my personal Best Books of the Year

Why, of all the things I started and forgot, have I continued this particular list-making?  Why have I wanted to remember from year to year what I have read?  A history of my mental development?  A record of my changing obsessions?  A celebration of literary freedom once teachers and professors and class requirements no longer directed my reading?

This is Your Brain on Music: the science of a human obsession by Daniel J. Levitin

I was trying to remember today what I was thinking when I first began jotting down that list?  Was I afraid I would quit reading? That my mind would turn to mush and advertising jingles? Was I feeling ambitious and self-improving? I think the first list was put together because a friend who had moved far away asked me what I'd read recently that was worth reading.  But why keep it up all these years, year after year? 

And now that I've been keeping up, I feel convinced in the secret marrow of my bones that it would be sacreligious to stop.  Or at least, like tempting fate.  When I was young I tried to teach myself Braille so that when I was old and blind (like the grandmother in Heidi - my blindness always a foregone conclusion in my young mind) - but with Braille I would still be able to read.  Use it or lose it - maybe that's the reason for the list?  A small celebration that mortality hasn't caught me yet.

So,  I give you:  the 2009 Best of the Books list - a hodgepodge and smattering of mostly light novels and largely anecdotal nonfictions.  Nothing life-changing - except maybe Marilynne Robison's Gilead and Suzanne Haik-Vantoura's Musique de la Bible révélée. 

Eldest by Christopher Paolini

For awhile I was keeping a running list of the children's favorite reads - but that has gone by the wayside.  They'll have to do their own record-keeping. 

Tonight, YoungSon brought me Kipling's Jungle Book so I could read to him "that one story about the animal with reflexes so quick you can't see it."  He meant "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" and once he'd opened to it I read about half and was so sleepy and drifting off mid-sentence that he took over, reading with the energy and fluency of a dyed-in-the-wool liber-addict.  Yes, I know it will be such an advantage to him as he goes through school, but - ? 

But truly what do we lose by substituting linear marks in black&white for  3-dimensional experience?

Are we losing a wider perspective as we lose touch with our bodies?   As we take in life only through our eyes?  As more and more the only thing moving are our eyes flicking back and forth, accompanied only by small movements of our hands?

And actually, I've read a book about that, too, years past.  Two, to be exact:
I do wonder sometimes what it would be like to live in a world with no writing, no reading. 

Where the inhabitants read clouds and the flight of geese - real things.  Don't always have to interpose a screen of black&white between themselves and actuality. Who speak face to face to each other.  Whose stories are sounds and not sights.
But I know I could never live there, dependent as I am on dreaming other people's dreams after them.

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