September 16, 2008


Emma Darwin

Yes, you lose your readerly innocence once you become a writer, and again once you're being paid for writing and reading. It gets ever-rarer to find yourself at that far boundary, but it can happen. After years picking over every word of my own - or other people's - it takes a better book to get me there these days, but I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing, in human terms. It probably distances us ever more from most readers' experience, too.

Paul Lamb

I, too, loved Blindness, the first of many Saramago novels I've read. I don't suppose the forthcoming movie will be worth the effort though.

I belong to a number of book discussion groups, and I've felt similar feelings about reading when I find myself racing through the last chapters of a novel in time for the meeting, wondering if I'm missing the terribly important point of the work that everyone else will see, wondering what insightful contributions I can make to the discussion. I've found myself "resenting" my reading obligations at times, and I look for the in-between weeks when I can indulge in books of my own choosing.

I had a similar experience back in the days when I was "committing journalism." As long as I was freelancing some article on a topic that interested me, I enjoyed the whole process. But when writing became (briefly) my sole source of income, I resented writing on assignment and on deadline. Now I've stopped that.


As someone who writes about books for a living (for a book industry magazine and as a blogger) I can understand exactly what you mean. Sometimes now I deliberately decide not to pick up my pen and just hold my comments in memory, but it is almost a stressful and impossible experience. I feel as though when I write the review I may forget something. So I end up with a heavily dog-eared book. I just can't escape the analytical brain when it comes to reading - but it actually doesn't impair my joy of the reading experience. I am so excited to come across a passage and put a big star or exclamation mark next to it on the page, or write 'Pg. 124 - SO APT' on my notepad.
But this is why I will never, ever learn to play an instrument. So many people have wanted to teach me guitar, and I refuse. It's my non-analytical, joyful transcendent medium.
But I love to know the skeleton and subtext and delicious details of a book.


i work in finance so i still enjoy reading as a hobby. saramago's "blindness" was good but i thought "the gospel according to jesus christ" trumped...everything. a new book of his is due this november, perhaps he will surpass all my expectations.


Ah, yes ... getting happily lost in a story. It's one of my lifelong favourite pleasures. Two days ago I finished James Howard Kunstler's *World Made By Hand* ... which casts a speculative, compassionate eye on what might be, say, twenty to fifty years down the road if we humans don't smarten up immediately.

My next read is Kathleen Norris' newest title, *Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and A Writer's Life.* Norris explores the history, meaning, and experience of acedia -- a "spiritual morphine" deeper than clinical depression that can take root in the core of a person and lay to waste all capacity for feeling, empathy, and engagement with life ...

Another timely book, I think ...

P.T. Smith

This is really just fantastic timing. I had time at work to read some of the book you linked to yesterday and I'm currently reading Blindness, started it a few days ago. So when I sat down to read it yesterday, the idea of otherness was very much in my mind. Though I can't shut off the part of my brain that watches myself read, and the part that watches that (etc.) and I can't stop scrawling in the margins, I stopped pretending I was understanding it as much. I ended up feeling much the way you did, just a pleasantly crushing encounter with the other and responding to that with emotion and humanity. The Plague is a really obvious comparison to make, but most all of Camus has the same effect on me.
I look forward to tomorrow's post.


Excellent timing, indeed. I have a copy of "The Gospel According to Jesus Christ" but there are a few books ahead of it in the reading queue. Perhaps they will be bumped.

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  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


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