Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The act of reading

I went to a fascinating evening at Daunts bookshop in Marylebone Hight Street last week where I heard Margaret Willes and Alberto Manguel discussing their books on reading*. Before this I had certainly never thought that there was any need to think about the act of reading in any special way. I thought I just read, and that was that. I know that recently I had asked myself why I read, for I read very fast, as though sucking up the words and then spitting them out again, and often all they seem to leave behind is an after-taste of something which can either add to my life or not, depending on whether the words are stimulating or not. I find that I often can’t remember the plot of a book, its title or even its author minutes after I have finished reading it, and yet whilst I read I am transported to another space, to the extent that it takes repeated intrusions for the world outside to intersperse itself between me and the words on the page sufficiently to prize my attention away from them. So to ask myself why I read was a good question, and already, having now started the Margaret Willes book, I have some answers to whet my curiosity and make me want to read more.

If nothing else, I have this lovely quote from Margaret Willes’ book to nourish me in my blog-writing, where what I write “in all privacy, in my bureau” can now be seen by “every butcher and baker” in the land, but, I imagine, for substantially more than “3 pence”, if we add the costs of linking up to the internet. It does indeed give me an “exceeding odd sensation”!

“After a secret visit to (Bell’s Circulating Library), Fanny (Burney) wrote, “I have an exceeding odd sensation, when I consider it is now in the power of any and every body to read what I so carefully hoarded even from my best friends, till this last month or two – and that a work which was so lately lodged, in all privacy, in my bureau may now be seen by every butcher & baker, cobler (sic) & tinker, throughout the 3 kingdoms, for the small tribute of 3 pence.”

* Margaret Willes, Reading Matters; Five centuries of discovering books, Yale University Press, 2008
Alberto Manguel, A Reader on Reading, Yale University Press, 2010

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