Friday, July 14, 2006

Why Do I Read?

As I'm typing this, Jameson's rather daunting Postmodernism: Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism weighs heavily in my bookbag, asking me to abandon my chosen career. You see, as a literature graduate student, I'm setting myself up for a lifetime of reading. And sometimes that reading will be difficult and not exactly enjoyable.

But, still. I love to read, even if it's something less than thrilling. I like diving into a book and feeling the texture of the words, hearing the sounds of the language wash over me. It's like finding a place where words become more--together, a coherent whole, they create something tangible. Even reading Jameson, I still enjoy the process of reading, whether it's actively trying to figure out what the hell he means, or deciphering it as a postmodern (poststructuralist) work--sign, signifier, signed...

Novels are where my heart really is, however, when it comes to reading. Whether it's a really bad novel that I can mock, or even one I don't much care for, I still read. For example, I once read Beckett's Malloy. If you've ever read this work, you'll understand, perhaps, where I'm coming from. I hated that work. But I plowed through, finished, and realized...I liked it. It was an interesting, intriguing work. The process of reading changed me, in some small, subtle way. Each work becomes a person that I encounter, interact with, and walk away altered. Reading a book can change your life.

There's an emotional response, often, to what I read. I pick up a poem by Emily Dickinson, and everytime I read those words--be they for the first time or fifth time--I'm struck by something in those brief lines. She's put something in her poetry that cannot be dissected, explained, or even analyzed. All I know is that it speaks to me in a way that makes my breath catch a little in my throat.

I realize that I'm painting some idealized picture of my life as a reader. Perhaps I am, but I always return to my favorites when I'm tired out. Reading is a process of growth and rejuvenation, of exploration, of longing, of love. Picking up a new book is like meeting a new friend, even if they may betray or anger you, ultimately you walk away with something, as from any relationship. Perhaps that's why I dislike the postmodern idea of text--it makes a novel seem so impersonal, so dead. Or maybe it imbues it with a life of its own; I never can decide.

Why do you read?

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