What do I know about reading?

Some­whe­re I read the lament, ‘and then I also have to read numerous books’. This to indi­ca­te that the Christ­mas holi­days, whi­le wel­co­me, are much too short to get eve­ry­thing done we have post­po­ned to the end of the year. Just a mat­ter of making a rea­lis­tic list. I myself have also a pile of  unread books wai­ting for me, but I have selec­ted only three which I want to read the next few days. The rest will fol­low when time comes.

Some­whe­re else I read that Umber­to Eco owns a gigan­tic libra­ry which holds more than 30,000 tit­les. It see­ms that he divi­des the peo­p­le who visit him into tho­se asking how many books he has read and tho­se who rea­li­ze a libra­ry is not a show­ca­se but inten­ded for research. From this point of view the unread books are per­haps even more valu­a­ble than the alrea­dy read. After all, they con­tain the know­led­ge you need to acqui­re. Eco cal­l­ed this col­lec­ti­on of still to read books the ‘anti-libra­ry’.

My own libra­ry inclu­des around one thou­sand tit­les. I esti­ma­te that a quar­ter is non-fic­ti­on, of which his­to­ri­cal books are in the majo­ri­ty. Fic­ti­on is neat­ly divi­ded bet­ween Dut­ch and English lite­ra­tu­re. Next to that the­re is a litt­le bit of sci­en­ce fic­ti­on, thril­lers and fan­ta­sy. How may have I read?

Depends on the defi­ni­ti­on you use.

… I do belie­ve rea­ding is an acti­ve skill, an art even, cer­tain­ly not a ques­ti­on of pas­si­ve absorption.

Not my words, but tho­se of Tim Parks in his arti­cle How I Read for The New York Review of Books. It is a sequel to A Weapon for Rea­ders in which Parks advo­ca­tes the use of a pen whi­le rea­ding. In his eyes we as rea­ders look up too much to wri­ters and the prin­ted word. We are not cri­ti­cal enough and don’t noti­ce that we are mani­pu­la­ted sometimes.

We have too much res­pect for the prin­ted word, too litt­le awa­re­ness of the power words hold over us. We allow worlds to be con­ju­red up for us with very litt­le con­cern for the impli­ca­ti­ons. We over­look gla­ring incon­g­rui­ties. We are suc­kers for alli­te­ra­ti­on, asso­nan­ce, and rhythm. We rejoi­ce over sto­ries, whe­ther fic­ti­on or “docu­men­ta­ry,” who­se out­co­mes are fla­grant­ly mani­pu­la­ti­ve, self-ser­ving, or both.

When I look at myself I must con­fess that much of what I’ve read, I didn’t do it in the acti­ve mode as Tim Parks wants me to. In most cases, I let myself be car­ried away by the nar­ra­ti­ve of the wri­ters I admi­re. I love to get lost in their worlds. Even many text­books I’ve read that way. The stu­dy of his­to­ry lends itself more for sto­ry­tel­ling than any other sci­en­ti­fic topic. In that sen­se I was not always a good stu­dent. Often I was more impres­sed by the author’s eru­di­ti­on than that I had an eye for the logi­cal foun­da­ti­on of his arguments.

Rea­ding as a form of esca­pe. Or does it need a ques­ti­on mark at the end?

Wha­te­ver. I feel attrac­ted by the two arti­cles by Tim Parks. Now that it’s been a full year that I review eve­ry month two books for A per­fect day for lite­ra­tu­re, I find myself more and more rea­ding with a pen in hand. And making noting. In a note­book. Or in the margins of the book itself.

Again Tim Parks:

The mere fact of hol­ding the hand poi­sed for acti­on chan­ges our atti­tu­de to the text. We are no lon­ger pas­si­ve con­su­mers of a mono­lo­gue but acti­ve par­ti­ci­pants in a dia­lo­gue. Stu­dents would report that their rea­ding slo­wed down when they had a pen in their hand, but at the same time the text beca­me more den­se, more inte­res­ting, if only becau­se a cer­tain plea­su­re could now be taken in their own res­pon­se to the wri­ting when they didn’t feel it was up to scratch, or wort­hy only of being scratched.

When I again take into con­si­de­ra­ti­on my libra­ry, I see many, many books that I have not read in an acti­ve way. I sud­den­ly own a mega lar­ge anti-libra­ry. For the same money. As a kind of year-end bonus.

But what does it mean for my rea­ding ambi­ti­on during the Christ­mas sea­son? May­be my inten­ti­on to read three book can bet­ter be adju­sted back to two pie­ces. As said, you have to be rea­lis­tic. Acti­ve rea­ding takes more time.

Also becau­se I want to learn more about the rea­ding pro­cess itself. How does it actu­al­ly works? What hap­pens when we read?

One more time Tim Parks:

… if rea­ding is a skill, the­re must be tech­ni­ques and tools that eve­ry­o­ne can use or try, even if we use them differently.

About rea­ding as a skill and the tech­ni­ques and tools that we can use I know not much. I now rea­li­ze that I was always much more con­cerned with books and wri­ting than with the art of rea­ding itself. It see­ms an approp­ri­a­te topic for my 30 days chal­len­ge. Let’s see whe­ther and how it will chan­ge my life when I’m going to inves­ti­ga­te it in more depth.

[Lees in het Neder­lands]

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