Good Reading, Good Readers

Other than a toe-freezing bout of parade-watching this morning and a sort of anti-holiday celebration with friends this evening, my extended weekend has been and will be silent, solitary: the better to lose myself in other peoples’ words and the worlds they create.

And with all this time on my hands, I’m going back to Borges, a near-mythological master who occupies a place in my very small pantheon of literary gods. (Sure, I have a lot of favorites– but the giants I’d be afraid of meeting because I’d feel even smaller and more toddler-like than usual in comparison get their own VIP room up on my version of wordy Olympus.)

But even the mental imprint left by this in-group’s output is often very general in my mind; especially with Borges, whom I’ve read extensively, I can’t give anyone details of what was said or took place; I often can’t even keep straight which topic or theme occurred in which story or essay. All I know is that I repeatedly fall head-over-heels for the places I’m taken, and the media that carry me there. The framing and content and context are essential to the feelings that result from delving into any of these narratives– but it’s the feelings that remain, and blot out the scaffolding that allowed them to emerge in the first place.

And so, when I read in the intro to the first edition of A Universal History of Iniquity, “I sometimes think that good readers are poets as singular, and as awesome, as great authors themselves,” I have to wonder, in light of the sentimental muddle that takes up all the space in my head, if I’m a good reader. Admittedly, I’m not really concerned with the answer; I read because I love it, and because I couldn’t live (as opposed to merely survive) without transformative literature. But I am curious.

There’s no arguing that I’m a respectful reader; I always approach the page with clean hands; I get nervous about lending out tomes to people who think nothing of cracking spines; for many years now, I’ve taken notes on a separate piece of paper, instead of writing in the margins. And my love is sincere– but unless I’ve read something four or five times, and (probably) been required to write extensive essays on it, I’m usually left without any ability to tell people why I’m so smitten with a particular poem or story or book. Because I’m continually afraid of letting others down, and/or bothering them with pointless raving, what the real bother is about this whole tendency, I think, is that I’ll be left looking like the aerobics instructor (Sam) in Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives, flustered and silly and obviously at a loss to explain astrology to a crowd of disdainful intellectuals:


Sam: It is true! It is totally, totally, totally provable, you know?

Female Party Guest: Provable how? From gypsies?

Sam: Well, it’s totally logical, right? You know, why wouldn’t the position of the planets have an influence on our personalities?


Well– as long as I’m not hanging out with sneering human beings, I should be fine. Still, if I were to run into the ghost of Maestro Borges today, I would hope he’d place a kind hand on my shoulder and, not really resolving the matter for me, let me know he’s seen my faith, and has been convinced of its truth.


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