Sunday Reading About Reading

I’ve been going through my news feeds today while sipping coffee and doing laundry (typical Sunday) and found too many wonderful things I couldn’t help but share.

1. One woman’s quest to smell 30,000 books in the New York MoMA library.
How silly and fun. The best quote from this whole piece: “It’s a daring idea because some of our books smell really bad.”

2. True Stories Told Live
This is great—There’s this group in London that meets at a pub to get up and tell stories in front of a crowd. The way the article is written it sounds almost cathartic (but not in that annoying, My Name is Megan and I’ve Been a Story Teller for 15 Years, sort of way) and reminds me of The Onion Cellar in Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum, where people get together to peal onions and cry.

What did the onion juice do? It did what the world and the sorrows of the world could not do: it brought forth a round human tear. It made them cry. At last they were able to cry again. To cry properly, without restraint, to cry like mad. The tears flowed and washed everything away. The rain came. The dew.

I dunno, now that I’m revisiting this passage, I’m not sure why this group reminds me so much of the cellar, but perhaps it’s just that they are both communal outpourings of a sort. Telling a story, a true story, out in the open like that can be just as brave and difficult as crying in public. But then, a story can be a lot of things I guess. And onions have their uses too. Too bad I don’t live in London. I’d love to go and listen. I’ll have to settle for my usual barstool for now—it’s less organized and official but I imagine the stories are just as good.

3. 10 of the Best Noses in Literature
I’ve never heard of some of these noses or these works of art, but I love that this list exists. Totally fun. (Kind of goes with number 1 by the way.)

43. Why Criticism Matters
The New York Times Sunday Book Review asked some of today’s leading critics what they do and why they do it. (Essentially why is literary criticism still important.) It makes for interesting reading if you’re into that sort of thing, which I am. Of course, some of the critics made me feel a little small with their comments on book blogs and Amazon reviews and how there’s all this crap out there from the masses mucking up the conversation. I agree with most of that assessment. It’s why having critics and “experts” on literature are important. It’s good to get information, especially on such subjective topics, from a source that you trust.

But, I dunno, I think there’s room for both. As odd as it may sound, sometimes I want to know what some smartypants literary critic has to say about a book, and sometimes I want to know what some 14-year-old amateur blogger has to say. Both are interesting to me and both inform my reading. (Ha, sorry if that’s insulting to anyone.)  And then there are other times when I ask my mom what she thinks, or my friends Leslie and Victoria, or the old guy sitting at the corner of the bar, the stranger on a plane or in line at the coffee shop who’s holding a book I’ve just read about. It’s good to hear what other people from different backgrounds and perspectives have to say about what they’re reading. I think it’s not just important to have all these various opinions, it’s fun.

That’s part of the magic of reading, that different people can read the same thing and it can mean something so different to them both. And then, the same person can read the same book twice and it can mean something different both times. Reading is fluid. A book is a living thing.  At times this whole concept is so crazy to me, I can’t even begin to describe it without sounding like a total idiot.

Luckily, there are critics, who are far more knowledgeable and articulate than I, to talk about it. (Saucy wink goes here.)

But yes, I must say, I particularly enjoyed Adam Kirsch’s piece and Katie Roiphe‘s was great as well. Oh, and Sam Anderson was delightful. I love the term, “textual healing.”  And the line, “The critic’s job is to help amplify that conversation. We make the whispered parts of it audible; we translate the coded parts into everyday language,” is beautiful. His piece did a lovely job of illustrating his idea of what criticism should be.


A sweet seamless blur of life in life..

“She had only just begun to think about the world around her. Until this summer, she and the world had been much the same thing, a sweet seamless blur of life in life. But now it had broken away from her and become, not herself, but the place her self resided in, a sometimes strange and ominous other that must for one’s own sake be studied, be read like a book, like the books she’d begun to read at the same time the world receded. Or maybe it was the reading that had made the world step back. Things that had once been alive and talked to her because part of her–doll, house, cloud, well–were silent now, and apart, and things that lived still on their own–flower, butterfly, mother, grandmother–she now knew also died, another kind of distance.”

-Robert Coover, Grandmother’s Nose