There are many books in my library that I return to often. And most interesting is the fact that if I get rid of a book or give it away, within hours or days I am looking for a quote from the book that is no longer on my shelf. There is one page, preface, page 19, from a book (that will never give away) Harold Bloom’s How to Read and Why that I almost have memorized. I go back to read it often. I was thinking about it as Rosemary and I were reading in bed last night. The preface reads: There is no single way to read well, though there is a prime reason why we should read. Information is endlessly available to us; where shall freedom be found? If you are fortunate, you encounter a particular teacher who can help, yet finally you are alone, going on without further mediation. Reading well is one of the great pleasures that solitude can afford you, because it is, at least in my experience, the most healing of pleasures. It returns you to otherness, whether in yourself or in friends, or in those who might become friends. Imaginative literature is otherness, and as such alleviates loneliness. We read not only because we cannot know enough people, but because friendship is so vulnerable, so likely to diminish or disappear, overcome by space, time, imperfect sympathies, and all the sorrows of familial and passional life. I thought of the above as in the quiet of our marriage bedroom with our cats sleeping at our feet Rosemary and I read separate books on the same bed. Not as sexy, perhaps, as reading separate books on separate beds as the likes of Nick and Nora Charles, but it seemed comforting to me last night. It was comforting but at the same time I felt alone. Perhaps Bloom is right and reading is a pleasure of solitude.There was more and it disturbed me. I glance to my right and watched Rosemary read. I watched myself read. We were in close proximity but there was a barrier between us. I was enjoying The Detour by the strangely named author, Andromeda Romano-Lax who lives in Alaska and is ample proof that there is more than Palin to be found in a place when on a clear day you can see the former Soviet Union. I cannot recall exactly how it is that I ended up corresponding with Miss Romano-Lax. I feel as I read her good novel that we share something. This we share, reading her words in my head seems to be far more intimate than feeling separate in a bed with my wife who happens to be reading a completely different book. The Detour is a novel that is thematicaly based on another book in my collection, Rescuing Da Vinci by Robert M. Edsel which is about how the allies and European countries tried to protect art from the likes of Hitler and Goebbels. It is also how many of these works of art were retrieved after WWII.
Alice Sebold’s book, Lovely Bones (a pristine formerly unread book I purchased for $0.50 at my Vancouver Oakridge Public Library Branch book bin) I bought for my granddaughter Rebecca. Rosemary feels that she should read the books I give my older granddaughter Rebecca before I give them to her. She then finds ways of talking to her about a shared experience. Or perhaps my Rosemary, who was once a teacher, will always be a teacher. I felt a bit left out. I would interrupt her reading with questions like, “Do you like the book?” She was miffed by my interruptions. There might be a solution to my problem of reading solitude. I will take out the same novel twice from my public library and I will suggest to Rosemary that we do some simultaneous reading. I wonder? As Rosemary put out the lights I remembered that sometime around 1956 I was attempting to read Paul Horgan’s historical novel (the Apache wars in the 1880s) A Distant Trumpet for school. I was having a terrible time reading it. I could not understand. It was boring. My mother told me she would read it. She did and she convinced me that it was a worthy book. She explained to me the good parts and was so persuasive that it was that book and sharing it with her that finally made me a reader for life.
Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.