One of my nieces in Australia has a high school project which entails asking people: “Do you Like reading – Why, What does reading do for you, what comes to your mind when you think about reading and What makes a peice of literature – to you?” So I have responded, no doubt with the overkill of someone playing the favourite far-overseas Uncle (its one of the joys of going back to Australia, seeing the nieces and nephews – some of whom are now grown up proper – I remember one Xmas teaching them how to play Monopoly with anti-corporate rules, no ‘Go to Jail’ and public utilities and expensive Park Lane properties free to visit…. Apparently this was then a hit at school…)
Anyway, here are my responses to Daisy’s questionnaire (do let me know how far I have strayed from all that was probably required):
Hi Daisy. I could talk for ages on reading. How much do you want?
I like reading, I like it for a dozen, even a hundred different reasons. Most important about reading is that it changes the way you think – whether you are reading a novel to get a new perspective on everyday life or something, or if you are reading a book about history or politics so as to understand the world better, more deeply, or even if its a computer manual because you do not know how the damn thing works and you need to fix it, reading is about changing your point of view, changing your outlook, seeing things from another angle. There is NO point in going on if you do not do this. It is about awareness of the world. Sure, in a different world you might be able to get that from television and film, but more often than not the TV and Film we have here is not going to be challenging you to think, merely to sit back and daydream. Of course some film is wonderfully thought provoking – like documentary, good cinema, critical TV shows (West Wing, Battlestar Galactica!) but usually it is writing that is more subtle.
That is what reading does for me – stands out as the repository of all that is interesting and what I might want to know – even what I do not yet know I want to know. A new book is a chance to find something new in the world – new to me at least, which means new in general because it changes me in new ways. Change is good (who said that?) and reading lets me access it. Quite a privilege really. Imagine a world where we never read. It would be like endless days of eating, fighting and sports – not bad in themselves and for a time, especially if its sunny, but possibly not the only things I wanna do.
What comes to mind is open possibility. Cracking the spine of a new book,opening the first pages, the smell of different books, the idea that someone wrote this, caring for the words, carrying them to the page and arranging them just so (I leave aside the tones of books that are not made with care these days, and the endless dribble of the mainstream press, and the internet – where people present their insipid view about literature and reading and how they feel about it – heh heh.
What makes a piece of literature – the possibility of the new. But really anything that provokes. Its not literature just because its published in the Penguin Classics series or some other authoritative publisher, its literature because its literate, or helps us all become so. There are comic books that are as much this as Moby Dick – itself a book that was largely overlooked while its author was alive, and now is considered the greatest piece of North American literature bar none. So who can say what literature is, now, as what is scrap paper to us now might be something really special quite soon (not that I hold out any hope that these paragraphs would be subject to some astonishing elevation).
Who set you this project? Good thing. Love, Uncle John