Archive for September, 2021

Stop and Go Reading, The habit of marking the place where you paused

September 29, 2021 Leave a comment

GUEST POST: by Oliver B. Pollak

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Do you find the book, does the book find you, is there a juxtaposition between thought and opportunity? English reading is left to right, top to bottom. Marginalia includes check/tick (American/English) marks, asterisks, NB (Latin abbreviation for Nota bene, “note well”), and comments. Heather J. Jackson, University of Toronto Professor of English studied reader engagement in Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books (2001).

Readers mark where they ceased reading, a sign where to resume. The dog eared page, slip of paper, napkin, paperclip, piece of papyrus, strand of hair, feather, pressed flower, a myriad of plastic, leather, and metal aids, fancy bindings with lace marker sewn into the spine, and front and back dust jacket flaps mark the reader’s progress. Promotional bookmarks abound. None of these indicate precisely where the reader left off. The start of new chapters speak for themselves. Multi-colored ubiquitous Post-its and plastic flags are impermanent.

Using a pencil, pen, felt tip, highlighter, and sharpie for underlining, the privilege of ownership, adds permanence.

Reading fiction differs from reading non-fiction. I read fiction for pleasure, imagination, enthralled by the author’s creativity, and as immersionary background to non-fiction writing. The flavor, intensity, quality and utility of the read varies. Precious memorable lines, words that drive you to the dictionary warrant circling.  Rachel del Valle asked the question “Why Use a Dictionary in the Age of Internet Search?” (New York Times Magazine, September 13, 2021). The Netanyahus: An Account Of a Minor and Ultimately Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family (2021) by Joshua Cohen has been regaled for its use of obscure words.

The following three novel adventures differ in reading techniques. I read so I can write.

The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk (2008 in Turkish, 2009 in English) has 83 chapters, and 532 pages, 6.4 pages per chapter. As a museum visitor Pamuk’s title and stature as the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature winner inspired me. I purchased it at Mrs. Dalloway, a delightful Berkeley indie bookstore, in late May 2019 to read while cruising the Mediterranean. I read slowly, contemplatively, deliberatively, Proustishly, liberally marking in ink, a privilege given solely to book owners. Seventeen-year-old Dalloway’s was put up for sale in April 2021.

Back in California in June 2019 I acquired Pamuk’s The Innocence of Objects (2012), 74 chapters on 264 pages, 3.5 pages per chapter and finished it in July. Visiting Pamuk’s brick and mortar Museum of Innocence in Istanbul is on my bucket list in the sky. I followed with Pamuk’s 2001 novel, My Name is Red, intriguing but a commitment to 413 pages flagged at page 42..

I read Where the Crawdads Sing, by zoologist Delia Owens (2018), 57 chapters, 368 pages, 6.4 pages per chapter, like a non-stop express train during a pandemic retreat in Jackson, Wyoming . My wife “could not put it down,” went on a red eye reading binge and finished at 5 am. We recommended it to friends who did not read it with the same fiendishness. The protagonist observed, collected, sketched and wrote about North Carolina’s marsh world flora, fauna, and off beat humans. In Fall 2020 a Jackson Hole bookseller told me that nothing like its galvanizing popularity had come into the shop since. The film is slated for release in June 2022.

The Secret of Lost Things, A Novel, Sheridan Hay, (2006) has 25 chapters, 354 pages,  14 pages per chapter, double the Pamuk and Owens ratio. Reading it with many interruptions I noted the reading pauses. I purchased it on March 1, 2021 via Abebooks, less than 20 days later I could not recall the exact circumstances of the buy. Forgetful of keys, glasses, cell phone and papers, the title suggested empathy. Two clues, the title includes the word “lost” and the story is set in a New York bookstore.

These three novels are about obsessing the ordinary, love, relationships, observing, recording, understanding. They had in common the loss of a loved one at an impressionable age, unrequited love, and disequilibrium. Pamuk crafts a museum to remember the loss of love. Owens is obsessed with isolation nurturing reading, research and writing. Hay spins a yarn bookstore yarn set in a five story bookstore of oddball employees and customers and an unpublished post Moby Dick Melville manuscript.

Reading attention spans range from mesmerizing to disrupted to giving up. Within the genre of books about books many volumes are devoted to how to choose and read a book. Maureen Corrigan, Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading: Finding and Losing myself in Books (2005) is companionable reading.

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