Tag Archives: reading

As I Return to Blogging about Books . . . | Review of “Who Needs Books? Reading in the Digital Age” (2016) University of Alberta Press

Image linked from the CLC website

I know I haven’t been blogging for a while. I was asked if I had given up on reading and had become focused on other things. That isn’t true. It was just there was a weariness to all things digital for me and I used the computer for things that I needed to do and then turned “the stupid thing off” and read. And as the 2019 Word on the Street Festival began to post their lineup of writers, people were asking me if I had read this-or-that writer involved in the event. And it was researching writers for that wonderful festival that I came across Lynn Coady’s brilliant essay Who Needs Books?: Reading in the Digital Age that I understood why I still read printed material during the digital era.

Page 36

The degree to which the internet can feel like an unwelcome and nefarious intrusion into our lives depends in large part on the way we use it – and, more importantly, the way it’s used against us (deliberately or not) by the people in charge. In a 2008 essay called “Is Google Making us Stupid,” Nicholas Carr compares the internet’s reshaping of our lives and cognitive functions to the way the invention of the clock habituated us to think and function according to the dictates of its hands. (Citation) This, he suggests, paved the way for the dehumanizing strictures of the industrial age and the eventual treatment of human workers as automatons. Of course, the clock itself didn’t actually do that. The industrial age was the result of business and factory owners rejoicing in a technology they understood would allow them to measure and exploit worker efficiency down to the very second.

. . .

Page 38

My point is, let’s keep our eye on the ball here. If you have all the free time in the world and you spend it on Facebook, ok, that’s a problem – Mark Zuckerberg has clearly worked his dark mojo on you. But if you spend every spare moment frantically fielding tweets, texts, and emails because your employer requires nothing less, that’s another. Think about who, and what exactly, in either of these scenarios, is stopping you from picking up a book.

 

I had the pleasure of meeting Lynn Coady a few years ago. It was at a guest lecture at Western University in London, Ontario. She gave an impressive talk at that time how she was balancing both her writing for television and fiction. (Afterwards, she mentioned she was impressed that I had a hard-cover copy of her book The Antagonists for her to sign. ) Coady talked about many of her views then. to which this book – a copy of the speech she gave to the Canadian Literature Centre’s Kreseil Lecture Series at the University of Alberta in April, 2015) This book does a brilliant job of looking at the printed word as the digital age blinks blindly at us all in the face. Coady mixes a perfect narrative with philosophy, modern cultural references and humour to make some excellent points.

Pages 42-43

(Twitter participants in a survey about reading) described a craving for the sense of immersion that reading gives them. Some people spoke of it as a kind of psychological privacy, no matter where they happen to be. More than one person use the word “escape.” Here, I believe, is where the book truly does have the advantage over the internet. The internet gives us a sense of communication, as does the book. And similar to the book, it offers up a means of “checking out” from time to time – a warm bath of a narrative to immerse ourselves. But what it doesn’t and can never offer really is a sense of complete and total privacy. Of psychic escape. When you hear about people announcing that they need to “unplug” for a weekend or conduct a “social media cleanse” or take a “Facebook break,” we understand what they are fleeing – the cacophony, the very connectedness that makes the internet such a revolutionary and seductive phenomenon.

So, yes, I am blogging again. And I am still reading books. If anybody truly cares about my weariness about things digital, they merely need to read Lynn Coady’s Who Needs Books?: Reading in the Digital Age. I know I am not alone in my love of books and being left alone. And I will be seeing her presentation at the 2019 Word on the Street Festival in Toronto.

Link to Lynn Coady’s website

Link to the Henry Kreisel Lecture Series website

The Joy of Reading that Goes Beyond the Text | Review of “English is Not a Magic Language” by Jacques Poulin/Translated by Sheila Fischman (2016) Esplanade Books/Véhicule Press

Book cover image linked from the publisher’s website

For those of us who enjoy to read, we know the pleasure of discovering a reality of the world when we read someone’s else description in print. ‘Yes,” we exclaim. “We know what you are talking about,” we silently shout to the writer as we reread that passage. But when we share that reality with someone else who craves to know that reality as well, there is an added joy to our pastime that our mind celebrates. Jacques Poulin explores that theme well in his book English is Not a Magic Language to which Sheila Fischman has brilliantly translated in to English.

Pages 25-26

I was reading her The Red Pony by Monsieur John Steinbeck. The book told the story of a little boy, shy and polite, called Jody, who lived with his parents on a ranch in California. His father had given him a pony as a gift. Jody was trying now to break him, with the help of Billy Buck, a stable hand.

I was the one who had chosen that novel, because Limoilou hadn’t expressed a preference. My choice rested on the fact that she enjoyed the company of horses. I’d had a chance to note that on my first visit. That day, showing me around, the girls had led me onto a winding path strewn with big stones that started behind the chalet and allowed you to down the cliff. At the bottom, we came out onto several fields separated by rows of loosestrife. One field, surrounded by an electric fence, served as grazing land for a group of old racehorses. Limoilou slipped in between the two wires. She stroked the muzzles of the horses, gave them berries to eat from her hand. According to Marine, she spent time telling them about the miserable years she had survived during her brief existence.

Poulin has crafted a unique story into this small volume. He has captured the essence of what the enjoyment of reading is for us all. The story deals with Francis, who is a reader for hire. Outside the complexities of his family life, we witness his adventures as he receives calls for his services and he jumps into his Mini Cooper and drives to read for his clients. And seeing the enjoyment that Francis gets when he sees his clients relate to a work of literature is a joy for any honest reader of literature.

Page 43

Now and then I raised my head to see if my tardiness had them worried. I was making prgress in my reading. I’d underlined several paragraphs and was quite proud of myself. All at once Jack and Marine came out of the house without looking at me. My brother had a dark blue sleeping bag under his arm. With old Chaloupe in the lead, they came down the narrow path lined with flowers surrounding the pond.

I was about to start reading again when I noticed that Limoilou was watching me behind the screen door in the solarium porch.

She was waiting for me.

I closed the book with my finger on the page I intended to start with. The first thing I noticed in the chalet was the map of Louisiana that my brother had put up near the door next to the kitchen. It was impressive.

When we were settled comfortably, she in her chaise lounge and me in my rocker, I waited a few moments to respect our ritual: meditation eyes closed, black cat on her belly. This time though, she declared in a determined voice:

“I’m ready!”

Enunciating carefully, I read the beginning of the journals . . .

There is something intellectually optimistic and serene at times in this book when Poulin describes the actions of Francis while doing his job. Francis is helping bringing enlightenment to the weary world and he knows it. It is an endearing feat and it brings a huge pleasure that he and us readers appreciate

Pages 67-68

At the last reading session I had left Clark all alone on a small island in the Missouri. The members of the expedition were resting from the first day of their journey. they had been warned that they would have to “cross a country held by savage peoples, many in number, powerful and warlike, fierce, treacherous, and cruel and in particular, enemies of the white man.”

While the lovely Irish lass was carting her dictionaries into the kitchen, Limoilou settled int her chaise lounge. She closed her eyes and I began reading. Because of the ordeals she had lived through, traces of which could still be seen around her eyes and on her wrists, she impressed me as much as ever. I was becoming bolder and at times I followed on her face the emotions that words provoked in her.

English is Not a Magic Language by Jacques Poulin and translated by Sheila Fischman may be a short read but it is a brilliant one. It documents well the enjoyment we readers all have from the enlightenment of the written craft.

Link to Vehicule Press’ website for English is Not a Magic Language

A Quiet Melancholia to a Profound Pastime. |Review of “Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions by Alberto Manguel (2018) Yale University Press

library

A few weeks ago, I witnessed a young twentysomething stand in front of a large shelf of books and comment how she wanted to be photographed on the floor in front of the books wearing a huge, bulky sweater. Her friend, another twentysomething, did not chide her in any way but agreed to photograph her.  They both carefully looked at the spines of the books, debated which ones to place around her on the floor, and then took the photo. They then  both looked at me at one point if they were committing a transgression in our digital age but I merely smiled at their actions. Of course, they are not alone in their desire of reading and reflection in this digital age. But the desire and the action of reading seems melancholy and antisocial in our busy reality. And that is the same feeling I felt as I read Alberto Manguel’s Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions.

Page 13 First Digression

All our plurals are ultimately singular. What is it then that drives us from the fortress of our self to seek the company and conversation of other beings who mirror us endlessly in the strange world in which we live? The Platonic myth about the original humans having a double nature that was later divided in two by the gods explains up to a point our search: we are wistfully looking for our lost half. And yet, handshakes and embraces, academic debates and contact sports are never enough to break through our conviction of individuality. Our bodies are burkas shielding us from the rest of humankind, and there is no need for Simeon Stylites to climb to the top of a column in the desert to feel himself isolated from his fellows. We are condemned to singularity.

Every new technology, however, offers another hope of reunion. Cave murals gathered our ancestors around them to discuss collective memories of mammoth hunts; clay tablets and papyrus rolls allowed them to converse with the distant and the dead. Johannes Gutenberg created the illusion that we are not unique and that every copy of the Quixote is the same as every other (a trick which has never quite convinced most of its readers). Huddled together in front of our television sets, we witnessed Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon, and not content with being part that countless contemplative crowd, we dreamt up new devices that collect imaginary friends to whom we confide our most dangerous secrets and for whom we post our most intimate portraits. At no moment of the day or night are we inaccessible: we have made ourselves available to others in our sleep, at mealtimes, during travel, on the toilet, while making love. We have reinvented the all-seeing eye of God. The silent friendship of the moon is no longer ours, as it was Virgil’s, and we have dismissed the sessions of sweet silent thought which Shakespeare enjoyed.

Alberto Manguel has been one of the few non-fiction writers these days that I insist on reading. He captures a love of not only the craft of reading but the solitude that readers require for their habit in a way that encourages those of us who still race home from a long day to read a volume and ponder it’s meaning. His book A History of Reading is a cornerstone in my personal library, and I have given many copies of that book to friends as a must-read and a testament that quiet reason exists in the world. He has written many other enlightening and heart-warming volumes since that book but it was his volume The Library at Night that made me seriously begin to organize my bookshelves.  I shared Manguel love of organizing books in my own fashion as he did for his library in Loire, France. And I lamented lost books as he did as well. (I sadly left a copy of The Library at Night on a table at an ex-girlfriend’s, in hope that she would rekindle her love of books and me but I fear that either she or one of her following loves may have used it’s pages for rolling papers for smoking dope.) But now we come to this book where Manguel must pack up and leave his library in order to take on a new career.

Page 31 Packing My Library

There can be no resignation for me in the act of packing a library. Climbing up and down the ladder to reach the books to be boxed, removing knick-knacks and pictures that stand like votive figures before them, taking each volume off the shelf, tucking it away in tis paper shroud are melancholy, reflective gestures that have something of a long good-bye. The dismantled rows about to disappear, condemned to exist (if they still exist) in the untrustworthy domain of my memory, become phantom clues to a private conundrum. Unpacking the books, I was not much concerned with making sense of the memories or putting them into a coherent order. But packing them, I felt that I had to figure out, as in one of my detective stories, who was responsible for this dismembered corpse, what exactly brought on its death. In Kafka’s The Trail, after Josef K. is placed under arrest for a never-specified crime, his landlady tells him that his ordeal seems to her “like something scholarly which I don’t understand, but which one doesn’t have to understand either.” “Etwas Gelehrtes,” Kafka writes: something scholarly. This was what the inscrutable mechanics behind the loss of my library seemed to me.

Manguel has a gift for documenting something more than books and reading with his writing. He has captured something of the zeitgeist. I know I am not alone in my life surrounded by technology and egoists that I want to come home and ponder one of the many volumes that are on my shelves. Not only do they provide me with quiet enlightenment but act as insulation from busy, intrusive world. Any time I must pack up my shelves, I feel the same melancholia he does, until the items are unpacked and displayed again.

Page 50

The books in my library promised me comfort, and also the possibility of enlightening conversations. They grant me, every time I took one in my hands, the memory of friendships that required no introductions, no conventional politeness, no pretense or concealed emotion. I knew, in that familiar space between the covers, that one evening I’d pull down a volume of Dr. Johnson or Voltaire I had never opened, and I would discover a line that had been waiting for me for centuries.  I was certain, without having to retrace my way through it, that Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday or a volume of Cesare Pavese’s poems would be exactly what I required to put into words what I was feeling on any given morning. Books have always spoken for me, and have taught me many things long before these things cam materially into my life, and the physical volumes have been for me something very much like breathing creatures that share my bed and board. This intimacy, this trust, began early on among readers.

Alberto Manguel has given us readers something unique and quietly profound in his book, Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions. While it is somewhat melancholy at times, many of us do not feel alone now with literary wants and desires after reading this book. As I am certain my young friend will too when she wears her bulky sweater and reads this well-crafted volume.

*****

Link to Alberto Manguel’s website

Link to Yale University Press’ website for Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions

 

 

Welcome to My Blog

So the new year is suppose to be about new beginnings, but I want to really explore a time-honored craft.

In 2013, I began working a reading journal called “The Library of the Found Inkwell http://inkwellbook.blogspot.ca/,” and I enjoyed it immensely. But it was time to let that blog rest. The title was part of a bad memory for me and I needed to let that go.  I also grew uncertain of the format of Blogger.com and I decided to see this year what WordPress was like.

So in the months of November and December I will be playing with the design and layout here before on January 1, 2014 I will post my first review.

If you haven’t guessed yet, I am an avid reader and bibliophile. I will be working in earnest to collect books for my personal library and this blog will be one outlet that I plan to use as a showcase that goal. I miss the libraries of my youth. A QUIET spot where I could think and read and feel warm. The title of this blog is not only a careful play on words but where I will have my library soon.

So welcome to my journey here. I do welcome feedback. And Enjoy.

Steven Buechler