Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Not Drowning but Reading

I think I forgot how to read.

I think I developed -- what to call it -- an affective dyslexia. I could make letters into words, words into sentences, sentences into narratives, narratives into worlds. I could be excited, moved, engaged by what I read. Even made to gasp by its audacity, wit, anger, beauty. But still: I think I forgot how to read. How to read as I did when I was a child. How to be taken over by reading.

The only childhood photograph of me that still exists (there was a bonfire mandated by vanity) shows me in the corner of a hotel lounge, my hair falling over my face, my face turned down into the pages of a book. Out of the frame, undoubtedly, my siblings and the other kids staying at the hotel are running around making mayhem. I'm the girl in the corner.

The girl in the book.

She grew up, and to all intents and purposes remained the girl in the book. I've predicated my working life on reading: as an academic, a critic, a bookseller and a writer. But as reading has become work, it has lost its edge. An edge, because the imperative of articulation has also whetted reading's keenness for me, has made it social and reciprocal and pliable and playable. But a private has been foregone, an inwardness of the reading experience. A writer/critic can no longer be the girl in the corner: I am answerable to an (indeterminate, possibly fictional) public. And that's the whetstone that keeps me sharp.

Reading-writing enabled the girl to grow up *in* the book, but also to use the skills learnt therein to affect life beyond the pages. Books are no longer my only safe space. 'Reading', as a complex and rewarding labour of awareness and articulation, has superseded 'reading' as an immersive line of flight. It keeps me present and engaged. If I want to lose myself, there's music (which I don't make, and rarely write about), contemporary dance and live performances of all kinds.

So maybe it's no surprise that it took a book in which rock and roll fuses religion, politics and scientific breakthroughs to re-immerse me, to shake my senses, to absorb me completely that I'm missing bus stops, tripping down bus stairs, gasping up from the pages as if hauled out of a dream or the sea. For 'a book' read 'books': nothing more satisfying than a series, Gwyneth Jones' Bold as Love five-parter.

But the point here isn't to analyse or articulate why. It's to state the rush that has returned. Adults are supposed to put away childish things, like reading when they should be working/socialising/engaging in adulthood. But there is something that feels undeniably mature, more adult, in reading with the rush: being open to immersion. What was a necessity as a child now requires a kind of courage, to drop the critical armature. To risk (after a fashion) addiction.

What's that? The thrill of transgression? Fuck no, boring. It's the thrill of permission. The moment when the world says yes! to something they told you was impossible, was forbidden: more of that, always more of that. Gwyneth Jones, Band of Gypsys
A sexually-charged science fiction/fantasy hybrid with radical leftist politics (but more concerned with administrative detail), a sprawling narrative structure, narrative voice that drops in and out of different characters in close third (sometimes in the same paragraph): something they told you was impossible, something that works by its continual increase, its refusal of closure.

No comments: