Monday, June 11, 2012

Read Them When Young, Read Them When Older?

Yesterday I wrote about rediscovering and resubscribing to The New York Review of Books. One passage in the 5/24/12 issue particularly caught my eye, as it so well expressed a feeling about books that I have also sometimes felt. In Giles Harvey’s review of Geoffrey Dyer’s new book, “Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews,” he quotes Dyer as writing that “at twenty I imagined I would spend my middle age reading books that I didn’t have the patience to read when I was young. But now, at forty-one, I don’t even have the patience to read the books I read when I was twenty. At that age I plowed through everything in the Arnoldian belief that each volume somehow nudged me imperceptibly closer to the sweetness and light. I read War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Ulysses, Moby Dick. I got through The Idiot even though I hated practically every page of it. I didn’t read The Brothers Karamazov: I’ll leave it till I’m older, I thought – and now that I am older I wish I’d read it when I was younger, when I was still capable of doing so.” Although I do not share his feelings about some of the specific examples Dyer lists, I do relate to his point. When I was in high school, college, graduate school, and for a while after, I also “plowed through” many books I didn’t actually enjoy all that much, but wanted to know the books, to engage with them, to have read them, to have them as part of my experience. Now these many years later, I am more likely, as I have written about here before, to let myself off the hook if I am not enjoying a book, or even if I think in advance that I will not enjoy one. This may not be ideal, but I accept it about myself. I must say I appreciate Dyer’s expressing his feelings about this (although it is quite possible he is exaggerating a bit for effect).

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