Thursday, June 14, 2007

Reading Break

Well, the reading, it zooms. And I get the reason why the first third needed to kick my ass the way it did, and I'm feeling the pleasure that I've not felt in a really long time of slogging through a book that I *must* read and that challenges me in ways that little I tend to read now does.

That might sound odd, but since finishing with the PhD - really, with comps, if I'm honest - I don't do this kind of reading very often. And I am rusty. Why don't I do this kind of reading? Well, the fact of the matter is that when one teaches undergraduates, one does not tend to choose this sort of book to assign to them, because they will not slog through that horrifying first hundred pages or so. This book is long, and it is weird, and it is hard. And it's not long and weird and hard in the way of more canonical texts, so one can't really use the spinach justification for it. Or if one does assign this sort of book, one assigns those that one herself was taught (thus, the spinach justification). And, if one is me, one thinks of her courses as her own private book clubs where she chooses all of the readings, and so one tends to assign books that she enjoys, at least most of the time, and this book, while it is affording me immense pleasure now, is not really a book that I'm "enjoying" in the way that I tend to enjoy most of the books that I teach. And when I read for pleasure, I read garbage. And when I read for work, well, it's rare that I encounter something that kicks my ass like this book has.

It's funny: one of the things that I have long felt that I got out of grad school is the ability to read anything. No text seems utterly impossible to me now. I mean, there are those books that I own but have never read or finished reading because I'm not motivated, but it's not because I think that I cannot read them on my own. But it's easy to forget that some texts are more possible than others, that some texts still have the power to really fuck with me. And as much as I've struggled with having that experience with this particular novel, I think it's a good experience to struggle through at this particular time for me. I'm trying to think through some complicated shit, and sometimes in order for me to think through things that are complicated, I need to accept the challenge of something that itself is complicated but that, ultimately, will have the power to illuminate the complicated things I'm trying to think through. Does that make sense? I felt that way when I struggled through Kant's Critique of Judgment. I felt that way when I struggled through To the Lighthouse when I was 18 years old. I felt that way when I struggled through Foucault's Archeology of Knowledge. But it's been a long time since I've felt this particular sensation - the sensation of trying to connect dots and to make sense of things that are just beyond my natural grasp. And it's easy, when one is not a student, not to set those challenges for oneself. Not that one doesn't set goals for oneself, but generally I've managed my intellectual life since the dissertation through the setting of attainable goals - goals that stretch me but not too far. That's pragmatic, and that's a good way to think about goal-setting. But it doesn't allow for the same kind of pleasure in totally unexpected discovery that reading this novel has given me. Is giving me.

So I'm kind of intellectually exhausted, but it's a good exhaustion, not unlike the kind of exhaustion that one feels after a really intense physical workout. So. On to read about 60 more pages, so I reach my goal for the day, and then I think I may need to read some Judith Krantz or something to bring myself down. (Told you I read crap :) )

Note: I know it's irritating that I'm not saying which book I'm reading. It's just it would totally identify who I am, and so I'm being willfully vague. Also, I know it's annoying that I'm doing all of these pretty content-free posts today, but it's helping me to process the reading and to take necessary breaks to let my brain chill, and none of my Inner Circle of Phone-Talking People has read this book, and so I feel bad blabbing on and on to those people about it - also have avoided the phone today because am trying to meet the pre-arranged reading goal, and it is impossible to read and to talk on the phone at the same time (tragically). But so I apologize for being irritating and annoying. But you know what? When I'm done I may need to do a post about how I always feel irritating and annoying when I'm in the zone with research and how I feel the constant need to apologize for such, which I ultimately suspect is more irritating and annoying than me talking about my work. What's the deal with me thinking that using my brain makes me an irritating and annoying person? I don't think others are irritating and annoying when they are focused on their work, so why do I think that about myself? Yes, that's something to ponder.


Ken and Belly said...

Rewarding exhausting reading with more reading? Wahoo!

In, what is it, 36 (?) days we can reward ourselves with Harry Potter. Double Wahoo!

Sisyphus said...

Well now I totally want to know what book it is.

Actually, I think I'd want to do an office pool on what the book is first --- except I don't know how manage that when one's "office group" is the blogosphere. Still, it would be fun in theory.

Anonymous said...

i tend to read and then reread books like this. like, I read the archaeology of knowledge all in one day, sitting in a purple chair at starbucks. I didn't get it but I was so excited about it. Then I turned directly around and struggled through it page by page.

Unsane said...

Except for length, it sounds like Dambudzo Marechera's BLACK SUNLIGHT.