Books as Sleeping Pills

Quick Survey of 25 critics and literary intellectuals

Funny series of pictures
by someone who wears skin-colored tights and walks in public.

Scott Espositoon Sven Birkets’ Gutenberg Elegy

Since I started my litblog, I have acquired many, many books with the intention of reading them so that I can enter into intelligent discussions of particular authors and styles that have been featured on other litblogs. I now read with a realistic expectation of engaging that book with other bloggers and readers of my blog, whereas before I had no expectation of engaging any particular book after I had finished it. I know scores of other people who now read with blogs in mind. Blogs have very much helped put the conversation back into reading (no pun intended).

My response:
I’ve always enjoyed Birkets for pretty much the same reasons Scott mentioned. (Also his essays on European literature were always perceptive). Interestingly, I took a break from serious reading between 1999 and 2003 (When I was overseas I read tons of stuff; but upon coming home again, the chaos of unemployment and technical skill building preventing me from reading anything substantial).

I read for different reasons these days. I read not so much for the sublime or enlightenment (although those things are of course welcome). I read to get a glimpse of old societies and old ways of living (pre-Internet and beyond), to see what is the same and what has changed. do we still enjoy the things people did two centuries ago? What is the cost of progress?

Another thing. Because of competing entertainment choices, I find I use reading more as a prelude to sleep than anything else. Reading a book can be a good way to wind down the day. TV screens and monitors bring great content, but don’t bring a sense of refreshment, just a state of stimulation.

Perhaps the word “literature” is a loaded term. The IT manager may not read novels, but he may download cartoons off the net and catch the latest HBO shows. Storytelling never leaves us, both as a need and a human habit.

As far as your remark about the difficulty of finding people who can read and talk about the same books, hey, you’re in San Francisco. Imagine what it must be like in less literary-minded cities. Seriously, it is always a pleasure to follow blogs like yours and see that someone has discovered a writer who had been in my peripheral literary vision. (And by the way, I’m now loving Crescent: A Novel by Diana Abu-Jaber on Moorishgirl’s recommendation).