rant of the day: book-reading

I read a lot of books.  Admittedly, my current preference has been for what I happily call “junk food” or “easy trash”:  the fantasy/historic fiction and supernatural romances that are easy enough to procure by the truckload, often have several sequels, and can be easily read in a few hours. 

However, I also read a lot of other types of books. 

Right now, I am reading:

  • a biography of Henry Miller, by Robert Ferguson, which was so kindly donated to my care by

  • a nobel prizewinning novel, A New Life, by Orhan Pamuk, which I picked up at the airport on my way to Istanbul last week
  • a compilation of short erotica
  • Geert Max’s Amsterdam, which i admit to seldom picking up lately, but which I am still reading
  • my new copies of Adbusters and the Economist, which have just come in the mail

I have just finished, in the past week:

  • Fat, by Rob Grant, a satirical novel about body image which i really enjoyed, and picked up at the airport on the way home from Istanbul
  • Maledicte, by Lane Robins, one of those aforementioned fantastical history/romances that i enjoy so much, which i meant to take on my trip to istanbul, but left in Dick’s car, when he dropped me off at the airport.

Most likely, I will slowly make my way through the rest of the biography.  I’m enjoying it very much, and have been reading just a tiny bit at a time, like eating marbled halva, which i adore and try never to eat very quickly, so i can taste every bit of it.  The nobel novel will probably be finished today.  The erotica gets read one short story at a time, but there are only a couple left, so i’ll move on to the next book of them which is already purchased an on the shelf.  I’ll probably read a bit more of Amsterdam every time I’m between books, since that has been the pattern so far.  The mags will join my bathroom collection until their replacements come.  And i’ll probably acquire a few more of my junk books in the next day or two, since i’ve run out.


the whole reason i’m discussing this is that i’ve always read a lot.  in 1st grade i was in a reading group by myself (not really a group then) because my mom had taught me the basics when i was 3, so i was kind of ahead, except for rather quickly another classmate or two.  in 3rd grade, i had read every book (probably long before the end) in the small library of ford’s prairie elementary.  in 6th grade, in an effort to find something i hadn’t read in the public library (there were no doubt lots, but you know … perception), i had checked out a (in my memory) gigantic tome, a translation in verse of homer’s iliad, which i skipped recesses to read, worrying my teacher.

and i know this is not quite normal.  but i guess i also don’t quite think it’s all that abnormal, since these types of stories aren’t too exceptional among my friends and acquaintances.  but then i read a passage like this:

“Henry read indiscriminately and widely during his adolescence; even so, one suspects him of exaggerating his precocity.  Excluding the field of sex, there is no area in which we are quite so free to lie as in boasting of our prowess as readers, and Henry took full advantage of the ultimate inscrutability of both the sex-life and the reading life in crating his myth of himself.  The tendency is evident in an interview he gave late in life to a French journalist in which he not only claimed to have read the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu at the tender age of seventeen, but in doing so specifically asked his interviewer to be astonished: ‘In Brooklyn, I ask you!  It’s incredible.  Me reading Lao Tzu in the middle of that crazy family!’…”  (Chapter 2, section 7, p. 34.  Henry Miller: A Life, by Robert Ferguson)

first, yes… of course it’s easy to lie about what we’ve read and when.  it’s also easy to simply remember it incorrectly.  in my personal understanding of henry miller, i’m sure he’s done both.  but as to his claims, i don’t find them impossible at all.  i read the tao te ching the first time around the same age (maybe a little younger even), and then again as a philosophy major at university a few years later.  i’m sure that, as is very true about my reading of the iliad, by the way, i didn’t fully understand.  but that’s part of the joy of reading.  i don’t think you can be too young to understand something.  you’ll just understand different parts of it.  it may be that you aren’t even interested in what you understand, then later, come across it again, reread it, and understand other things, that you completely missed the first time.

hell, like watching clerks when it first came out.  the first 3 times i saw it, i saw new things each time to laugh about.  in that case, maybe part of the problem was that i might have been laughing too much the first time…. 🙂

anyway, i don’t think henry was asking for the interviewer to be astonished that he read it (although, hell, maybe he was), but more that he managed to do it in his circumstances.  and regardless of whether you believe henry’s version of his reality or not, his perception of it is what matters, and makes it astounding or not. 

and i’m irritated that someone who writes and who is interested enough in writers and writing to have written a biography of anyone, would think it odd that people can be widely read at a young age. 

in retrospect, i think i’d better make a cut with all that.  🙂

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5 comments

  1. voracious reader

    I was not an exceptionally early adopter in the realm of those who read a lot as a child; I didn’t become an avid and voracious reader until 3rd or 4th grade. I’d say that we were unusual but not abnormal. I kept trying to skip recess to read, too. Reading opened up the world and I consumed all kinds of things. Some books were well above my age group and some right for it; some were for the intelligensia and some trash; some that I understood even though I was young and some I didn’t understand the nuances of until I re-read it with a more adult understanding of the world. I read the Count of Monte Christo during 8th grade math (I wasn’t doing so well in math and reading was much more fun). I remember this one markedly because at the time my peers condisered it a long, difficult, boring book that they wouldn’t willingly read.

    In mild defense of the biographer, perhaps it is not a true doubt of Miller’s being widely read but rather a statement about the dregree to which Miller hyped being widely read when crafting his public personae.

    1. Re: voracious reader

      🙂 in 7th grade, my “humanities” class read Cry, the Beloved Country. I remember my peers hating that book. I also remember that I actually did cry, quite a lot, returning the book to my teacher with the pages all crumply.

      i nearly failed that class, by the way. i never did my homework. the teacher ended up keeping me after school almost every day to do “extra credit” stuff, because she didn’t think i should fail her class. heh heh. “extra credit” involved essays about posters of famous artworks that she’d have me spread across the floor and choose favorites from, analyses of sentences crafted by the likes of ernest hemingway, etc. I liked it. nerd.

      and you’re no doubt right about the biographer’s intentions. that is indeed his primary focus: the extent to which miller created himself, not a man but a legend.

      1. Re: voracious reader

        7th grade math and 8th grade social studies were both classes in which i remember getting mediocre grades but also remember reading an awful lot.

        I share your disdain for “seventeen” being represented as shockingly young. part of me wants to respect miller less for creating his myth by using such skewed standards and part of my agrees that the biographers presentation is sloppy in that regard and he should have used a stronger example or dropped his assertions altogether.

  2. go find “The Diceman” by Luke Rhienhart or “the Good Fairies Of New York” by a Scottish writer called Martin Miller. Actually anything by Martin Miller is good, he has some of the best titles of books ever. I got into him because i just had to read a book called “Dreams of sex and stagediving” No more to be said methinks

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