Reader’s Guilt « Once & Future

Once & Future

Charlotte Ashley – Book seller, collector, writer, editor, historian

June 16, 2010

Reader’s Guilt

I’m having a miserable week of sleep deprivation, sick and cranky toddlers and moving stress which, naturally, puts me in no frame of mind for either sending or receiving coherent textual information. Proper blog posts, papers and articles sit in draft form on three computers. I try to make headway with Byatt.

I consider myself a fairly disciplined reader. I force on myself a reading schedule under which I am prevented from reading “too much” of any one genre – I try to balance old with new books, fiction with non-fiction, Canadian with International. I try, generally, to stick to one book at a time, to avoid philandering.  I do my best to finish books no matter how dull and uninteresting I find them.

This doesn’t always work.  I’ve had to abandon books from time to time.  I was comforted to learn recently that I’m not the only one who couldn’t stomach Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled.   I gave up on Richard Fortey’s geological epic The Earth.  More recently I tossed William Buck’s edition of The Mahabharata (it was not at all as inspiring and engaging as Ramesh Menon’s Ramayana, one of my all-time-favourite reads).  And, embarrassingly, I didn’t finish Afua Cooper’s The Hanging of Angelique.

But that isn’t bad, I think.  It’s a few books from many.  I’m generally, as I say, disciplined.

Nevertheless I have to make a confession about which I feel even worse than I do for failing to finish certain dull books:

I can’t read the poetry in A.S. Byatt’s Possession.

Alright, a snippet here and a couplet there, yes.  This is fine.  But the 8-page rendition of Swammerdam?  Entire chapters of Ragnarok?  I can’t do it.  I want to just flip, flip, flip, until I return to the narrative.  And I can’t shake the feeling that this makes me a deeply flawed human being (tongue only slightly in cheek).  After all, this is a story about poets, about poetry, about the meeting of souls through text.  And I’m skimming for plot.  But I can’t help it.  I’m just deeply uninterested in the poetry.  In that sense (and watch for fuller elaboration when I review the book) I am absolutely the opposite sort of reader than the book’s two scholars – I care not a whit for the text, but quite a lot for the biographical details of the lives of the poets.

I am absolutely in love with this book, despite my vulgar reading of it.  But who knows how much less I’m getting out of it than I could?  Fret, fret.  I get so much reader’s guilt!  Anyone who thinks reading is a form of entertainment and not some more complex process of self-vetting is kidding themselves.  None of us come out of this process pearly-white.

One thought on “Reader’s Guilt”

  1. Kerry says:

    I skipped the poetry too. I imagine most of us did.

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