Michelle's Reviews > Ruined By Reading: A Life in Books

Ruined By Reading by Lynne Sharon Schwartz
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Oct 25, 11

bookshelves: book-books
Read from October 23 to 24, 2011

This is less a book than one long essay reflecting on reading and life and memory. Schwartz begins with a quote from a Chinese Buddhist scholar who said "To read more is a handicap. It is better to keep your own mind free and to not let the thinking of others interfere with your own free thinking." She then takes this quote with her and reacts to it as she evaluates her lifetime of reading. I always love to compare my own reading to those of "book-book" authors; like Schwartz, I began reading very young, did most of my reading outside of school, and we read many of the same books and poems when young.
Some tidbits I especially enjoyed:
Schwartz posits that the reason many of us have trouble with operating modern electronic devices is that the reader's mind runs on narrative, and devices don't. She has a hilarious "narrative" her daughter wrote called "Instructions for a Happy VCR". Hey, I like this idea better than just blaming my age.
Loved this quote: [Reading] didn't replace living; it infused it, till the two became inextricable, like molecules of hydrogen and oxygen in a bead of water. (ok, she means ATOMS, but still)
Another: There is nothing to match the affinity of people who were defined and nourished by the same book, who shared a fantasy life.
More: Maybe the words on the page are not even the true book, in the end, only a gateway to the book that recreates itself in the mind and lasts as long as we do.
I loved her reflection when one of her children learned how to read: "And so the younger one was launched on the perilous journey, crossing the bridge that can never be recrossed. I could only watch as mothers do when children leave home to seek their fortune, knowing that from now on her adventures would be beyond my ken, I could neither protect nor accompany her. The written word was about to carry her off like the tornado took Dorothy." I'm not sure I totally agree--I did try to "accompany" my children a bit by reading TO them, and still do--but I do know (actually, I hope and pray) that they have their own internal relationship with books that I know little about.
I liked this thought on book lists and choosing books: Months, even years, go by. I return to my list to find I've read perhaps a third of the books on it, not bad, under the circumstances. But by then I am a new person, with a new list under way. The unread books get carried over, and over, until eventually I cross them out. They are no longer necessary. I can hardly recall what allure they held for the person I used to be.
And this on reading randomly: Or perhaps randomness is not so random after all. Perhaps at every stage what we read is what we are, or what we are becoming, or desire.
Loved this sentence, she is discussing "public" speech like that by news anchors and politicians: "Have any of them, lately, spoken a sentence bearing the shape of the thought that inspired it?" This seemed a very Charlotte Mason thing to say.
This was thoughtful, contemplative, slow, delightful.
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