Tag Archives: Books About Books

“Merely the noblest of distractions.”

“For myself,” Marcel Proust writes, “I only feel myself live and think in a room where everything is the creation and the language of lives profoundly different from my own, of a taste the opposite of mine, where I can rediscover nothing of my conscious thought, where my imagination is exhilarated by feeling itself plunged into the heart of the non-self.” I feel immensely giddy that I am allowed a more literal interpretation: I am in the mad throes of love with my room. The good books are better, and the blows are softened when I’m with the books that don’t like me so much. I’m savoring every moment I have in this room, and I’m looking forward to the days and nights-into-days of reading that it will host. Sure: The detritus will find a way to rise, inch across my desk and on the floor; the books will ever so surely contrive a disarray; Real Life will intrude and I’ll be too weary to even try to stop it. But—and, yes, almost a chant of mine now—I will keep reading, I will immerse myself in what Proust rather earnestly dubs as “merely the noblest of distractions”—for as long as the floors gleam, for as long as I have a clear view of every book in the room, for as long as that red chair will hold me. And even after, of course—of course. [Continue reading.]

Self-help as curation

It’s the curation I was curious about; someone had to wade through all those case studies and psychiatric treatises (or whatever they’re called) and fashion them into a mini-manual on, say, how to steal another man’s wife. Brett Kahr fit the bill, I found out. Life Lessons from Freud is tidy and clever, offering enough of brain hurt from Freud’s writings, with Kahr’s voice confidently (chummily, intelligently, and never condescendingly) steering the reader through it all. [Continue reading.]


There remains shame in bewailing one’s difficulty with reading—never mind that stepping into books has always been a salve, a sanctuary for my sanity, my exhausted-with-feeling soul—more so the overwhelming gladness that a semblance of a reading life has returned, in light of all that’s happened. This is the shift, I suppose, when one belongs to a nation in mourning: Everything shall be [must be] held against that light. [Continue reading.]


Done. I have no idea what just happened to me—what happened, period. All throughout, I kept telling myself it was difficult to surrender to this book, not only because I couldn’t understand why it was saying what it was trying to say, but also because I couldn’t trust it fully. Surprise, surprise: In Shields’ begrudgingly provided afterword to “his” manifesto: “This book contains hundreds of quotations that go unacknowledged in the body of the text… Your uncertainty about whose words you’ve just read is not a bug but a feature.” [Bet that really hurt, having to say it so baldly, and because of legal constraints, too.] So, at least, there’s that. [Continue reading.]

Just more, Nick, okay?

Proof of what makes Hornby such an effective writer on reading: He can share his experiences with books I will never ever care for, and yet I keep devouring his work. For example, here in the latest collection of his Believer columns: He prattles on about austerity in Britain for two pieces, and I read hungrily. He digresses (like always) toward football, and yet I read on. I mean, setting aside my purely selfish motivations—I want to talk about myself, and I want to talk about books, which is also largely about myself—isn’t that supposed the point of all our bibliophilic navel-gazing? Beyond setting one’s encounter with a book on a page of our own (so to speak), isn’t this reaching out to other readers—shouldn’t you be constantly making the case for reading and for good books, and for that wearied yet reinvigorated state of your soul in the aftermath of some spankin’ awesome literature? [Continue reading.]

“As with a love affair”

Michael Dirda writes in Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life—“The rapport between a reader and his or her book is almost like that between lovers. The relationship grows, envelops a life, lays out new prospects and ways of seeing oneself and the future, is filled with moments of joy and sorrow; when it’s over, even its memory enriches as few experiences can. But just as we cannot physically afford to fall in love too many times, suffer its gantlet of emotions too often and still remain whole, so the novel-reader cannot read too many books of high purpose and harrowing dimension or do so too often. Burnout, a failure to respond with the intensity literature demands, is the result. As with a love affair, the battered heart needs time to recover from a good work of fiction.” [Continue reading.]

Let’s get the duds out of the way

I think I’m learning how to take bad and mediocre books in stride. That is, I’ve decided that 2012 will be when I don’t take it as a personal offense that the book I just read dared be craptastic or so-so. That sounds wise of me, I know. So. Five books into the year, and […]

“I couldn’t sleep, and so I read…”

“I couldn’t sleep, and so I read, but the novels I was reading only stimulated me more, and I would find myself wandering around the house with rushing fragments of Dickens, Austen or the Brontës whirring in my head. It is tempting to think of this form of insomnia, the inability to fall asleep, as […]

From reading’s bygone days

There are books you read once and then put away on your shelf. You know that you will never have to read them again, although you may return to them to check certain points or to refresh your memory of certain ideas or episodes. (It is in the case of such books that the notes […]


It was Sappho who first called eros “bittersweet.” No one who has been in love disputes her. What does the word mean? Eros seemed to Sappho at once an experience of pleasure and pain. Here is contradiction and perhaps paradox. To perceive this eros can split the mind in two. Why? The components of the […]