We all have our own reasons for picking up this or that book. There should be, after all, some return for time spent reading. We read to learn something, to escape from something, to be spiritually uplifted, sexually gratified, politically astute, historically informed; there are probably as many reasons to read as there are readers.
This morning, while procrastinating on a difficult review, I distracted myself by starting Siri Hustvedt’s The Summer Without Men. I stopped dead in my reading tracks when I got to page 33: “. . . We never recover what was.” Just the day before, I had emailed a poet friend Marc Hofstadter to say I would be happy to look at some work he was putting together as Memories I’ve Forgotten. And there was Hustvedt’s heroine saying almost the same thing! How neat was that? The character, Mia, continued her thinking: “Time is not outside us, but inside. Only we live with past, present, and future, and the present is too brief to experience anyway; it is retained afterward and then it is either codified or it slips into amnesia.”
A few pages later, the same character refers to the first lines of Rilke’s Duino Elegies. Now I’m fired up and put the Hustvedt book down, cross the room and pull Rilke’s book from the bookshelf. “Who, if I cried, would hear me among the angelic orders?” So much for unanswered prayers. My copy of Duino Elegies is a first edition with dust jacket, containing a removed library pocket and the word WITHDRAWN clearly stamped in red. I have many fine books of poetry and, because more than a few are ex-library, they’re in wonderful condition as a result of seldom being read. I know this is true because although I had a well stocked Used Poetry section at Clayton Books, it was the least visited section of the store. I have five books of Rilke’s poetry on my own shelves, most having been acquired after reading Mark Cunningham’s novelization of Rilke’s life, Lost Son.
So, back to Duino Elegies, and I’m now on line 40, “Consider: the Hero continues, even his fall was a pretext for further existence, an ultimate birth.” Now there’s a line to memorize, but not before another cup of tea and a firm resolve to get back to that aforementioned book review. What a fun morning.
I do read to be entertained. – Sunny Solomon