Today I finished ‘Negotiating with the Dead’ and it has left me ruminating. I was particularly taken with the statement that both writing and reading are solitary activities (not exclusively, but generally) – that both imply an air of secrecy. I started wondering about whether I was conscious of the level of privacy involved in one of my most favourite pastimes; my little secret.
What I love about reading is the act of interpretation: I decide what is right and wrong, good and bad, appropriate and inappropriate; I decide what to make of the characters, both present and absent, implicit and explicit; I decide on the voice – the intonation, the pronunciation, the accent, the patter; I breath life into the words, I create, I animate, I liberate. In short, I am essential to this book – it does not exist without me, and there are no other things in this world that I can say that about. As a reader, I become the indisputable centre of everything. Atwood talks about the duality of the writer – that she is always two. I’m still not sure I agree, but I’d argue that as a reader I am definitely two: the one who makes things happen, and the one things happen to. Reading allows me to become all those things I will never be and all those things that I am – as a reader, I can never be disappointed. In life, I often disappoint myself, and the standards that I aim for and the rules I live by are hard and exacting and I would never subject anyone else to them, and yet I am compelled to perpetuate these rigorous demands of myself. In reading (specifically in interpretation) there are no objective standards, no benchmarks, no rules, no absolute truth and though I may berate myself for spending too much time reading, or not enough, for speeding through a book or for dragging my heels, whilst commiting the act of reading I am entirely beyond reproach. If there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s that learning to read was, is, and will forever be my greatest achievement.
It might be logical, but simplistic, to conclude that I agree with the quote ‘People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading’ (Logan Pearsall Smith according to wikiality). Many people love to read to escape the world, but I think that my being in the world is enriched and enhanced by reading. Though I am not what I want to be, nor as good as I wish, that is not to say that I am unhappy. Ambition and strife are as much a part of living as loving and laughter. I am lucky enough to have friends and family that understand and accommodate my idiosyncracies: lucky not just that they accept and love me, but that being with them helps me stay grounded; lucky that living and loving saves me from myself.
“We assume too easily that a text exists to act as a communication between the writer and the reader. But doesn’t it also act as a disguise, even a shield – a protection?” Margaret Atwood, Negotiating with the Dead.
In a way, I read to protect my mind – to preserve its function, to stimulate it and to liberate it from the demands of living. I read to become better, I read because my mind is precious. Here enters writing, and the reason I’m not sure if ‘writer’ is an appropriate label for me: writing, as an activity helps me think things through – it’s an end in itself, not a means to communicate a message or story. As Atwood so aptly puts it “If the act of writing charts the process of thought, it’s a process that leaves a trail, like a series of fossilised footprints.” The text is almost a by-product, albeit one that I’m intrigued by and curious about. Where that leaves you, Dear Reader, is really up to you.