The Joy of a Good Book Part II

14 May
What I Loved

What I Loved

Just a couple of days ago, I wrote about my absorption in a new book I had received as a gift from a friend, “What I Loved” by Siri Hustvedt. Wouldn’t you know it, I finished it at 4am. Usually, if I am reading a particularly good book, I will put it down at bedtime to get a good night’s sleep. And yet, I didn’t want to go to sleep last night until I had finished the story. There is a sense, and I mentioned it before, when reading a good novel that when the book is finished, the characters will be missed dearly, because they have occupied so much time in our minds. When a gifted writer creates a world and populates it with characters who we come to know and like, they have contributed something to our consciousness.

Although I majored in literature in college and honed my close reading skills there, I admit that that muscle has atrophied over the years.  I don’t follow an insight through to its logical conclusion; I begin to think, “I think that character represents…something…interesting.” There is so much to consider in “What I Loved”: the main characters are artists and academics, and there are strong ideas about visual art, mass hysteria, and abnormal psychology, among other things.  In searching online for interviews with author Siri Hustvedt, I saw that she calls the main preoccupation of the book, “how do we become who we are”? It’s a weighty theme, and the book provides no easy answers.  But it is a real achievement.

I’d also like to mention that, as I stayed up into the wee hours reading, it was not a screen I was holding in my hands; it was a paperback book.  I am old-fashioned in this regard.  I like turning the pages, rather than pushing a button to advance through the story.  You can feel the weight of how much you’ve read, feel the remaining pages as you finish the story.  I look at a screen all day at work.  I don’t need to look at another screen when I am reading a novel in my spare time. Plus, this book was a gift.  It will be a cherished possession because of that.  And I can lend it to friends who also want to read it.  Can you do this with a book on an e-reader? No.

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