Posted by: Linda Proud | August 25, 2007

The Art of Reading

A friend of mine, Debbie Sandler (also my boss as director of the Sarah Lawrence programme at Wadham), has been a long time in coming to Pallas and the Centaur. ‘I’m not going to start it while I’m busy,’ she said, apologetically. ‘I want at least a couple of days free.’
I reflected on this after spending two hours with Barbara Reynold’s magnificent book on Dante this morning. It is my aim to spend this bank holiday weekend with it, with occasional breaks to do other things like feed the family and keep the wash cycle going. Let everyone else rush off to swelter on motorways: I’m taking the journey that requires only that you put your feet up, let the mind relax, and the imagination drift back to 1300. . .
The common practice of reading these days, at least in this household, is in bed before going to sleep. This is bad practice. For one thing, you only get about fifteen to twenty minutes reading; for another, it associates reading with falling asleep. This reading in dribs and drabs leads to a dribbling drab, at least so far as comprehension goes.
What does it tell us? That reading is an activity which must always be displaced during busy days by other, more useful things. I am a writer; I have written all my life; I’ve read more books than most – and I have this ingrained guilt about reading as strong as anyone.
My other summer book has been Tom Hodgkinson’s wise, profound and seditious How to be Idle. After the first few pages, I nearly tossed it aside as demonic. Happily, I read on. And now the obsessive, guilt-ridden puritan within is asleep, with a funny little smile on her face.
And I have my feet up on a Saturday morning and am reading.

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