Five Year Plan: Learning to Read Books On The Subway

(Notes from Days 3-6)

When I was younger I read books constantly.

In fact, two years ago I read a Dave Eggers Essay published as an introduction to something that McSweeney’s put out for the sake of…something, whatever…and he wrote about how he used to stay awake all night reading, as did Mamet, as did Bukowski, they have all written about being avid childhood readers.  You can read their descriptions.  I am just going to rely on most of you having been similar beings and I will skip the indulgent “Oh yes, I was a genius child” introduction and dive into the main concern:  I no longer read avidly.

I read a lot, I begin to read a lot, I almost read a lot but I have not finished a book in a long time and it is such a sad reality to me that I almost feel like I am confessing my worst failure just by admitting truly:  I have not finished a novel in years.

I have loved reading my whole life.  I love the feeling of being in someone else’s head.  I love the feeling of a dear friend telling me a story that perhaps no one else knows.  I love language.  I love the use of language to craft time, momentum and action.  I love fiction.  I love believing in fiction.  It actually took me until adolescents to truly understand that “fiction” is a category of narrative which depends on it’s content being “fake”, made-up, imaginary.  I still think that’s bullshit.  Non-fictional texts seem as made up as any.  So, really:  Please don’t interfere with my commitment to delusion by insisting that my favourite authors are, essentially frauds.

I love authors.  I love the word “author”.  I hope someone calls me an author one day.  It is a hope I have always had.   My loss of commitment to books feels like self-betrayal.

I still love books.  In fact, part of the problem is, I get so excited by language, by phrasings, by sentences that I cannot make it through a chapter.  It takes me hours of excited tangential dictionary diving to get through a page. A neighbouring part of the problem is that I like really smart authors, individuals who take a while to tell a story, who linger on moments, who give fantasy to detail and who often lead me to other authors, other piles of books, other giddy nerd-vestigations of literary history.

As part of my five year plan, I would like to finish one hundred books.  In five years.  That is a low bar.

It begins with a Canadian classic (apparently): Crackpot by Adele Wiseman, a great novel, as far as the first eighty pages go, but that’s not the point.

I read the first eighty pages on the subway.

At first, I was commuting.

But then, on the way back, I stayed on the train.  The reading was so successful on the way to my appointment, I indulged in Time on the way home, just to get that much closer to my ultimate goal.

You must read on the subway.

Consider:  There is a complete lack of time and space on the subway.  It is a train flying through the urban underground, housing the strangest assortment of people you could ever hope to be with, anywhere.  Each one of us has our own context and here we are, sitting on the subway, not even bothering to prove who we are, where we are going, it is the ultimate loss of ego, it is the ultimate reason to relax:  Because no one here gives a shit about you.

When I was younger I used to read books out loud, acting out all the parts, including the part of Narrator.  Now, older, I have no interest in doing that only because I have less energy, maybe also because I really like quiet.  Still, sitting on the subway, I let my face express each character’s drama.  This book became better because I could sit in it.  I sat IN the book.  On the subway? No.  I departed from the subway. Because, no one needed me there.  No one needed me to be anyone.  I could sit in the book, as the book, no personal ego, just a designated story, representing the imaginings of Adele Wiseman for the hours I spent just sitting in them.

All readers should hurriedly find a space to lose conscious ego.

All readers should hurriedly find a space where the pollution around you (people, noise, smell) is so confused and varied that there is no real explanation, there is no real context or objectified truth to where you are.

All readers should sit in noise and let it deafen your thoughts.

All readers should become the books they read, sit directly inside them and give the author your whole body, voice, consciousness.

All readers should read continually until out of time.

All readers should commit to believing in “fiction” and perhaps even abolish the word “fiction.

These are the reasons:

The author spent years crafting this book for you and she wants you to sense your way through it.  Do not think about it until it is over.  Find noise and hug the muted mind into the space of the narrative.  It’s all magic.

On the subway, I forgot about being a “writer”.  Fuck the men who have come before me and pronounced themselves Writers.  I did not need to study.  I did not need to think about what I could get out of the text.  I sat in the text.  As the story.  And when I left the train, I understood why I haven’t been reading.

There should be no pressure.

There should only be joy.

Turn off your technology. Literature IS technology: It is the tool that spins you through experience you cannot find in your simple, individualized body.

If you’re making life goals, make one of them:  Ride the train.  Read a book.



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