The Loneliness of Reading

It’s not fair that we have only one mind, only one pair of eyes, and only so many hours in the day. I wish I had more of all of those so I could read all the books on my desk, cracked open, belly-up, belly-down, bookmarked with old envelopes and pencils and whatnot – to read them all at the same time.

I’m in the excruciatingly beautiful last pages of Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams and right after I have I read that last word I will simply have to start all over again. From inter-library loan, yesterday, I got four books  – why do I do that to myself?  Here is Jacques Monod’s Chance and Necessity, an early philosophical essay (1970) on genetics and evolution, with that chapter called “The Kingdom and the Darkness,” which of course has to be the last chapter. Nick Lane’s Life Ascending and Oxygen, about the evolution of life, I’ve managed not to open yet. Not so Barbara Novak’s Nature and Culture and American Painting of the Nineteenth Century (I was referred to these by Lopez). I’ve skipped through the plates, the gorgeous icebergs and the Luminist skies and have had to close them.

I realized, once I had them all gathered on my desk, that all these are about man’s place in the world, and loneliness. There is a great lesson there, to be reaped as winter closes in. Is that why I am in such a rush? Because they’re from the library (and all but Lane’s books are  too expensive to buy)? Because winter will soon be over? Or is it because there is something so important to be learned and I fear it will escape me? Because my search might turn out to be per freta hactenus negata, which Lopez translates as “to have negotiated a trait the very existence of which has been denied”? (Arctic Dreams, p.406)

I remember as a child I never had this problem. Amie too reads six or seven books at a time, skips from one to the other, and is never worried about running out of time, losing the memory of the story, or not getting it.  She reads, not expecting anything from herself but everything from the story and she always gets what is enough. She is never lonely when she reads.

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