infinite reading

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As those of you who follow me on twitter might recall, I’ve been reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest for some time now (since the beginning of last August, to be precise).

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For all of my nervousness that I might not finish it, I’ve made good steady progress and—much more importantly—I’ve really enjoyed the book. I love DFW’s writing and the characters and the loopy plot. I find that I think about them all when I’m not reading the book; they live in the back of my head and I carry them around with me as I go about my life. That’s the most I could ever ask for in a book. And few books come close to delivering that.

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I’ve also been loving the process of reading Infinite Jest and the ways in which it has made me reshape my reading habits. In part this is about the way DFW writes and the way the book is constructed. But it’s also about reading it on my iPad and the ways in which that technology shapes reading practices.

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Not long after I first tweeted that I was reading Infinite Jest for the first time, my friend Amanda pointed me to Infinite Summer, the group project (with accompanying website) to read the entirety of IJ over the summer of 2009. I poked around the website a bit and came across “How to Read Infinite Jest”. Some of the advice was spot-on:

Read the endnotes: Please. They are not boring bibliographic details, but rather an integral part of the text. And the bouncing back-and-forth is a feature, not a bug.

But other pieces of advice just made me anxious:

Use bookmarks: Yes “bookmarks”, plural: one for the main text and one for the endnotes. Doing so will save you hours of searching, and the aggravation of losing your place several times an hour.

Keep notes: As if lugging around a book the size of a 2 br. 1¼ bath apartment isn’t enough, you may want to carry a notebook as well. You won’t always have the requisite Oxford English Dictionary within arm’s reach, you know.

I wanted to read a novel, I didn’t want to study for an exam. I know that different people read for pleasure in different ways. But the idea of using a slew of bookmarks, of keeping notes, of relying on a reader’s guide to get me through the book sounded like I would spend more time worrying about keeping track of everything than enjoying what I was reading.

By this point, I’d already read through the first chunk of the novel and had given myself over to not knowing what was going on. The opening section is amazing and compelling but also baffling. There’s a character who seems to be on some sort of school interview and seems to be some sort of sports star and is surrounded by characters whose exact relationship to him aren’t clear and who are fearful of leaving him alone with the recruiters. It’s beautifully written and I just gave myself over to it, even as I wasn’t sure what was going on. And the beginning of the novel is one vignette like that after another. There are amazing characters and incredible scenarios, but there’s not a clear sense of plot or of connection between the vignettes. I let myself roll through it and enjoy it without worrying about whether or not I was following every nuance of plot.

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So that was the mood I started off in as a reader. I gave myself over to Infinite Jest and put myself in David Foster Wallace’s hands. That is not the way I’m always able to read. In fact, I haven’t been able to read that way in a long time. The last time I wrote about reading ebooks, I mentioned that I was reading a lot of thrillers because they weren’t too demanding of me. That I had shied away from books that asked for a commitment since my father died. The change in my reading habits was one of the biggest ways his death marked me. I’d been a voracious reader from the time I was little. In my adult years, a lot of my appetite focused on nineteenth-century novels, rather than contemporary ones. Those are some big novels you can sink your teeth into, and I sank into them. It’s been discombobulating not to be that sort of reader these last five years.

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Infinite Jest asked that I give myself to it and I did. If I hadn’t been able to, I don’t think I would have been able to continue with it.

I read the book this way because I can and because this is how I respond to DFW’s writing. But I read the book this way, too, because this is how the iPad asks me to read it. One of the great things about reading big, huge books on it is that you’re not necessarily aware that they are big, huge books. This is what I said about The Passage and this is what I say about Infinite Jest. It’d be awfully hard to hold a 1000-page novel for any length of time, even harder when you’re the sort of reader, as I am, who likes to read at night, in bed, with the lights off and her glasses off. I’ll prop my slight iPad on my chest, but a heavy book? I’d rather not.

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Another great thing about the iPad Kindle app is that it turns endnotes into hyperlinks. And being able to navigate the notes, as we all know, is key. Here’s what I mean. This is a screenshot of a page in Infinite Jest. It  happens to be the location I’ve bookmarked because this is as far as I’ve gotten right this very moment:,,

my current location in Infinite Jest; image is embiggenable

See that blue “322″ in the lower quarter of the screen? That’s note 322. Click on it, and you’re taken to this screen:

note 322

There you go! The text of note 322, easy-peasy. Click on “back to text” and you’ll go back to exactly where you were:

exactly where you were, right?

And then you can pick up reading the main text just as if nothing had happened, except that you’re actually in a different location because there are no pages here, just codes. The app’s preference for bringing me back to the next word right after the note means that I trained myself to read a few lines beyond the linked note so that I wouldn’t be so lost when I got back to a screen that started in the middle of a sentence.

In any case, these hyperlinks make the book easy to read. No need for multiple bookmarks—the book takes you right where you need to go! But it also means that you really do need to give yourself over to the book and to follow its lead, because when you’re in the middle of a note, there’s no clues to bring you back to where you were. Here’s another screenshot of another passage in the book with a hyperlinked note in the middle of it:

another screen, another note

This screenshot shows more what the experience of reading the book is like: there’s no black bar at the top, there’s no location slider at the bottom. It’s just a screen of text. (To get the location indicator to show up, you need to tap in the middle of the screen; tap, it brings up the location for a moment, and then it fades away again.) Tap on the note and you’re brought to the note screen:

starting to read note 321

There you are, with the note marked “321.” right at the top. So far, so clear. And what happens when you continue reading note 321? After a few screens, you find yourself here:

still reading note 321

But imagine that the note continues and continues and continues, as some of them are wont to do. Where are you? Are you reading text or note? How do you know?

text or note?

note or text?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They look exactly the same, don’t they? So how do you know? Especially if the note’s been going on and on, and there’s dialogue, and plot, and words and words and words.

At some point when I was reading a long note—I think, given the tweet I sent out, it must have been note 110—I actually became so confused by how long it was going on that I wondered if there’d been some sort of coding error and I was actually in the main text. And then when the notes to the notes started appearing I became even more disoriented and even though the location indicator showed that I was all the way in the back of the “book”, since there was no “book” for me to flip pages through, that didn’t really convince me that I wasn’t in the main text. And since I hadn’t bookmarked the page I had been reading, the page with the link to the note I was now wandering through, there wasn’t any way for me to go back to where I was. I could only go forward, reading and reading until I got to the safety of “return to text.”

After that point, every time I saw a numbered note, I wondered if it was going to be a short one or if it was going to take me down some rabbit hole. But I made a conscious decision not to care. I refused to bookmark the page I was currently reading. I gave in to the book, went where it led me, and trusted I would make my way back to where I was and that DFW would give me the help and pleasure I needed to keep going. I ceded all my authority to Infinite Jest.

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I’m normally a pretty bossy reader. Resistant, even. Even a book that I love I talk back to. It’s part of how I understand what it means to read. It’s how I make sense of what I do. It’s the interpretive community I belong to. So for me to give myself over to Infinite Jest, to put myself in David Foster Wallace’s hands, that’s a shift. I don’t know that I’ll read other books that way. I suspect I wouldn’t want this to become my new default in reading. But I am loving the experience of it. And I don’t think I would have had the same experience if I weren’t reading it on my iPad.

Here’s where I am in IJ right now. It’s where I left off reading last night, so it really does look exactly as it does when I’m reading it. I’m in the middle of a note. I don’t know which one, I don’t know how close I am to the end. But I’m really, really close. I’m not sure I’m going to know when I’m at the end except for when it stops, given that I can’t see the location bar as I’m reading and even if I did, I don’t know the starting location of the notes and so don’t know how close I am to the end of the main text. I do know that I’m going to finish this book and that I’m going to miss it when it’s done. I might go back to the beginning again to see how different it is now that I know who everyone is and what is happening. I might not. I don’t think it matters. What matters is that this book taught be to read in a new way and I’m grateful for that.

thank you, David Foster Wallace

more thoughts on reading e-books

As I’ve spent more time reading on my iPad, I’ve come to more realizations about how I read. The most surprising thing is how much I miss sharing books. This is more complicated than it sounds. I knew, of course, that you can’t really share e-books, but I have never really been someone who likes to share books. I’m happy to borrow books, but I get nervous loaning mine out. They come back beat up, or they don’t come back at all and then I resent the person who has my book, or I can’t remember who I loaned it to and it’s gone forever. So I’m not a big book sharer. And since my family shares a single Kindle account, my spouse and my son and I can all share books across our devices–even better, we can read that book simultaneously on our separate devices. But what I failed to account for is the fact that I do actually loan out my books. Not often, and not with very many people. But there are a couple of friends I would like to be able to loan a book to, and sharing books with my sister was one of the important ways that we stayed connected with each other. I hadn’t even realized how much it mattered to me to be able to exchange books with her until my Kindle reading got in the way. We’re currently exploring sharing an account, since she and I have more similar tastes in reading than my husband and I do. (The fact that the Alpha Gadgeteer and I rarely enjoy the same books took me a long time to adjust to–it can be hard, when reading is so important to you, to not be able to share it with someone you love.) So sharing books with my sister makes a lot of sense, especially as it’s a way of sharing our bond with each other in a pleasurable way, when so many of our other points of connection require more difficult emotions.

So one of the thing that I’ve rediscovered through reading on my iPad is that reading can be strongly tied to social connections. We exchange books as a way of saying, “I love you” or “I’m thinking of you” or any of a host of other emotions that connect us to each other.

Another thing that I’ve rediscovered is that we each individually read different texts in different ways. I had some sense of this in my post about false endings, in which I commented that most of my e-book reading was of thrillers, stories that pull me forward into their plot. But as I’ve spent more time with this contraption, and as I’ve let my book-buying habits expand, I’ve come to realize that there are some books I really would prefer to read in paper codex form. Some of this has to do with how I navigate the text: some works ask me to read them slowly, to revisit earlier passages, to refer back to past points in the narrative. Some works deserve to have a graphic presentation that reflects their content, a font that was chosen deliberately for them, a paper stock that makes up their heft, or their lack of it.

The iPad has worked fabulously well for me when I was reading Stieg Larsson’s trilogy or Justin Cronin’s The Passage. In fact, it worked ideally. I didn’t have to wait to make it to a bookstore to start reading the 2nd book after I finished the 1st (something, of course, that was true only because I didn’t start reading them until the entire series was out). And I didn’t have to awkwardly hold the 700-plus pages of The Passage as I sped through it. (And I was less likely to throw my iPad against the wall in my annoyance at the ending than I would have been with the book itself. I know it’s the first part of a trilogy, but sheesh!) And given that I do a lot of my reading at night, in bed, with my glasses off and the font greatly enlarged, I do speed through these books–there’s not room for lots of words on the screen when you’re reading in a big font. You just read, click, read, click, read, click. Any sense of physical movement through the book is greatly diminished. And that’s fine. It worked with how I was experiencing those books anyway. I was reading them to find out what happened next. I cared about the characters and the language just enough to make me care about the plot.

But now I’m reading Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question, and though I’m not very far into it, I’m finding that I really wish I was reading it in book form. I haven’t been able to quite put my finger on it (there’s an apt metaphor for you), but I need to be able to sink further into it, to take my time with it, and reading it on my iPad is somehow getting in the way of that.

It’s possible this is less about the iPad and more about The Finkler Question. After my father died, a few years ago, I lost the ability to read any serious fiction. I was in the middle of reading English, August and it was a great book, but I put it down and couldn’t pick it back up. Instead I picked up Tony Hillerman. And then I devoured a lot of P. D. James, and I discovered Laura Lippman, and a whole lot of not very good chick lit that I mostly don’t recall. This got better, slowly, and I discovered that I could read What is the What, even though Philip Roth was off limits. I loved The Imperfectionists. And I never lost the ability to read some of my old favorites, like Jane Eyre. But I still sometimes hit an unexpected wall when I’m reading. I know other people who have had similar experiences, and I know that some people get back to their old ways of reading, and I continue to hope that will be true for me too.

My point in sharing this is that we have different ways of reading different books. I was fine reading novels about death. But there was a category of books that felt like they asked too much of me: I needed to commit to them, to enter into their world, to let them take charge of me. And perhaps it was that I felt too unsettled in my own world to do that, but I simply couldn’t read those books. I needed to be able to stay on the surface of what I was reading.

So perhaps that’s what my problem is with The Finkler Question. It’s asking too much of me, and I’m still not ready to read that way. But I think, too, that the iPad has something to do with this. It’s very easy to race through reading on the iPad. All texts look the same in the Kindle app, and sometimes they start to blur together. Maybe I can retrain myself to read more slowly even on my iPad, to take my time with the feel of the language. I might still be able to rewire some of my perceptual habits.

But I don’t know that I will. I had an exchange with one of my children that made me think that as much as I do love reading on my iPad, I don’t love all types of reading on my iPad. I had bought Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass for my son, and have been really pleased that he’s been enjoying it. (He and I often do share similar tastes in reading, and to be able to share favorite books with your child is even more lovely than to share them with your spouse.) But I inadvertently ordered the mass market paperback for him, and the font is fairly small, especially compared to the books normally printed for kids to read. So although he’s enjoying the book, he was feeling a bit frustrated with the print, and it seemed to me it was making the book a bit harder than it needed to be. He’s enjoyed reading books on our Kindle before, so I bought the Kindle edition of The Golden Compass–less than $8 and then I can read it on my iPad along with him! But he soon decided that he preferred reading it as a book. Yes, the type was bigger on the Kindle, and yes, he’d enjoyed reading some Rick Riordan books on it. But this time it wasn’t working for him. It felt better as a book. I think he felt similar to how I feel about The Finkler Question. Some books you need to focus on, and you need to do that in book form.

false endings

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the experience of reading. Part of this is about the technologies of reading, but part of this is about the nature of reading and processing words.

Some context is helpful here: this spring we sold our house and moved into a new house. As part of this process, we overhauled the old house, cleaning it out and making it look fabulously inviting (those of you who watch a lot of HGTV or live in housing-market-obsessed areas will recognize this as “staging”, a term that deserves its own post on an entirely different blog). We bowed to the wisdom of our realtor, who went through our house and identified the furniture and clutter that ought to be cleared out. Right up at the top of the list were all of our bookshelves and, obviously, books. This is the point when my bookish friends yelp in horror–”Why are books unattractive?!”–but as someone who has been shopping for houses, I have to agree with the realtor on this point. Books mark a space as belonging to a specific person, someone, in this case, who is not you. If you are a Jane Austen fan, are you going to see yourself living in a space marked by Dan Brown books? I can’t tell you the number of times I looked at a house and instead of being perplexed by the kitchen layout found myself thinking, “do these people really need to own so many books about football?” Equally crucial is the point that bookcases take up room–if you’ve got two walls lined with books, the livable space of the room feels tinier, and who wants to buy a house that is already clearly tiny and cramped? In any case, we packed up all our books. We own a lot of books. Seventy boxes of books, in fact. We packed them up in mid-April, and, for a variety of reasons having to do with renovations and the chaos of moving, those books remain boxed up and will probably stay boxed up for another six to nine months.

When I see it written down like that, I want to cry–that’s a long time to go without my books! But while I miss my physical books, I have not stopped reading. But instead of buying books, or checking books out of my library (that’s a different problem I won’t go into here), I now read e-books on a variety of devices: Kindle, iPad, iPod Touch. And, it turns out, I love reading on these devices. I love that with the Kindle app I can start off reading a book on a Kindle, transfer it to my iPod, and sync it so that my son can devour his own novel on the Kindle while I’m at work. At night I can read on my iPad, with grey words glowing on black background without ever waking my husband, The Alpha Gadgeteer (it’s thanks to him that we have this plethora of devices). And, oh, the seduction of being able to think of a book you’d like to read, buy it, and start reading it seconds later!

This isn’t a post about the pros and cons of e-books and the readers that are out there, however. Rather, I’ve been struck by some of the differences between the experience of reading on the iPad and reading a book. For starters, and this continues to catch me out, when I’m reading on the iPad I have no sense of the passage of travel through the narrative. What I mean is, if I need to go back to double-check something that happened earlier, I have no sense of how many screens back it is–I’ll think it’s just a couple of finger swipes, but it’s really a couple dozen swipes. The same thing happens at the end of the book–I have no idea how close to the end of the story I am. Is this seeming wrap-up of the action the false ending that lulls you into a calm before Jason bursts up from the lake and the last survivor has to take him on yet again? (I know I’ve mixed my book and movie references there, but that moment in Friday the 13th continues to haunt me, decades later. Perhaps it’s the glossiness of the iPad that makes me think about movies; that and the fact that I’ve been reading lots of thrillers on it.) With a book in your hand, you have a sense of how many pages are left before the narrative wraps up, assuming that it’s not a cliff-hanger or that the end of the book isn’t padded with the opening chapters of the next book in a series. With the iPad Kindle app, there is no continuously visible marker of passage though the text. You read until you done, and you know you’re done because you swipe your finger and the cover appears. (Yes, the cover. The app begins the book on what it thinks is the first page of main text, which means that in some books, you have to go backwards until you get to the start of the prologue.)

This realization that I don’t know where I am in the forward movement of the story points to something oddly old-fashioned about reading this way, something that James O’Donnell has noted, too:

The Kindle is great for reading the way ancient Greeks read, on papyrus scrolls, beginning at the beginning, proceeding linearly, getting to the end, absorbed in one book, following the author’s lead. 

While the technology delivering the text is new-fangled, the reading itself is decidedly not. (O’Donnell, who is a classicist and Provost of Georgetown University, knows something about how ancient Greeks read; he has a short piece about his Kindle in the Chronicle of Higher Education, from which the above is quoted. He also delivered a talk at Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library on “A Scholar Gets a Kindle and Starts to Read” this past April which you can watch on YouTube.)

I expect I’ll adjust to the newness of the iPad and will someday no longer be caught out by the surprise of a story ending before I realize it. And I certainly don’t always want to read in this linear fashion (there’s a reason why I’ve been reading the type of fiction I have on it, but not any of the scholarship that I otherwise read). But for right now, it’s fun to experience reading in a different way.

This is a pretty short and easy post as I try to get back in the habit of blogging again. I hadn’t meant to be gone for so long, but sometimes life gets in the way (see that whole packing/selling/buying/moving drama above). As the fall approaches I am again thinking about early modern books, how to teach book history, and how to marry new technologies with old books. For the couple of you who might have hung in there during my long absence, it’s nice to see you again, and I’ll do better by you in the future!

to e-book or not to e-book

There’s been a slew of stories over the last few months about electronic books, primarily of the Kindle variety, but some of them touch on general issues pertaining to the availability, use, and desirability of e-books. I’ve been trying to compose a post in response to them, but I keep getting overwhelmed. What to say in response toa prep school that replaces its library with a cappuccino machine and 18 e-readers? *head-desk* (The School Library Journal has a more articulate response.) What about the summer’s too-perfect-to-be-true news that Amazon deleted copies of Orwell’s works from the Kindles without informing owners? Make that another big #amazonfail moment after their first, horrendous mistake last spring when changes in their ranking system made thousands of gay and lesbian titles disappear from searches. Ooops. In further e-stories, there’s the non-release as e-books of two of the Fall’s big titles: Teddy Kennedy’s posthumous True Compass and Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue. What will those Cushing Academy students do when researching papers about the Obama election? I guess rely on Wikipedia. (For insight into why the memoirs aren’t Kindled, see Daniel Gross’s Moneybox column for Slate, in which he explains why the economics of publishing doesn’t make sense for them as e-reads.) Oh, and speaking of students and e-readers, what do Princeton students have to say about using Kindles as part of a pilot program to replace textbooks with Kindles? According to one student quoted in the Daily Princetonian, “this technology is a poor excuse of an academic tool.” Finally, last week there was the New York Times piece worrying that books might be the next to be “Napsterized.” (Remember Napster? Some of you young ‘uns might not recall the world before digital music files, but let me tell you, it put the fear of Someone into the music industry when people started sharing their music online.) Joshua Kim’s response on Inside Higher Ed brings those Napster concerns into a conversation with universities and libraries.

About a year ago, I posted about my perplexed response to a newspaper column that touted the joy of Kindle as being “almost like a book”–why read something that’s almost as good as a book when you could read a book? I still stand by that point, but not because I’m a luddite. In that particular piece, I was reacting against a perception that e-reading had to be good because it was new. But I also don’t think it has to be bad because it’s new. My husband got a Kindle last spring and it’s been great. For him, the joy of the machine is that it holds so much. Given his preference for texts that come in big, heavy books–military history, science fiction, jurisprudence–the fact that he can take his Kindle on trips means that he needn’t break his back or run out of reading material. I still don’t use it, and not only because he’s the alpha gadgeteer in our household. My way of reading for work and research is to cover the page in notes, so paper copies work best for me. And most of my pleasure reading I do in a way that isolates me as much as possible from the world: glasses off, dark room, book light. We all have our own ways of reading and different technologies that meet those needs.

But much of what I’m seeing written in the popular press about e-book readers isn’t, I don’t think, taking into account the full picture. Some of the stories I mentioned above hint at the problem of Amazon’s essential monopoly over the current e-field. I know Sony has an e-reader, but given Amazon’s vertical integration, they hold an incredible portion of the e-market in their tight e-fist. (E-sorry. It’s hard to stop the e-jokes.) If there was some competition in that market, the problems of pricing and availability and Big Brother would be different.

More to this blog’s point, what does the current state of e-readers and discussion have to do with book history and book historians? So much of what we’re considering today with Kindles focuses on books that were written to be distributed in print and then are transferred into an e-format. (Daniel Gross’s book Dumb Money actually did this transference the other direction: he wrote it as an e-book for Free Press and it sold well enough that it’s now available in print–see the Washington Post profile of him for more on that.) But what happens when we get to the day that works are created for and intended to be experienced as e-books? How will that change the experience of using books? And how will we ensure the survival of those books? As anyone who has been working with computers over the last few decades knows, technology becomes obsolete and earlier formats don’t always carry over into new ones.

Similarly, how might the availability of new digital formats affect the process of creating works? According to Scott Karambis, for some creative artists, the availability of the digital world has changed how and what they write: author Justin Cronin relied on the ease of researching online to push his knowledge into new arenas when composing his newest novel, insisting that it made him become a different sort of writer. Karambis’s blog post focuses more on the effect of technology on the process of creation and less on the impact of digital creations themselves (the blog is geared towards other folks in marketing, rather than, say, writers or book historians). Rachel Toor, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, is more focused on the economic impact of e-books. Even though she loves reading e-books on her Kindle, she has decidedly more mixed feelings about being an e-writer. Might e-publishing save university publishers by bringing down costs and therefore recovering the economic viability of those scholarly monographs with small audiences? And the speed of electronic publishing is wonderful for timely subjects and for the responsiveness it generates for readers. But will people stumble across e-books the way they do physical books on bookshelves? Will writers be able to live off the advances from their e-books the way that some are able to today?

Toor and Cronin don’t ask this in their reflections on writing and new technology, but I will: will we still have e-books to read if they aren’t backed up on paper? Will we still be able to lend books to each other if they’re tied to our e-readers? Will we still be able to talk back to our books, modify them, resist them?

I often, when teaching early modern book history, say to my students, “It’s all about money!” And it often is. But it’s also about creativity and interactivity and longevity. And we’re still taking baby steps towards what it all might mean.

reading and re-reading

A couple of stories have been making the rounds this week, reminding me how deep and powerful reading can be.

Top at the list is Sonia Sotomayor and her love of Nancy Drew, a biographical detail that features in the White House’s official press release about her nomination and has been repeated in countless stories. Today’s Sunday New York Times expands the significance of Nancy Drew and the Supreme Court: it’s not only Sotomayor who read her as a girl, but Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Part of the article focuses on the appeal a “nice” girl like Nancy holds for women challenging male professions. Nancy Drew gets to rule her own life, be as smart as she wants to me, have adventures, and still be loved and respected. But the article also includes a second observation from Melanie Rehak, author of Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her :

A charge “rightly leveled” against the early books, Ms. Rehak says, “is that they were racist — all the villains were ‘foreign’ or ‘swarthy,’ and all the African-Americans were portrayed as second class in terms of intelligence, profession, etc.” She said that “one of the things I find so interesting about Sotomayor’s citing of Nancy is that even she, as a Puerto Rican child, just looked past all of that and took away with her the essence of Nancy.” 

I would take a slightly different observation from this. Rather than seeing Sotomayor as someone who looked past what was troubling, I see her reading of Nancy Drew as an instance of resistant reading–she reshaped the narrative and its characters to be what she needed them to be. I’m not sure she was resisting in the subversive way that Judith Fetterly explored, turning the assumptions of a text against themselves, but I would certainly guess that Sotomayor’s affection for Nancy Drew included a thoughtful response to the entire text.

Although I haven’t seen it reflected in the stories about her, I wonder whether Sotomayor has gone back and reread Nancy Drew and what she makes of them now. If Nancy was the reason she wanted to become a lawyer, what does she think of her now that she is a judge? That kind of rereading and revisiting is the subject of Verlyn Klinkenborg’s latest Editorial Observer, a feature of the NYT that I usually find goofy, with lots of reminscing about farmers and rural life that seems overly nostalgic to me. But this piece, “Some Thoughts on the Pleasures of Being a Re-Reader,” was a sweet tribute to the joys of reading again and again.

Perhaps it spoke to me because I am in the middle of rereading, as always. Rereading is the nature of my scholarship, of course. I can’t begin to count the number of times I have now read King Lear (and read resistingly), and I know that I’ll be rereading As You Like It more times than I really care to consider. But it’s a big part of my pleasure reading, too. There’s the rereading I do with my children (Charlotte’s Web, as I’ve blogged about, and Richard Scarry, too). But there are also the books I come back to on my own, over and over. This time I find myself working through Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time at the incredibly slow pace of a couple of pages a month, reading a heavily and entertainingly annotated edition.

As Klinkenborg writes, rereading is something of a misnomer:

The real secret of re-reading is simply this: It is impossible. The characters remain the same, and the words never change, but the reader always does. Pip is always there to be revisited, but you, the reader, are a little like the convict who surprises him in the graveyard — always a stranger. 

And that, of course, is the reason to reread. I am sometimes horrified to read something I once loved, only to discover I can’t stand it, or I can’t stand who I was that I loved it. Sometimes subsequent rereadings change the book. Wide Sargasso Sea forever shifted Jane Eyre for me, in ways that make Charlotte Bronte’s book a richer experience. Villette changed Jane Eyre for me, too, and I continue to reread and love both of those books. (I’m actually also reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which I just couldn’t resist when I found a deeply discounted copy. I fear that book might have peaked with its opening sentence–”It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”–but maybe I’ll be lucky and love the whole thing. I’m not sure it will change Jane Austen for me, though.)

The other story that has been going around is Kanye West’s dismissal of reading and books. I don’t really want to engage with that other than to point you to Cake Wrecks’ wonderful antidote: a series of pictures of book-related cakes, all of which pay tribute to the joys of reading and to the yumminess of cakes. (h/t bookn3rd via her tweet)

Happy reading to you all!