“As with a love affair”

Michael Dirda writes in Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life—“The rapport between a reader and his or her book is almost like that between lovers. The relationship grows, envelops a life, lays out new prospects and ways of seeing oneself and the future, is filled with moments of joy and sorrow; when it’s over, even its memory enriches as few experiences can. But just as we cannot physically afford to fall in love too many times, suffer its gantlet of emotions too often and still remain whole, so the novel-reader cannot read too many books of high purpose and harrowing dimension or do so too often. Burnout, a failure to respond with the intensity literature demands, is the result. As with a love affair, the battered heart needs time to recover from a good work of fiction.

This is why rereading is so important. Once we know the plot and its surprises we can appreciate a book’s artistry without the usual confusion and sap flow of emotion, content to follow the action with readiness and interest, all passion spent. Rather than surrender to the story or the characters—as a good first reader ought—we can now look at how the book works, and instead of swooning over it like a besotted lover begin to appreciate its intricacy and craftsmanship.”

Of course, as a consequence of this rather extended [and, frankly, a little wonky] metaphor’s effect on my romantic/slutty little bookworm of a heart (what?), I am now surveying my bookshelves, wondering which book I can plunge into a torrid love affair with—or which book demands my prodigal return, despite the fever of first passions having been spent. Now, more than ever, I’ve needed a push to assuage the great thirst in my inner life. And at this point, I’d seize any excuse. [Thanks, Michael Dirda—although, yes, as I am wont to do, I picked up a book-about-books to give myself a jolt to reclaim my reading life.]

– – –

Dirda, to me, seems like a less cranky Harold Bloom, if a less verbose James Wood. He’s this mild-mannered professor all the way, providing you with recommended reading lists—however, his tastes, for me, run too conventionally; that’s apparent, too, from the witticisms and the excerpts he’s chosen to include in this slim volume. It’s his reflections [like the one above] that draw a reaction, that stir. Nonetheless, I expect myself to pay attention whenever he chooses to blather on about a book, critic that he is. I’ve already hunted down his love of Sherlock Holmes—something I’m more than willing to further cultivate. [Reading begets reading, as that other book-about-books writer Nick Hornby has said: I’ve unearthed The Hound of the Baskervilles from the current chaos of my displaced books, and I’ve dipped into it. Oh, books—Have we but world enough, and time.]

PSA: I bought Book by Book on sale (20% off during the Cut-Price Sale That Tore My Bank Account Asunder) from National Bookstore (the Robinson’s Galleria branch, methinks!). Original price is PhP575.

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