Sunday, May 07, 2017

I read. And then re-read. For a reason.

I have often written here, and talked about, how much literature helps me understand humanity.  While in my younger years I read fiction to entertain myself, the older I got the less I sought after "entertaining" fiction.  Whether it was in Tamil or English, it was only when I was utterly bored did I look for an entertaining fiction.

The world of fiction--especially the short story genre--helps me imagine what other people might go through in their lives.  An insight that I would never have otherwise.  And, of course, great writers wonderfully weave into the stories philosophical observations about life.

In the latest short story in my favorite magazine--the New Yorker, which is now the only one that I pay for--Yiyun Li offers this gem:
Perhaps that’s what separates a lucky person from a luckless one. The lucky, like Mr. Wu, had to give up something essential in order to advance in the world, because a person of good luck could become a person of bad luck overnight. The luckless, like Bella or the deaf-mute, had no choice but to follow the path assigned to them. That their lives had turned out differently was a mere accident.
As one who has blogged a lot about luck and a life in a probabilistic world, I now had plenty more to think about those aspects of life.

Of course, this is not the first time that I have read Yiyun Li's story--I have read every work of hers that has been published in the New Yorker.   Her life experiences influence her storytelling, which she wrote about in a personal history piece in the magazine:
In the summer and autumn of 2012, I was hospitalized in California and in New York for suicide attempts, the first time for a few days, and the second time for three weeks. 
I pulled up one of her early stories and read it all over again.  All the more the evidence that Nabokov was right:
Curiously enough, one cannot read a book: one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader. And I shall tell you why. When we read a book for the first time the very process of laboriously moving our eyes from left to right, line after line, page after page, this complicated physical work upon the book, the very process of learning in terms of space and time what the book is about, this stands between us and artistic appreciation. When we look at a painting we do not have to move our eyes in a special way even if, as in a book, the picture contains elements of depth and development. The element of time does not really enter in a first contact with a painting. In reading a book, we must have time to acquaint ourselves with it. We have no physical organ (as we have the eye in regard to a painting) that takes in the whole picture and then can enjoy its details. But at a second, or third, or fourth reading we do, in a sense, behave towards a book as we do towards a painting. However, let us not confuse the physical eye, that monstrous masterpiece of evolution, with the mind, an even more monstrous achievement. A book, no matter what it is—a work of fiction or a work of science (the boundary line between the two is not as clear as is generally believed)—a book of fiction appeals first of all to the mind. The mind, the brain, the top of the tingling spine, is, or should be, the only instrument used upon a book.
 If only we put in more effort to understand "the others" through reading and re-reading, and developed a better understanding of what it means to be human!  

1 comment:

Ramesh said...

The comment vanished. Instead of typing it again, I'll simply say that I wanted to add reflect to read and reread and then castigate you for Nabokov making an appearance again !