Book clubs and what is reading, anyway?

I got a text from an endocrinologist I know who happens to be a member of a book club in the Bronx and she asked me to come up there one night and talk to her book club. I’m going. I don’t know what’s gotten into me but with this book, I feel ready to read in every living room in the tristate area and beyond. About a hundred and twenty or more people came to the auditorium at the Boston Public Library last night to hear a conversation between me and Doris Kearns Goodwin. I couldn’t believe there were so many people there–thanks to Doris largely. I read a lot, passages that we had discussed. There were a lot of laughs and I just felt so amazed that people still care about books so much. It’s gotten me thinking about what reading actually is. It’s passive, in a sense, yet essentially active. It is an action of opening the mind. Without the reader’s participation, the words lie dead on the page. The reader turns the words into images and ideas. Anyway, I am just thinking about it. When you perform a book (whether the writer admits it to herself or not, reading aloud is performance) you go back to the more elemental form of writing and reading, like Homer traipsing from one village to another, singing his stories…

5 Responses to “Book clubs and what is reading, anyway?”

  • Alva:

    Thank you, Rebecca, for these thoughts on what reading “really is.” And reading’s so lovely, done from the physical paper page, I’d like to add. I hope paper never disappears. Your JACOB’S FOLLY cover, for instance- worthy of a gosh honest hold-in-your-hands book purchase- it’s beautiful.

    I happened upon PIPPA LEE on Sundance channel last night. I’ve now got a new “rabbit hole” down which to slip and discover a very interesting woman writer/screenwriter/director. Thank you for all your art.

  • 2nd Curtain Call Ovation:

    I had the privilege of meeting today for the author breakfast – wish someone would have suggested for you to read your favorite passage as ‘yes’ this is performance- but the entire JF was interpreted by myself as such a masterpiece performance- i steer away from Q&A especially with this novel- because I feel like you put such immeasurable creativity and effort into it that I dare not ask aloud what i wonder about the JF just as I would not as a painter, actor or musician WHY or HOW- but yet walk away with self interpretation and wonder. Your words were so loud that the book literally performed for itself. Does the fly reincarnate to something greater bc he comes to terms with divinity at the end- does this realization salvage us- does the juxtaposition of masha and jacob side by side, ping ponging against each-other chapter to chapter have the suggestion that peripheral character males contort and shape us external ( i.e., Cousin Gimble, Lieutenant, boss, masha father, masha manager, scene partner and Leslie) and females cater to our feeding our souls needs and disconnecting from external pressures and societal needs to stay in line with a religion ( Pearl, Masha manager, Masha roomate, Masha Sister, Jacob’s mistresses) —Your ‘reading ” may have not happened today- but the performance certainly was felt irregardless– JF did just that- it opened others minds- caused thoughts to stir – as you stated was the mark of an successful artist- make someone feel and think- Book club or not- reading or not- a standing ovation is due! My favorite part about your writing and directing is that is certainly leaves the viewer/ reader curious and on the edge wondering– and then you lightly touch the very theme or idea one is thinking– Is Masha going to pass this opportunity up? Is the fly going to preach his previous teachings at his death- In Jack and Rose- you literally were questioning whether what the relationship you were subconsciously envision was true or were you on a completely different page than everyone else– The one kiss finally brings you comfort that yes you are correct! Masha acceptance into the film gives your fuel to the fire in believing in yourself and the character-and relief when Jacob does not murder his crazed wife – second curtain call ovation

  • Therese Wolfe:

    I would venture to say that reading is the profound activity of receiving, and therefore enlivening a writers intention, hopefully gleaning the writer’s private vision, if one is reading well.

    Those written words are born from images (like the inception of your novel was the image of a man peeing on his front lawn), at which time the writer is not thinking of a reader, is not in relationship to a reader, but in relationship to his or her muse, to a private imaginative act, a vision. And those words, then, when the work is complete, lay in waiting for their compliment, the reader. It’s like a conspiracy, then, between the completed written words and the reader.
    As I see it, reading cannot possibly be passive, for a reader is having an encounter. Just like when we stand before a painting, it is an encounter, which encounter is an activity if we are truly looking, seeing, and we are changed by it (or by a book after reading it). And we want to be changed by art. I believe this is one of its purposes.

    Edward Hirsch in his book ‘How to Read a Poem’ says, “And yet, the work of art is beyond existential embarrassment. (He is speaking to being possessed by poetry). It is mute and plaintive in its calling out, its need for renewal. It needs a reader to possess it, to be possessed by it. Its very life depends on it.”
    Although Hirsch is here writing about poetry, I feel this applies to fiction as well. Hirsch also writes: “The reader completes the poem, in the process bringing to it his or her own experiences.”

    Congratulations on the completion and release of your novel.
    Therese

  • Therese Wolfe:

    Whitman’s assertion that ‘reading is a gymnast’s act” sums it up.

  • rossquest:

    Thankful for the rainy week-end allowing me to complete Jacob’s Folly without interruption, nor guilt of missing a beautiful day outdoors.

    I can’t wait until characters and images fade with memory so as to enjoy the read again.

    Don’t know if I will ever be able to kill a fly again without a little remorse.

    Stephen

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