Friday, February 19, 2010

Doing Books Like Beads

American novelist Stanley Elkin in Pieces of Soap: Essays. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1992—

We read, I've told my classes, to die, not entirely certain what I mean but sure it has something to do with being alone, shutting the world out, doing books like beads, a mantra, the flu. Some perfect, hermetic concentration sealed as canned goods or pharmaceuticals. It is, I think, not so much a way of forgetting ourselves as engaging the totality of our attentions, as racing car drivers or mountain climbers engage them, as surgeons and chess masters do. It's fine, precise, detailed work, the infinitely small motor management of diamond cutters and safecrackers that we do in our heads… I haven't said it here, am almost ashamed to own up, but once I open books slowly, stately, plump imaginary orchestras going off in my head like overtures, like music behind the opening credits in films, humming the title page, whistling the copyright, turning myself into producer and pit band, usher and audience…