Sunday, August 14, 2011

Reflections on Reading—Books and eBooks

by Kathleen B. Jones
I returned in late June from a conference in Australia, where I taught a very successful writing workshop for women. Most in the group were working on essays or longer works of non-fiction; one was working on a script. But the experience of doing quick writes, editing and critique sessions, and sharing work with one another underscored the importance of finding a group of like-minded—and respectful—writers with whom to share works in progress, encouraging each other forward with helpful suggestions for carrying a piece of writing through to completion. And, perhaps, publication.

But only days after this experience I was on my way out east, heading to the Hudson Valley, NY and Bard College’s Hannah Arendt Center for Politics and the Humanities, where I was to direct a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) summer seminar for schoolteachers on the political theory of Hannah Arendt. Heady stuff! Sixteen teachers and I spent six weeks together mulling over some pretty dense philosophy and social and political theory.

Mornings I spent rediscovering the pleasures of distance bike-riding, especially through the leafy, gently rolling hills surrounding Red Hook and Rhineback, NY, followed by breakfast and preparing for the day’s discussion. Evenings I spent reading novels, essays or short fiction--Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, which I found somewhat disappointing in comparison to expectations raised by the hype the novel had received, George Prochnik’s In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise, a wonderful meditation on the importance of quiet, and several essays and stories in copies of The New Yorker (always behind in catching up on reading those!)

Not only were those books and stories a welcome relief from the heated discussions about the world-shattering events of the Holocaust and World War 2 occupying my days; they were themselves a reminder of the importance of reading to the occupation of a writer. Immersing myself in books, I was dazzled all over again by the power of words to transport one to worlds yet unimagined, or emotions not yet fully plumbed. In those weeks I fell in love with reading all over again.

I’ve always been a lover of books. I mean, the objects themselves, not just the stories they tell. So it was a great surprise to me when, at the end of my seminar, the scholars who had shared its six weeks thinking journey with me presented me with a Nook!

When the electronic book craze took off, I had positioned myself in the camp of the Luddites. I would not be among those who would add nails to the coffin of print media, I proclaimed. How odd, then, press the buttons on this device, “open” the pages of the first book I had downloaded onto it—Michael Holroyd’s A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers--and experience the pleasures of reading taken to a new register.

Is there a word or a place I don’t recognize—the Villa Cimbrone, perhaps? I can look it up in the glossary embedded in the book or make a note to myself to “look it up later” via the web features included with the device. (I knew I would want to be reading some books with photos and drawings included and so I upgraded to the Nook Color, which includes access to the web).

I won’t be doing most of my reading on the Nook; mainly, I’ll use it for travel, or for some of those illustrated books that I might want to consult for my writing. (I often use images to conjure ways to describe character or place in a story and being able to “carry” some of these resources with me as I travel for my research and writing will be invaluable).

I can see myself now on that next flight from Los Angeles to London, on my way to a November conference in Sweden, listening to Mozart and reading Nina Sankovitch’s Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading, anticipating how that book’s structure might help resolve some lingering problems with the manuscript I recently completed, but need to revise.

Kathleen B. Jones is the author of Living Between Danger and Love, Compassionate Authority: Democracy and the Representation of Women, The Political Interests of Gender and The Political Interests of Gender Revisited, both co-edited with Anna G. Jónasdóttir, and Women Transforming Politics co-edited with Cathy Cohen and Joan Tronto. Her new book, Diving for Pearls: A Thinking Journey with Hannah Arendt, is undergoing revision. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in Fiction International, Briar Cliff Review and Mr. Bellar’s Neighborhood. Her first play, Acts of Faith, written in collaboration with Sharyn C. Blumenthal, premiered in San Diego in 2009. Kathy taught women’s studies and political theory for twenty-four years at San Diego State University and currently directs summer humanities’ seminars for schoolteachers. Kathy has appeared frequently on radio and television in and beyond San Diego, and co-produced Profiles, a City of San Diego Television series on local authors. She has a B. A in political science from Brooklyn College, a Ph.D. in political science from the City University of New York, and is a certified yoga teacher (200 RYT) registered with the Yoga Alliance.


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