"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Read A Book About Reading

Painting by Vittorio Matteo Corcos (1859 - 1933)
Book by Stefan Bollmann (b 1958)
Foreward by Karen Joy Fowler (b 1950)

Thanks to my friend Katy B. for giving me this gorgeous and inspiring book. I read the foreword and introductory material months ago, just after Christmas, and since then have had the book on my coffee table, where I pick it up at random quiet moments and study the classic paintings (plus a few photographs) of reading women, beautifully explained by author / editor Stefan Bollmann. I was delighted to note the inclusion by Bollmann of a few prints that have appeared previously on my Book Blog (e.g., Young Woman with Book, by Alexander Deineka; Reading Girl by Franz Eybl; and Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard). Great minds!

by Alexander Deineka

Speaking of great minds, thanks to my friend Katie F. for suggesting earlier in the summer that I might enjoy reading The Jane Austen Book Club, which I promptly ordered and placed carefully atop my towering "to read" stack.

The connection was right in front of me, but I missed it until, by happy coincidence, Katie F. stopped by to visit, noticed and admired Women Who Read laying out in pride of place on my table, and then exclaimed "Foreword by Karen Joy Fowler -- she also wrote The Jane Austen Book Club! Have you read it yet? No, I hadn't, but I did so right away, then re-read Fowler's opening remarks about dangerous reading women, and typed up the following favorite passages from each:

Women Who Read Are Dangerous

"Centuries upon centuries . . . women have read on -- the unacceptable books as well as the acceptable, Gothic novels in the time of Austen, Harlequin romances, horror novels, space operas, mysteries, police procedurals, chick lit, biographies . . . Now they are joining book clubs . . ." (16, emphasis added).

by Jean-Honoré Fragonard

"One might wonder why artists so often choose a woman reading as the subject of a painting or photograph. . . . the image is an interestingly complicated one. . . . She might, while the book lasts, be a completely different person from the one we are seeing. . . . She might be having trouble concentrating, or she might be spellbound. She might be escaping from boredom into a frothy romantic comedy [by Jane Austen!] . . . she might be experiencing some transformation so profound that she will never be quite the same again. At the very moment we see her, the scales might be falling from her eyes" (13 - 14).

The Jane Austen Book Club

"Austen suggests that Udolpho is a dangerous book, because it makes people think life is an adventure . . . But that's not the kind of book that's really dangerous to people. . . . All the while it's Austen writing the really dangerous books . . . Books that people really do believe, even hundreds of years later. How virtue will be recognized and rewarded. How love will prevail. How life is a romance" (141).

by Franz Eybl

"There was something appealing in thinking of a character with a secret life that her author knew nothing about. Slipping off while the author's back was turned to find love in her own way. Showing up just in time to deliver the next bit of dialogue with an innocent face. If Sylvia were a character in a book, that's the kind she's want to be" (171).

Another timely connection: As I was pulling this post together, my good friend and reading buddy Cate sent me an excellent article:

"Why Books and Reading Are More Important Than Ever"

containing these inspiring words by Will Schwalbe
"I wrote that books remain one of the few defenses we have against narrowness, domination, and mind control. But only if we read them – and then only if we spring into action based on what we’ve learned and discovered. Books can’t do anything by themselves. They need us.

"Today we need to read more than ever. And we need to act now more than ever.

"If you are reading this essay, you aren’t reading a book. At least, not this very second. But you’re probably a book reader or you wouldn’t have found your way here or clicked on the shared link that brought these words to your attention. And there’s the rub. I’m writing a piece about the importance of books for an audience already sold on the concept. And it’s taking you (and me) away from them."

additional titles from Schwalbe:

Books for Living & The End of Your Life Book Club

I had to write straight back to Cate:

"I love this essay and it fits right in with the blog post that I'm working on right now: "Read A Book About Reading." No kidding -- that's the title that I gave it before reading this essay, in which he talks about the very same conundrum of reading an essay about reading! I'll add the link here as soon as I get done! Hey I've got writing to do! As Schwalbe commands us: 'Seriously. Go! I've got books to read. You do, too.' What a great conclusion!"

Dreams, 1896

Next Fortnightly Post
Thursday, September 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading


  1. There are no coincidences. -Buddha.

    Last summer I won the summer adult reading program and snagged a $50 gc to the local gas station. Who days reading doesn't pay?
    I love your writing. I hear your voice.
    Twyla, post-thrilled; Duffy and Sammy thrilled. I showed them your post.