Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Write Me a World, Part 2

I've been thinking a lot about reading since reading Susie's post yesterday. I have incredibly intense memories around it, for one thing: going to the library with my father, getting a stack of books, rummaging around in the adult fiction shelves because the "teen" and "young adult" fiction was just insipid to me, discovering Kurt Vonnegut, staying up until all hours reading. The other thing I realized, though, and this hearkens back to the class posts, is that reading is the way that both my father and I became aware that there are other ways of being, other worlds, other lives out there. It probably helped that my dad spent two years in the army, mostly in post-war Europe (rather than the battlefields of Korea), and it probably helped that he went off to New York when he was first out of the army (just for weekends with old army buddies, not to live), but I think the biggest things for him were, first, meeting my mother's family, where my grandfather talked about politics, probably in ways that my father had never heard before, and, second, reading voraciously. All those books let him know that there's a big wide world out there, even if he lives less than twenty miles from where he grew up and from where I grew up. When some bad thing happened--Three Mile Island, for example--he'd wait until the book came out to find out the real facts of the matter; he didn't trust the government or the first reporters on the scene to get all of the facts out, and he didn't trust them to ask the right questions, and he especially didn't trust them to tell anything close to the whole truth, including the whys and wherefores and histories that led to a particularly incident. I don't read nearly as much non-fiction as he does, but even the fiction I read performed the same function for me: it gave me the idea that there's a world outside the small working-class town in which I grew up, lots of worlds, even, and that reading about them would help me navigate at least some of them if I ever came upon them in real life. The other thing I discovered is that I love to write: I love to find a way to say something, so that you understand what the hell I could possibly mean. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes not, but I love the process, too, the effort to think clearly about what I mean, to work through a problem and find the tools to parse it, to use the words on the page as a way to clear up a muddle in my brain, and vice versa. I also think of Wittgenstein's comment (sorry, Pops) that the complexity of our language and the complexity of our world mirror each other. I see that in a different way with my stepson, not least because I'm always throwing new ideas at him. And, for me, at the core, is the reading. Always the reading.

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