On Reading and Being Fonder of Things
This weekend I somehow came across an article on The Cusp about George Saunders on the subject of reading.
“When you read a good book, you’re different. You’re enlivened, you’re more alert, fonder of things.”
I was thinking about how wonderful it is to pluck a book off the shelf that you hadn’t read in ages, and just flipping through it, and in my case, stopping at the dogeared bits. A well-loved book I own is The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai. And one of the stops I made was this poem:
A Quiet Joy
by Yehuda Amichai, translated by Chana Bloch
I’m standing in a place where I once loved.
The rain is falling. The rain is my home.
I think words of longing: a landscape
out to the very edge of what’s possible.
I remember you waving your hand
as if wiping mist from the windowpane,
and your face, as if enlarged
from an old blurred photo.
Once I committed a terrible wrong
to myself and others.
But the world is beautifully made for doing good
and for resting, like a park bench.
And late in life I discovered
a quiet joy
like a serious disease that’s discovered too late:
just a little time left now for quiet joy.
The world, I have to agree, is beautifully made for doing good. And a good book will remind us of just that. A good book reminds us to be fond of things, and also people.
Here’s another quotable quotation by Saunders:
“Reading is a form of prayer, a guided meditation that briefly makes us believe we’re someone else, disrupting the delusion that we’re permanent and at the centre of the universe. Suddenly (we’re saved!) other people are real again, and we’re fond of them.”
Reading is as good a response as any in this current political climate. And maybe one of the best. At The Cusp, Saunders says:
“Right now in the US, everybody is just floundering around with this political situation, and one of the things I’ve realized is that I really turn to art as a refuge. Not in the sense of it takes me away from everything, but it reminds me of how important specificity is, you know, empathy, ambiguity, trying to foster complexity of thought. The current [political] movement is all opposite to that, it is surface and snark.”
He goes on to say:
“What the Trump movement is doing is destabilising a bunch of conversational values that for so long, we have taken for granted,” he says. “You know, we’re trying not to be harsh with other people, we’re trying to be caring, the basic idea that we are created equal and try to behave in that way.”
I honestly think that we cannot think about this enough. We must pledge to be less harsh, more caring, to remember that these are just the very basic civilities.
When I do my work at the library, I’m bringing with me all the books I’ve read, all those thoughts and experiences and feelings I’ve been exposed to in literature. Lately, driving to work, I’ve had this quotation by Indra Nooyi in the back of my mind:
“Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent. You will be amazed at how your whole approach to a person or problem becomes very different.”
– Indra Nooyi
I completely love this sentiment and try to put it into action every day. I do admit I find it a bit sad that the person who said this is also the mind behind “lady chips” but we’re not all perfect are we?
But yes, assume positive intent. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Remember to rest and read, and find some quiet joy in your day. Try to be fond of things. People, too.
Chips, though, eat those however you want.