Reading in the News

Fiction Therapy
In the Guardian a writer pays tribute to Saul Bellow’s Herzog for helping him to read his way out of depression. He says “…the novel made it possible for him to “momentarily forget my own problems and lose myself completely in the richly detailed and beautifully rendered world of the novel. I cannot describe the feeling of calm-amid-the chaos that this generated…”

Re-Reading Books
Stefanie Hollmichel on her blog So Many Books describes the pleasures of re-reading old books. An essay by William Hazlitt put her in the mood pick up her favorite books once again. She says, “When you know what to expect you can sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. Unlike reading a new book you don’t have to figure out what is going on, who the characters are and what relationships they have. You know this so don’t have to puzzle it out. You are free to attend to other elements of the story.”

Renting Books
On The Huffington Post David Colbert wonders if we might begin to see the return of book rental programs as the cost of purchasing new books becomes increasingly expensive. “There'd be nothing new about it. In the 1930s, before the modern era of paperbacks, the U.S. had maybe fifty thousand rental libraries of one kind or another. Many bookstores also rented books, as did general stores. Drugstores were another common outlet.”

Book Memories
Over the years I have read so many books and confess that I have forgotten all too many of them. And then once in a while a passage or a scene or indeed the story itself drifts into my mind in a way that completely baffles me. In the Guardian Evan Maloney wonders “…why do I remember scenes from some books so well, as if they were real-life experiences rather than sequences of symbols on a page, and why do I finish other books and forget them entirely?”

Getting Kids to Read
Are you worried that kids don’t read anymore? Kathy Ceceri at Wired reports that she has the solution--comic books. “It seems like a parent’s dream: a comic book based on classic plays and books. This dream has become a reality with the new book Masterpiece Comics. Masterpiece Comics… a mixture of classic comics like Blonde and Little Lulu and classic literature like Macbeth and Crime and Punishment.”

Make a List
In his recent book, The Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande suggests that the systematic application of the simple checklist “…can help us manage the extreme complexity of the modern world…Failure results not so much from ignorance (not knowing enough about what works) as from ineptitude (not properly applying what we know works).” Strange as it may seem, he demonstrates how often doctors makes mistakes that are easily avoided by working through the essential tasks on a checklist.


The Apple Tablet

I am not immune from all the hoopla and media frenzy about the latest Apple product. And as I am sure you know by now, the new Apple Tablet, now known as the iPad has been duly announced and will be available for sale at the end of March.

Questions concerning the nature of reading on the iPad loom large in my thinking. Some have now been answered. It is known that the screen will be 9.7 in, midway between the 3.5 in screen of the iPhone and the 15 in MacBook Pro but larger than the 6 inch Kindle screen and the same as the larger Kindle DX.

However, the lighting on the color iPad screen will be bright and sharp unlike the dull gray of the Kindle. And like the iPhone, the screen is said to be very responsive to scrolling, tapping and flipping into a horizontal view.

Aside from everything else it can do (see Apple.com) what will reading a book, magazine or newspaper be like on the iPad? This is the central question I have about the device.

We know now that there will be an iBookstore where you can purchase books for the iPad from five publishers that have signed up to date-- Hachette, Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan. And I am sure it won’t be long until other publishers sign on too.

We are told that the publishers will be able to charge $12.99 to $14.99 for most general fiction and nonfiction books, which is more than most, but not all, Kindle books, although a good deal less than the printed book.

As David Pogue noted in his initial impression of the iPad: "The iPad as an e-book reader is a no-brainer. It’s just infinitely better-looking and more responsive than the Kindle, not to mention it has color and doesn’t require external illumination."

Will you be able to highlight or mark passages? And will it be possible to save them so they can be subsequently downloaded to your computer? All of this is possible with the Kindle, but as I earlier noted, the procedure is cumbersome and time consuming, requiring several less-than-simple steps. And the same questions apply to making notes on the pages of the materials to-be-read on the iPad.

Apple has several accessories for the iPad that appeal to me. One is a cover that both protects the screen and opens in a way that makes it “feel” like you are opening a book and holding each side with your hands.

And by flipping the screen in a horizontal position, the iPad creates two separate pages on the screen in the same way you view side-by-side pages of a printed book. Very cool and very unlike the Kindle.

But what books are you able to download from the iBookstore and will they also be downloadable to a Mac computer or iPhone? That is also of critical importance to me. However, to date almost all the books I want to read are not available in an e-book format.

I am also intrigued by the IPad dock that places the screen at a slightly tilted vertical angle, like a laptop screen, while at the same time making it possible to charge the device once its connected to an electrical outlet or your computer.

I am been cautioned that this marvelous new gadget is just another toy, that I should stick with the old-fashioned book and not fall sway to the latest digital fad. And I will probably take this advice.

Nonetheless, we still have a great deal to learn about the new Apple Tablet especially from the first-hand reviews of those who have an opportunity to actually test it, which apparently no one outside of Apple have been able to do yet, and we learn more about the books sold at the iBookstore and what limits will be placed on the devices that can download them.


Solitary or Social Readers

Recently a local book club leader wrote to explain why she devotes herself so energetically to the group:

…what I love best about the book club meetings, other than talking about books with other people, are hearing peoples' takes on the stories we read. We all lead such different lives, and come from such different backgrounds, (and are at different stages in our lives), that the book usually has different meanings for each of us. It's interesting to hear how many different ways a story can be interpreted, and I usually come away with a better appreciation for what I've read... anyway those are the moments I look forward to, (other than meeting fellow book lovers! What's not to like about that?!

In the Times recently, Motoko Rich takes a slightly contrary view arguing that reading in the era of online book groups, Oprah clubs, Shelfari, and the countless informal book groups that are everywhere these days, has now become “a relentlessly social pursuit.” She notes: “Publishers, meanwhile are fashioning social networking sites where they hope to attract readers who want to comment on books and one another.”

I know individuals who belong to three or four different book groups at the same time and each and every one of them meets somewhere to have a meal before or during their “meeting.” Are they there for the meal, the friendly chit-chat, to flirt or to have a serious discussion about the book they may or may not have read before hand?

But there is a different class of reader as Rich points out who feel “that their relationship with a book, its characters and the author is too intimate to share.” These readers can engage in all the benefits cited by the leader of the local book group for why she likes her group. They too can reflect on the book’s meanings, its relationship with the works or other authors, and read the opinions of those who have reviewed the book and who might have a different take on it or who view the story in a usual way. And all of this can be experienced without the gossip or the meal at the current restaurant of the year.

Rich also concludes that these two (public and private) readers are not mutually exclusive, that readers who prefer to read privately are not necessarily adverse to discussing it publicly, although my hunch is that a group of more than one of two such individuals would be sufficient for them. And perhaps if the club was structured more around the type of reading groups that we usually called seminars or conferences in college or the Book Salons as in Europe during the 19th Century, they might be more likely to become more social readers.

I used to teach at a college where in order to graduate students were required to write a Senior Thesis and then engage in its defense with a group of faculty members. At the time of their defense the students almost always brought trays of food, (baked goods, sandwiches, trays of vegetables and fruits, etc.) and abundant beverages. Did they think all this food would increase the likelihood they would pass?

It was always difficult for me to carry on a coherent discussion munching a chocolate croissant and so I found myself in an awkward position, not knowing what to do with these offerings, since I was never hungry and didn’t much care to snack anyway.

I guess that is why I have always been one of those readers who prefer to carry out the pursuit of reading and what I say about it in a largely, although not exclusively, private fashion. Nonetheless, I remain quite interested in the question of whether the solitary reading experience in some way significantly different than reading without the expectation of discussing it with others


Let's Just Talk About Fear

In Pascal Mercier’s novel Night Train to Lisbon the Portuguese physician Amedeau Prado inquires: Is it so that everything we do is done out of fear of loneliness? ….Why else do we hold on to all these broken marriages, false friendships, boring birthday parties? What would happen if we refused all that, put an end to the skulking blackmail and stood on our own?

The theme is echoed in the recent film A Single Man based on Christopher Isherwood’s novel of the same name. In the film George, unmarried and gay, still grieves over the death of his lover eight years ago. In a lecture to in his literature class, he departs from his prepared remarks on Adous Huxley to speak forcefully on the extent to which fear is used to govern the populace:

Let’s just talk about fear. Fear, after all, is our real enemy. Fear is taking over our world. Fear is being used as a tool of manipulation in our society.

It’s how politicians peddle policy and how Madison Avenue sells us things that we don’t need. Think about it. Fear that we’re going to be attacked, fear that there are communists lurking around every corner, fear that some little Caribbean country that doesn’t believe in our way of life poses a threat to us.

Fear that black culture may take over the world. Fear of Elvis Presleyʼs hips. Well, maybe that one is a real fear. Fear that our bad breath might ruin our friendships... Fear of growing old and being alone.

Fear that we’re useless and that no one cares what we have to say.

It is clear the students are not getting his message, not its relevance or its subtext. George realizes he has lost them, closes his Huxley book, and wishes the class a good weekend.

Much of what we do in life is often enacted to avoid something else. Do we not work to avoid impoverishment? How often do we marry to avoid loneliness? Do we read or write to avoid boredom? And what about the neurotic fears and phobias that so many people have today--agoraphobia, claustrophobia, fear of elevators, fear of flying, and fear of social embarrassment that gives rises to extreme cases of social anxiety and shyness?

What are the fears of writers? Fear of running out of ideas, of writer’s block, of a poorly received book, of their inevitable limitations? In a recent Paris Review interview Mary Karr is asked: “What are you afraid of?” She responds: “Failure. I keep Beckett’s motto above my desk: Fail better.” In his Nobel speech, Orhan Pamuk proclaimed, “I write to avoid being forgotten.”

In a way that is also one of the reasons I write, to leave something permanent after I am gone, to have a book in the library or on the bookshelf of my children. In this way, I won’t be quite so quickly forgotten.

Behind any artist's urge to create is an egotistical impulse -- a desire to be remembered, to see one's works immortalized. Writers attempt to defy death by achieving eternal life on the page and in the imaginations of readers. Such hopes are ultimately illusory: obviously, a page or a book or a computer file may outlast their creators, but nothing has the stamina to outlast time. Yet few writers are either willing or courageous enough to confront the fact that literary immortality is essentially impossible.

(From a review of Paul Auster’s Invisible by Vincent Rossmeier at Powell’s bookstore in Portland, Oregon.)


Conversations With My Gardener

I write to tell you about a beautiful film I saw on the weekend. In most cases reading or viewing something beautiful is not something I feel like keeping private. Conversations with My Gardener is a French film about a Parisian artist who hires a gardener to bring back to life the overgrown garden at his family’s rundown manor in the country.

The beauty of this film is not only in its visual images, but also in its depiction of the friendship, devotion, and philosophies of the two men. To see the film is close to being in France, in the countryside during the summer: flowers, and vegetables, a dog running after a motorbike, charming people speaking amusingly in French, a language as beautiful than the scenery.

There is a good deal of talk between the painter and the gardener who turn out to be old childhood school friends. Each has gone their own way, one to the Parisian art and café world, the other to a blue-collar life on railroad work crews

Their friendship is renewed and deepens as the seasons pass. They exchange views about the profound and the trivial—paintings, lovers, marriage music, careers, fishing and illness. It is wonderful to watch these two men speaking and jesting with one another for a couple of hours on the screen.

The gardener tells the painter that the important things are those you keep in your heart. He tells him to always carry a knife and a piece of string—advice that turns out to be helpful in a future scene. The painter takes the gardener to the Louvre and tells him about light and dark and what he is thinking while he paints.

A reviewer comments: There’s a great sense of place. We luxuriate in the verdant peace of Rhone-Alpes’ picturesque Villefranche-sur-Saone, and the eternal city of Paris, through the cobbled streets, the sidewalk cafes and the Arc de Triomphe…There are many images of conversation that are memorable, but none more so than that of the two men fishing, deliberating on matters of life and death. Philosophical, mischievous and melancholy, this is a beautiful film that draws us to the two characters, their lives and hearts.

If you enjoy this sort of thing, try to view the film if it comes your way. Here is a clip of what you will see.



Some people enjoy saying things they don’t quite mean. I am one of them. On a really stormy day, I will often look outside and say something like, “What a beautiful day it is.” I am not lying or trying to mislead anyone. Rather, saying the opposite of what I really mean or what is obviously untrue is how I sometimes like to talk. It is a form of irony, an exaggerated form of irony, and speaking that way often has more than one meaning. It is also a very tricky matter.

I might say something like I really enjoy Thai food, when it fact I don’t like it at all. And if you are the recipient of this statement, you are suppose to pick up on it and know that I am really telling you how much I dislike Thai food. As you can see, this can sometimes be misinterpreted.

But when you know someone who catches on at once, and this is usually a person who knows you very well, she might reply in kind. She will say something like “Yes, let’s go to this new Thai restaurant,” when in fact, she doesn’t mean that at all and you are fully aware she doesn’t. What she means is that going to a Thai restaurant is out of the question, that, of course we will go to our favorite French bistro.

Apparently, this way of communicating is rather common for those who speak Farsi. In an interview in the Times a few years ago, the Iranian novelist, Dalia Sofer, described the elusiveness and indirect way of speaking in Farsi.

There’s this whole idea of taarof—you say something you don’t mean, and the other person is supposed to pick up on it. For example, if I am visiting you, I may say, “It is getting late; I must go, and you say, “No, please stay,” and I am supposed to know that you really want me to go. People have to pick up on codes.

By no means is this restricted to those who speak Farsi. The American writer Amy Bloom is a master of this writing technique. (Maybe she speaks this way too.) In her latest collection of short stories, Where the God of Loves Hangs Out, the couple depicted in the first quartet of stories often speaks that way to one another.

Clare and William, who are having an affair, are about to have dinner. William has the gout so must eat mild foods. Clare goes out to the kitchen to make something for the two of them.

She “…gathers up everything that wasn’t eaten at lunch and every promising plastic container, including a little olive tapenade and a lot of pineapple cottage cheese, and lays it all on the coffee table in front of William with a couple of forks and two napkins.”

“You do go all out,” he says.

“I don’t know how Isabel [William’s wife] caters to you the way she does. If Charles [Clare’s husband] were as much of a baby as you, I’d get a nurse and check into a hotel.”

“I’m sure you would.”

And later, they are sitting together on a sofa where, because of his gout, William has to spend much of each day.

“A lot of activity here,” Clare says.

“Oh, yes quite a ruckus, “William says.

Here is one more:

“All right,” William said. “Let’s have it. You’re shipwrecked on a desert island. Who do you want to be with—me or Nelson Slater?” [a young kid in the neighborhood]

“Oh my God,” Clare says. “Nelson. Of course.”

“Good choice. He did a great job with the firewood.”

All this can be very amusing, of course, both for Clare and William and for the reader, at least a reader who takes a liking to this way of communicating.

It can also be equally amusing if you like to speak that way to someone once in a while. Knowing someone who also enjoys bantering with you in this way and who can easily catch on to your way of speaking is simply one of the great joys in life. It lends an edge to communicating, a little mystery too and it can often lead to sparkling conversations and crazy ideas that are sometimes not quite so crazy after all.


Why Do I Write II

Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human condition.

Graham Greene

It is widely believed that writing about traumatic and emotional events can reduce the distress they give rise to. Indeed, the authors of the passages quoted in my Commonplace Book often mentioned its therapeutic benefits in explaining why they wrote.

In Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions, James Pennebaker marshals an impressive array evidence to show that writing about emotional experiences can have the same positive effects on physical and mental heath as discussing them with a trained therapist.

In an early study, for example, Pennebaker reports that the spouses of individuals who committed suicide reported having fewer health problems when they spoke to others about this traumatic event than those who did not. Indeed spouses who did not talk about their partner’s death experienced higher levels of anxiety, depression and insomnia. According to Pennebaker, suppressing the expression of upsetting events is harmful and over a period of time becomes a serious health risk. In contrast, facing them squarely by talking and writing about them has the opposite effect.

How does writing accomplish this? In trying to answer this question Pennebaker reflects on his own experiences: In writing about upsetting events, for example, I often came to a new understanding of the emotional events themselves. Problems that had seemed overwhelming became more circumscribed and manageable after I saw them on paper. In some way, writing about my haunting experiences helped to resolve them.

A good many writers expressed themselves similarly:

One writes to keep going, to keep oneself from going mad...to live through the next day or two. Harold Bloom

If one was fairly content, why in the name of God would one want to go through the discipline and scariness of sitting down to write 90,000 words...Writing makes you lonely because you have to exile yourself. But deeper than that is an inborn native loneliness, a spiritual void that words, for some reason, help fill. Edna O’Brien

My own reasons for writing, for setting down the story, are to a large extent selfish. With each story--and by story I mean anything I write--I am trying simply to work something out for myself. You, the reader, play a part here: this is a private matter, as I write about the things that disturb me, the things that won't let me alone, the things that are eating slowly into my brain at 3 in the morning, the things that unbalance my world. Roxana Robinson

I write because I have never managed to be happy. I write to be happy. Orhan Pamuk

One thing I know for sure is that if I did not write these characters, these stories, I would be much less happy and probably much less normal. Writing allows me to explore situations that are impossible for me to explore in my life. And yet they are very active parts in me. Emotionally I am an extreme person and writing makes it possible for me to go on. David Grossman

I would write to forget, to get rid of sad moments. Once they were written down, they were gone. Jean Rhys

To take issue with these writers, as well as Pennebaker, I believe we are probably deluding ourselves by thinking we can put our emotional problems behind us by simply writing about them. Long ago we learned to be skeptical of the claims of the "insight" theories of psychotherapy. Awareness is not sufficient to cure. Similarly, the evidence on writing therapy suggests considerable caution about accepting its various claims of success.

Well before I ever heard of "writing therapy" I wrote in my journal. I know that I am much more likely to write there when things are not going well. But I also know that no matter how much I write or how much truth there is in what I write, I do not thereby put the problems behind me. I may feel a little better after I compose the passages, but only for the moment.

Yes, eventually the problems disappear. However, I realize that this occurs for reasons that have very little, if anything, to do with the fact that I may have written about them one day.


Why Do I Write? I

I often ask myself why do I spend so much time writing. I used to write articles for peer-reviewed psychological journals. I wrote letters in the days when writing letters was about the only way to communicate with anyone.

Now I spend a fair amount of time each day writing e-mails. I also used to write in my journal and I still do a little of that, although now it’s in a Word document on my computer labeled Flash Notes. And I write on my blog once in a while, as well as an essay or two now and then.

Why do I spend so much time doing this? Few people read my professional publications and even fewer read the books, essays, or the blog that I am writing this piece for. So what’s the point, anyway? What is the purpose of all this writing? Why not play chess, instead?

Writing was one of the most frequent themes of the passages I collected in my Commonplace Book. A while ago I pulled together all the passages on each of the most common themes and when I reviewed those on Writing, I noticed that the individuals who wrote the passages I collected gave three major reasons for why they devoted their life to writing.

Several said they wrote to answer a question they had or to better understand some issue. I know I try to do that too. I have a question or an idea that I’d like to write about but I scarcely know where to begin. So, rather that wait for the muse to do her work, I simply start writing about it and sometimes, to my amazement, I end up with a page or two that begins to clarify matters for me.

One writes not because one knows the answer but because one wants to explore the question. J.M. Coetzee

I write to understand as much as to be understood. Elle Wiesel

I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want, and what I fear. Joan Didion

The point of writing is discovery. The writer discovers first for himself by moving words around, bringing out surprising new meanings in them through arranging them in never-before-seen combinations. And if he hits upon the perfect combination, a light goes off, and the world will seem a brighter place to him and his readers. Joseph Epstein

That was why one wrote, wasn’t it? To find out why. Jens Christian Grondahl

Andin his eloquent Nobel Prize Lecture where he gave on my count at least twenty different reasons why he writes, Orhan Pamuk said: Perhaps I write because I hope to understand why I am so very, very angry at everyone.

The second major reason the writers gave was that they simply needed to do so, that it was a natural thing for them to do, they didn’t really have much choice in the matter. It is as if these writers write almost reflexively, in the same way they need to breathe.

At times, this basic need is quite familiar to me. I don’t write to make a living or to make known some particular insight or point of view. Rather I write because there’s no other way to express myself and I very much want to do that.

So why do I write, torturing myself to put it down? Because in spite of myself, I’ve learned some things. Without the possibility of action, all knowledge comes to one labeled “file and forget,” and I can neither file nor forget. Nor will certain ideas forget me; they keep filing away at my lethargy, my complacency. Why should I be the one to dream this nightmare? Why should I be dedicated and set aside--yes if not to tell at least a few people about it? There seems to be no escape. Ralph Ellison

The inexhaustible urge toward self-expression makes it nearly a sure thing that there will always be writers around as long as there is us. David Remnick

In his Nobel remarks, Pamuk also cited this reason. It was the first one he gave in answering the question about why he wrote: I write because I have an innate need to write.


The Case for Books

For some time since her operation, and without publication its goal, she had been jotting down without order or pattern, anecdotes gleaned from the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, noting down those matters or events which moved her. One day these notes and fragments of thought might form a coherent mosaic and reveal to her her own spiritual autobiography as well as biography of her time.

Frederic Tuten The Green House

During a period when it is reported that people are reading less and less and when it is also said the era of the book is coming to an end, Robert Darton has written a ringing statement in its defense. He regards the invention of the book—a codex of bound pages--as one of the most important technological and cultural achievements in human history. In his The Case for Books, he has also made a compelling case for the practice of keeping a commonplace book.

Darton’s volume consists of a set of essays concerned with the past, present and future of books. In one of the first, he very perceptively comments that: “The staying power of the old-fashioned codex illustrates a general principle in the history of communication: one medium does not displace another, at least not in the short run.”

I believe this principle applies widely—putting a gas station on one corner is not going to put the one across the street out of business. If anything a third gas station will soon spring up on one of the other corners. Television did not put an end to radio, nor will the Web put an end to motion pictures, newspapers or periodicals. Those who fear that the end of the book is near should be ever mindful of this principle.

In another essay, he invites reader to consider the essential properties of a book. “It has extraordinary staying power. Ever since the invention of the codex sometime close to the birth of Christ, it has proved to be a marvelous machine—great for packing information, convenient to thumb through, comfortable to curl up with, superb for storage, and remarkably resistant to damage.”

Like so many other readers, young and old, Darton believes that reading the screen version of a book is inferior to reading it on the printed page. He cites Bill Gates, who has very large and fancy screens and who speaks ardently about the New Web Lifestyle, that when it comes to reading more than four or five pages, he usually prints the document instead of reading it online. Gates says he likes to keep the printed pages with him, to annotate and re-read whenever he wants. And he continues, “…it’s quite a hurdle for technology to match that level of usability.”

In the chapter, The Mysteries of Reading, Darton reviews the history of commonplace books and why they were such important sources of information and ideas in the early days of reading. As it still is for some readers today, reading and writing were considered to be inseparable activities. You read and you took notes or you copied passages and you preserved them in your commonplace book to review and use in future conversation, debate, or writing. It was also a new book, one that reflected your own personality and the unique way you came to interpret the world as seen on the pages of the books you read.

“Commonplacing was like quilting: it produced pictures, some more beautiful than others, but each of them interesting it its own way. They reveal patterns of culture: the segments that went into it, the stitching that connected them, the tears that pulled them apart, and the common cloth of which they were composed.”


Mrs. Dalloway

The varied effects of reading literary fiction are matters that continue to loom large in my thinking. Writers of fiction are among the most articulate in addressing this issue. Many point to a particular work of fiction that changed their life and led them to try their hand at writing themselves.

In Mentors, Muses and Monsters edited by Elizabeth Benedict, Michael Cunningham describes how Elizabeth Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway did, over time, turn him into a reader and eventually, into a writer.

He says he was not much of a reader before he read Woolf’s novel. He grew up in suburb of Los Angeles in the 1960s and while he did a little writing then, it was mostly about the Doors, Joni Mitchell and Simon and Garfunkel.

He describes a conversation in which a well-read student of literature asks him if he had read anything by T.S. Eliot or Virginia Woolf. He hadn’t but the next day, so as not to disappoint the charming girl who made him feel so stupid, he went to the library and found one book by Virginia Woolf: Mrs. Dalloway.

Nothing had prepared him for what was to follow. “I had neither read nor conceived of sentences that complex and muscular and precise and beautiful. I remember thinking, Hey, she was doing with language something like what Jimi Hendrix does with a guitar.”

The experience clearly altered the rest of his life. “I had, in a sense, seen Paris, and could never quite go home again.”

“…I felt early on, that reading Mrs. Dalloway at a relatively young age had been such a transforming experience for me, had mattered so much that it was literally part of my autobiographical material, every bit as much also as a tragic (fabulous) love affair, the death of a parent, or other such events that inform what and how novelists write.”

Cunningham claims he knew almost immediately that if he ever wrote a serious work of fiction it was going to be called The Hours, which had been Woolf’s original title for Mrs. Dalloway. Cunningham’s The Hours was published in 1998 and was followed a few years later by the film of the same name.

Other authors have pointed to a specific book or the works of a single author that have shaped their writing life. Joyce Carol Oates cites Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and Sigrid Nunez mentions the writings of Susan Sontag, while Cheryl Strayed speaks reverently of Alice Munro’s short stories.

Cunningham’s account is the one I remember most clearly. Perhaps that’s because of the vitality of his essay and the force of Mrs. Dalloway’s influence on his life. It may also be due to my own experience in reading both Mrs. Dalloway and The Hours, as well as seeing the film version of each. Each of those accounts of one day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway have stirred me too and given me indelible experiences that make Cunningham’s account all the more memorable.


Thoughts and Feelings

As usual, my hands had gone into their Raynaud’s syndrome spasm in the cold and were white to the second joints of the fingers.

Wallace Stegner Spectator Bird

Are our thoughts about future events closely associated with the feelings we have once we experience them? A personal illustration: Like Joe Ashton in Stegner’s Spectator Bird, I have what is known as Raynaud’s Syndrome. It is a condition that is strictly associated with cold weather in an almost one to one relationship. You don’t see one of those too often.

When the weather is cold, my hands turn black and blue and then sometimes white and red. My feet probably do so, as well, but I don’t see them and I don’t need to type with them. The episodes come and go throughout a cold day. It is very colorful but it can be somewhat painful too. While there is a name for the phenomenon, there is very little known about it and almost no cure. The only certain way to overcome Raynaud’s is to get on the plane and fly to the tropics as fast as you can.

After being in Hawaii last year, my wife and I decided to return to Oregon. However, I had forgotten about what the winter is really like there, how cold, wet and dreary it usually is. After living there for forty years, I can say all this, read about what the winter weather is like, but I cannot feel it. I cannot recapture the reality of what it is like for me to live under those conditions while I’m in the tropics

When we moved to Honolulu, I told myself over and over not to forget the winter. I wrote about it all to often. And yet, I returned to Portland. Once the winter began, I was truly miserable, at least in the way I feel miserable when it is cold, regardless of how warm it is inside.

There is the word, the thought and there is the feeling--the gap is enormous and that is the problem. My thoughts about the winter were totally dissociated from the way I felt when it was cold. Why is this the case?

It is not an error in predicting future emotional responses, what is now called affective forecasting. I knew what it would be like, but I could not feel it as a sensory event.

It is not a failure of memory. I recall the winter, all the winters I have spent in Portland and the increasing difficulty I have in dealing with them. Why, then, did I not bring that to bear on the decision to return? Alas, memories are not feelings.

Nor is it matter of language. I have many words to describe the effects of the weather on my body and mind. They are common words. It isn’t like trying to describe an unusual pain or emotional experience. Rather I can tell you exactly what happens to my hands, and the sense of being cold all the time, and the troubles I have going out. Yes, these are little woes, but they do have their way with me.

There is also nothing new about this. Long ago in his Treatise of Human Nature Hume pointed out that ideas are but “faint images” of our “sensation, passions and emotions.”

In a recent study of the relationship between various thoughts (anger, anxiety, depression, etc) and their corresponding affective state, La Pointe and Harrell confirm Hume’s conjecture in the language of their discipline. They report “…very few significant relationships were found between specific cognitions and affective states.”

But what they or anyone else as far as I can tell, don’t report is how to overcome this discrepancy, how to bring one’s thoughts or memories into a closer relationship with their feelings. The problem is similar to the relationship between thoughts and actions. In both cases, the discrepancies are often quite large, poorly understood, and difficult to narrow.


Handwriting versus Typing

The recent publication of Writing Letters with Pen & Ink by Edward St. Paige reminds me how important writing by hand still is for some people. It is also important to many individuals who collect passages from the books they read.

In a survey I conducted of individuals who keep a commonplace book several commented at some length on why they prefer to write by hand, rather than typing, the passages they want to save. Reading the text is one thing. Recalling it is another. But in between these two activities is the process of transcribing.

What is copying? First it is attending once again to the text. Perhaps it is also thinking about it further; it occupies your mind once again. In The Body’s Recollection of Being, David Michael Levin compared transcribing to the hand copying of religious texts by medieval monks, an activity that required “the most intense meditative concentration, poise and steadiness of hand.” Later he spoke of it as a “way of carving words (and their meaning) into flesh, into body.”

In a subsequent exchange about her survey responses, Olivia Dresher, publisher of Impassio Press and director of the Life Writing Connection went further to suggest that transcribing the quotes by hand is superior to typing them on a typewriter which, in turn, is superior to typing them on a computer keyboard. She claimed:

“...handwritten quotes linger more in my consciousness because I actually wrote [sometimes very slowly] them with my hands into a notebook. And they feel more permanent (even if that’s an illusion), more connected to me, less fleeting.”

For Levin and Dresher, writing the passages by hand is an experience that is almost “sacred,” a feature of commonplacing that brings the meaning of the words into their consciousness in a far deeper way than when they are typed. The experience becomes a very physical one for them, one that is not unlike incorporating something into your body, as one does in eating food.

As Audrey Borenstein, the author of Redeeming the Sin: Social Science and Literature noted in quoting the Talmud: “A fitting quotation is like bread to the famished.”

Further Dresher went on to argue that while typing passages on a typewriter enables you to see them on a piece of paper, it doesn’t have the same effect as writing them by hand. And that typing them on a computer keyboard, where they appear on the screen, places the text at an even further distance from the person than either of the two other methods of transcribing.

The distinction these readers make between the several methods of transcribing the passages in their commonplace book is instructive. So too are their claims for their short and long term effects on the transcriber. Does it matter how you record the passages? The hypothesis these readers propose is testable. It would be easy to design an experiment to compare the relative effects of the different methods of transcription.

Consider a recall test or some other measure of permanence. Would quotes that had been handwritten be recalled with greater accuracy than those that had been typed on a typewriter or computer keyboard? That is but one of several questions that might be explored in such an experiment.


Talking to Yourself

I spend a good part of the day talking to myself--silently, of course. I ask myself questions, try to answer them, and mull over one thing or another. Doesn’t everybody do this?

Some of my best ideas emerge during these conversations. At the end of each day, I head out for a walk along a canal near my place and let my thoughts wander--my day, what I might do next, whatever pops into my mind. I usually find this an especially productive time.

On his blog Just Seven Things, Si Conroy writes about the way talking to yourself can be a very intelligent thing to do:

By talking to yourself … your conscious brain gives a clear set of instructions to your other-than-conscious brain. You ask yourself the question and often answer it very quickly yourself because the totality of your resources (conscious and unconscious) are now engaged to a common endeavor (and in most cases, you knew the answer to the problem: it just needed unlocking by you being clear with yourself).”

In his latest novel, Summertime, J. M. Coetzee carries on a lengthy interview with himself, disguised in the form of interviews conducted with various people in his life who are asked about the experiences they had with a J.M. Coetzee and the kind of person Mr. Coetzee revealed himself to be at that time.

On his blog The Frontal Cortex, Jonah Lehrer does something similar in an interview he conducted with himself about his book How We Decide. And the question Do You Talk to Yourself? was also posed on Jezebel last year. The post was written by Anna North who confesses she talks to herself all day, almost every day.

Because an injury to her wrists prevents her from typing very well, she must use voice-recognition software in order to “write.” She quotes a psychologist, Randy Engle, who claims most people talk to themselves and, moreover, in some situations it’s a good thing to do:

"When we are reading something that is quite complex, it helps to verbalize it aloud, because hearing it, and hearing the language, gives us another cue for remembering those exact words. Listening to our internal auditory memory has been found to be quite helpful to understand a particularly complex sentence."

In a promotion video for his new book, A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation, the author, Daniel Menaker, shows how much fun talking to yourself can be. Other than the books I write about, I don’t usually go out of my way to promote a book or place an ad on my blog about it. This case will be the exception. I think you’ll understand why once to view the video.

Of course, you have to be careful when you talk to yourself, especially when you do so in the presence of other people. People found mumbling something to themselves as they wander down a crowed street are usually thought to be a little bit crazy and are likely to be thrown into the loony bin.

From time to time I see a woman at Starbucks who talks and talks by herself. Not just to herself but outwardly to others, although no one else is there. When I first overhead her, it never dawned on me it was a monologue. It sounded just like a normal conversation. Eventually I must have realized I never heard someone reply. So I glanced over, only to discover there wasn’t anyone there. Still, she never seemed to stop—fully articulate sentences, pauses, continuing in a rather animated fashion. Every time I see her, it is the same. I can never quite make out what she is saying, although I am sure it makes perfect sense to her.


Year in Ideas

Every year for the past nine The Times Magazine has published an issue devoted to the best ideas of the year. I have read them all and confess, I cannot recall a single idea among the many that have been discussed. This isn’t due to any defect in my memory. Rather, it is a result of the very strange concept the Magazine has of an “Idea.” The 2009 issue begins with the following statement:

“…we have hunted eclectically, though not without discrimination, for noteworthy notions of 2009—the twigs and sticks and shiny paper scraps of human ingenuity …the most clever, important, silly and just plain weird innovations…ideas from science and art, politics and policy, technology and engineering, zombie studies…”

Thus, the Times views ideas as anything from notions, to bits of ingenuity, to innovations and well, yes, ideas. What is common to each of these “noteworthy notions” is that they are new in the sense of not existing before, or they are original, or are, for the first time, useful.

Consider the following examples, drawn somewhat randomly from the latest collection of the year’s best ideas:

• Fake car noise—designed for the silent hybrid cars.

• Giving names to cows--found to increase milk production

• Glow in the dark dogs—created with genes taken from a sea anemone that emits red fluorescence

• Hour glass shaped surfboards—found to increase maneuverability

• Lithium in water supply—study found reduced suicides in Korea

• Printable batteries—printed with a complex compound instead of ink

• Stiletto shoes shaped like a lobster-claw, ankle high—“the world needs fantasy” said the designer

Are these ideas in the best sense of the term? Can’t we do a little better? Isn’t an idea something like a belief or abstract concept or a theory, model or hypothesis that has some generality? While the Times notable notions are primarily derived from current research, they are largely technical devices or “innovations” designed for a particular practical application.

We don’t see any concepts like Capitalism or Evolution or the General Theory of Relativity among the best ideas of 2009 and I don’t recall anything like them either in any of the previous issues. To be sure, concepts of that character are rarely formulated on an annual basis

Rather than a long list of notable notions that are always arranged alphabetically from A to Z, perhaps the Times might have a more interesting Year In Ideas issue if it concentrated on the one or two of the most provocative Ideas of the year. Were there not developments in the natural, biological or behavioral sciences during 2009 that were in this sense notable? Why not draw their Ideas from the many award programs such as the Nobels, MacArthur Genius Awards, Goldman Environmental Prizes, Lasker Medical Awards, etc. that recognize distinguished achievement in their respective fields? I’m sure I’d remember some of those.


That Saturday Feeling

I like going to the cleaners and the coffee shop on Saturday morning.

Condeleezza Rice

When I was younger, I recall a distinctive feeling that used to sweep over me each Saturday. Every now and then it comes to me again. How to describe it?

The week is over, so are classes for a while. The homework can wait. The day is wide open. And it was usually sunny where I grew up. Saturday is different and what is clearly different about it is the prospect of not having anything I must do. It is a free day. That which must be done can be put on hold for a day.


Today is Saturday
a day to relax
and lie in the sun
a day to drink lemonade
when all the works done
a day to eat strawberries

Barbara Stahly

And so the Saturday feeling is a blank space, an open range of possibilities and unknowns. It is like being at a traffic circle that takes off in half a dozen different directions. Which one to take? Around and around I go.

In remembering that elusive feeling, I am, of course, also reminded of Ian McEwan’s novel, Saturday, a novel that engrossed me for days. In Saturday McEwan charts a Saturday in the life of a reflective, London neurosurgeon, Henry Perowne. Henry rises early, glances out the open window of his townhouse and sees a plane off in the distance falling in flames as it approaches Heathrow. The mood is set. It looks like Henry’s Saturday is going to be an ominous one.

And yet I think Perowne also felt that special Saturday feeling as he started to ponder the day ahead and how he might spend it. He didn’t have to rush off to the hospital, worry about his next operation, give a lecture or attend an endless series of meetings. He could do pretty much whatever he wanted—play squash with a good friend, take a drive in his silver Mercedes, plan what to cook for a family gathering that evening, or simply ruminate about his discipline, his family, and the troublesome times in which he lives.

And Henry ruminates a great deal:

For the past two hours he’s been in a dream of absorption that has dissolved all sense of time, and all awareness of the other parts of his life. Even his awareness of his own existence has vanished. He’s been delivered into a pure present, free of the weight of the past the past or any anxieties about the future. In retrospect, though never at the time, it feels like profound happiness. …. This state of mind brings a contentment he never finds with any passive form of entertainment. Books, cinema, even music can’t bring him to this... He feels calm, and spacious, fully qualified to exist.

Yes, to a certain extent that is the way I feel on Saturday now—momentarily free of the past, a sense of calm about the day ahead. And when Saturday is over, I am likely to measure myself a little bit by how I chose fill up the space that loomed before me as the day began.


Cities Without Cars

It snowed heavily on the drive back to Portland from the Bay Area. The weather gurus didn’t know this was coming, no one was prepared, trucks and buses did not chain-up, the roads were not sanded. And then the disaster began.

Traffic came to a halt. No one moved for hours. Long lines of stranded drivers stretched down I5 mile and after mile and then some more. Trucks and buses couldn’t get up the icy hills, cars ran out of gas, it was a monumental traffic jam, better thought of as solitary confinement on the Interstate.

A man jumped out of his car and ran into the woods to do what he could no longer avoid (I am thinking, how are others handling this?); a woman vomited out her car window; drivers pushed their cars onto the siding and walked off to nowhere.

It was then that I thought of Venice and the hill towns of Italy. Venice--the city without cars, the carfree city, the city that never heard of an Interstate or being imprisoned on a roadway, the city that is surprisingly quiet without the roar of motorcycles or four-barrel-carburetors.

In his recent book, Carfree Cities, J. H. Crawford offers a potential solution to the many urban problems caused by the automobile. He argues, without much dispute, that a carfree city saves energy, preserves the environment, and improves the quality of our lives. Crawford expresses his approach this way:

"Imagine life in a city free from the noise, stench, and danger of cars, trucks, and buses. Imagine that all basic needs, from groceries to child care, lie within a five-minute walk of every doorstep. Imagine that no commute takes more than 35 minutes from door to door, and that service is provided by a fast, cheap, safe, comfortable public transport system… the car is a technology that has run wild, and that the time has come to reclaim city streets for human activities."

He describes cities throughout the world that have established carfree neighborhoods or carfree zones and includes what I regard as striking photographs of these places and the life that goes within them. You can glimpse this at the Carfree Times Web site and subscribe to its periodic publication distributed over the Internet. If you review the latest issues, you will notice the many inviting images of carless piazzas in Venice and other carfree cities throughout the world.

I realize it is impossible these days to live without a car or at least without access to one once in a while. Our communities have been designed for automobiles and so they have become a necessity. What then are the practical applications of the carfree concept for contemporary urban communities? Crawford proposes a carfree city planned to maximize the quality of life and provides a fair number of suggestions for implementing the carfree concept in both new and existing cities. I have lived in carfree cities and been in others where carfree zones have been established on certain days and whenever I am in these places I have seen the way they have returned the city and its streets to the people.

Of course, these ideas are not going to help me much in driving into Portland on a snowy winter day, but they will bring the city alive once I manage to get there. And perhaps one day, I won’t have to drive or fly to the Bay Area for the holidays. Instead, I will get on a hi-speed train that will whiz me there in a few hours, whereupon I will proceed into a community where I will have no need for a car of my own. This is not a dream in the cities depicted in Carfree Cites, so I have no reason to believe it isn’t a realistic possibility elsewhere.


Loyality to Self or Person We Love

Ann Packer’s first novel, The Dive from Clausen’s Pier presents a timeless moral dilemma. Carrie Bell, a recent college graduate in Madison, Wisconsin finds that her love for the man she is engaged to marry is “untangling.”

“A slow draining away of my feelings for him, a trickle I hardly noticed at first until the level was so low it was all I could notice, until what remained was dark and murky and it seemed that in no time at all I’d be bone-dry.”

To try to awaken her feelings, her fiancé, Mike Mayer, tries to impress her by jumping into a lake from a pier. Tragically, he breaks his neck and is paralyzed for the rest of his life.

What does Carrie owe Mike? What obligations does an individual have to the person they love or once loved when love is precisely what they need? Should she stay in Madison or strike out on her own? She struggles with this question for months. (She has a difficult time making up her mind about everything and that’s why I found the novel very slow going at times.) Finally, Carrie leaves Madison without saying a word to any of her friends or Mike who remains paralyzed in the hospital.

"What I had discovered was that I couldn’t give up my life for Mike—that’s how I saw it at the time, that’s the choice I thought I had to make.”

She goes to New York, falls in love again, succumbs to the joys and temptations of being there and finally enrolls in the Parson School of Design to pursue the talent she has for designing and sewing dresses.

Then one day her lifelong female friend from Madison calls to ask her to return to help her through a crisis. Again she vacillates—on and on--but after doing that for far too many pages, she decides to remain in New York.

Eventually, she realizes she has made a mistake, and returns to Madison for a while. However, once she gets back, her friend will no longer speak to her. She resolves to stay until she does, meanwhile spending most of her time with her paralyzed former boy friend, lover and fiancé.

It takes weeks and then months—and again, many pages--before her friend forgives her but by then she has given up on New York, her lover there, and the new path she had begun to carve out for herself.

How disappointing, I thought at first. How much I wanted her to remain in New York and create that new life for herself. But she couldn’t. Loyalty, responsibility and devotion to friends and family came to take hold of her. History exerts a powerful constraint on the future.

And so the novel presents that ever present issue, one that is never resolved without regret one way or another. The mystery of how the moral question is resolved maintained my interest in the novel. What are we to do when we are faced with this kind of a dilemma? Do we abandon our lover who is no longer the person he once was? Or do we abandon our self, what we know we must do when a person we love stands in need? By the time the book is over, Ms. Packer has provided an answer. Is it the one you would have made?


Up In the Air

Ryan Bingham returns to his solitary apartment in the film version of Up in the Air. The small one bedroom unit is painted white, it is stark white, empty, feels unlived in and desolate. Well, it really isn’t lived in much. There is scarcely any furniture or food in the pantry. Yet it is his home away from home. His real home is 30,000 feet in a business class seat on American Airlines. He travels around the country informing people they have lost their jobs.

Ryan seems content to spend a few days a year in his bleak apartment somewhere down a long corridor of what might just as well be a Holiday Inn in Timbuktu. He isn’t married, doesn’t want to be, has no children, no desire to have any, not even a regular girlfriend anymore. He lectures to groups of business people on how to lighten up their commitments, how to unpack the backpacks of their life, as he puts it.

His friends are behind the ticket counter at American Airlines, their business-class hostesses and those who greet him when he arrives at the Hilton Hotel in St. Louis, Wichita or wherever he happens to be for the night. They are his hello, Ryan, friends.

Until he meets a charmer, Alex Goran, who has the same type of job in the sky as he does. They flirt, they become lovers, they seem to enjoy being together whenever they can, they spend an almost “dreamy” weekend at his younger sister’s wedding. Ryan and Alex are unerringly on the same wave-length.

But then Ryan begins to miss her, wishes she was around more often, and share more of his life with her. The silent apartment that lies wait begins to feel a bit oppressive. Is this a problem? As far as I could tell, it isn’t.

His forlorn state reminded me of Doris Grumbach’s reflections on the fifty days of solitude she spent in her home on the coast of Maine:

At first I found I missed another voice, not so much a voice responsive to my unexpressed thoughts as an independent one speaking its own words….There was a reward for this deprivation. The absence of other voices compelled me to listen more intently to the inner one. I became aware that the interior voice, so often before stifled or stilled entirely by what I thought others wanted to hear, or what I considered to be socially acceptable, grew gratifyingly louder, more insistent.

They spoke loudly to Ryan too. In the midst of his standard unpack-your-backpack speech one day, he stops abruptly, leaves the podium, and rushes out to fly to Alex’s hometown. He knocks on her door, she comes down the stairs, opens it up, whereupon he glimpses a bunch of kids running up and down the stairs.

Here the film let me down. They let Ryan down far more. Alex was not the person she seemed to be. I search unsuccessfully for clues that she wasn’t.

She never mentioned she was married, never gave him an inkling she was, he thought she was being honest. I guess in a sense she was. She says she thought he knew. And then she admits he was her escape. Simply his escape? She never conveys anything that led me or Ryan to sense that is what he meant to her.

Would it have mattered if he knew? Would their relationship have been any different? Would he have wanted her to play a larger part in his life even if he knew she was married and had children?

Ryan goes back to work, his job is preserved as the firm has given up on an Internet firing project, and he returns to his home in the sky and the friends who cross his path on his journey from one dreary, forlorn town to the


Decade Reflections

It was about the time I turned 40 in 1977 that I began to wonder if I would live to see the turn of the century. Ten years later, I realized I was now older than my father, who died when he was 49. I was certain then that I would never see New Years Eve at the end of the century.

Well, I did, whereupon I sallied forth into the 21st century. I thought surely I wouldn’t live through its first decade. Wrong again, as I am now trekking along into the first full week of January 2010. Surely this can’t go on forever.

This is the time for reflections on the past decade. Everyone seems to have something to say about it. What can be said about the last decade? On what basis do we judge it? Regrettably its most salient features were two wars, both unnecessary, both grounded in lies, both extremely costly, economic policies that almost brought the country to its knees, and the marginalization of the arts and sciences that will take years to recoup.

Why not instead reflect on distinguished works of literature or the cinema? So many fine authors died during the past year. They include those I have read and have admired—Saul Bellow, John Updike, Susan Sontag, David Foster Wallace, Simon Gray, Harold Pinter, Arthur Miller, W.G. Sebald and William Styron. There were many others too, but these are the ones whose books have moved me more than once.

Will there be others to fill the great gap they have left? Will there be another group of writers in the next decade who will write as well as they did? It is hard for me to imagine who they might be. I can think of a few—Coetzee, Roth, McEwan, Ondaatje but my hunch, no, more my hope is that each of them will still be pounding the keyboard on New Year’s Eve 2019.

Perhaps here I can simply point to the books that meant the most to me during the past decade. At the end of each year, I make a list of the books and periodicals I have read and organize them into Fiction, Non-Fiction, Essays and Short Stories. I went through the lists for each of the past ten years and selected one work of fiction, although there were at least two or three others that I might have selected. The choice was impossible but here are those that I rank among the most memorable novels of the first decade of the 21st century.

2000 Ann Patchett Bel Canto
2001 J.M. Coetzee Youth
2002 Azar Nafisi Reading Lolita in Tehran
2003 John Williams Stoner
2004 Ian McEwan Saturday
2005 Eliott Perlman Seven Types of Ambiguity
2006 Rachel Cusk Arlington Park
2007 Philip Roth Exit Ghost
2008 Pascal Mercier Night Train to Lisbon
2009 Michael Ondaatje Anil’s Ghost

It was a good decade for literature, would you not agree? It is tragic that the same cannot be said for the more public and influential worlds of commerce and affairs of state.


We'll Always Have Books

During the holidays, I received a Kindle. I opened the box with great anticipation, read the directions, and started to “play” with it for a while. I couldn’t wait to return it the very next day.

I found the screen very dull, grayish. No doubt, the bright screen of the Mac, as well as the much brighter and more readable printed page has spoiled me.

Going back and forth between pages in a printed book, say between page 10 and page 40, which have been noted for some reason, is difficult with the Kindle.

I missed the physicality of the book, the attractive cover, the typeset that that was employed, its particular odor, and sheer presence on my shelf.

The screen is much smaller than a printed page and, as a result. there’s much more “turning” of e-book pages, if you will. This takes a little bit of time, while the blank screen gathers in the next page.

Saving passages, essential to my reading routine, is a cumbersome procedure that involves several steps. First you need to scroll to the start of the passage, which requires knowing how to scroll. Then you press a button whereupon you scroll to the “Add Highlight” selection. Once that’s figured out, you are told to scroll to the end of the passage you want to save. Press the scroll button again. You’ll see on the Kindle page that the complete passage appears in a box. The box is automatically added to your “Clippings” file.

To move your clippings (saved passages) to your computer you need to connect both the Kindle and the computer with a dual usb cord. The clippings file shows up on your computer screen in a Kindle box; then simply drag the clippings file to your computer to edit it, if you wish, or add the saved passages to those you are saving from other books you have read, say in your commonplace book, as I do. Whew! I need a nap.

I also write notes on the pages of a printed book or on the inside cover if the book calls forth an idea that I’d like to think about. There’s a way to do that on the Kindle that is somewhat similar and just as complex as the highlighting-transfer-to-computer procedure, which also requires using that itty bitty keyboard that I found takes as much time as making a long distance call to a friend in Ouagadougou, Burkina Fasso.

Give me a good old book and a pen any old time. Reading on the Kindle is clearly not for me. Frankly, I have no idea why it is or might be for anyone else. The paper book is quite simply the state of the art now and my hunch is it will be that way for the foreseeable future and beyond.

In my case, pretty much the same holds for reading any lengthy piece I find on the Web or the digital version of a newspaper or periodical. I wonder how many Kindles will be returned this year and once the initial novelty of the thing wears off, I wonder how many others will continue reading with the device. Of course, Amazon is silent on these matters.

I see a lot of people reading these days, far more than the statistics would lead you to believe, and while I don’t get around too much and they may not be reading Proust, never once have I encountered another person reading with an e-book.