Ruined By Reading, Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Beacon Press, 1996, 119 pp
I don't remember where I heard about this book. I was trying to read Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose but bogged down because it was way too much like being in English class. Then I started Ruined By Reading and just read it straight through. She meanders, she ruminates, she recaptures the wonder of childhood reading. I loved it.
Reading is truly such a personal thing. Rather like sex, it is unique to each individual. Those of us who are enraptured by books try to share this very intimate connection to the authors of books with other readers. It is a difficult thing to articulate and rarely do I feel completely understood. At those times when comprehension occurs between myself and another reader, the conversation generally devolves into oohs and aahs and oh wows; the expressions of emotion or enlightenment.
Still we try and Ms Schwartz has done well here. I don't agree with or share all of her personal reactions to books. On several books though, it is as if we had one mind. Like me, Schwartz read early and much of what we read was too advanced for our level of knowledge about life. When she described trying to understand such books, I was right there with her. She made me remember some of the odd ideas I picked up when I was small that still influence me today.
Then there is that wondrous aspect of reading: finding what you secretly believed to be true, though others never told you so. Writing about reading The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, she writes:
"Occasionally when I mention A Little Princess I find someone who is startled into rapt recall and we exchange a look of recognition. There is nothing to match the affinity of people who were defined and nourished by the same book, who shared a fantasy life. What we dreamed together, in whatever distant places we grew up, was of something amorphous-large, open and exotic-something for which there was no room at home and even less in school. We groped for the knowledge A Little Princess confers, which is that we truly are what we feel ourselves to be, that we can trust our inner certainty regardless of how others perceive us or what they wish us to become."