Thursday, July 26, 2012

Conversing with Books

Typically, reading is a fairly solitary activity—a one-way communication from writer to reader. Our eyes take in an author’s message and direct it to our brains, where it mingles with our memories, convictions, and emotions and finds a comfy place to take up residence—having either supported what we already believed/felt or given us a new perspective.

Lately this one-way communication has fallen short for me. Post-it Notes mark page after page of my books where an author has written something that: 1) I disagree with and want to debate; 2) I wish to share my own thoughts and experiences about; or 3) I believe demands an extended conversation between the writer and me.

In The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats: A Journey Into the Feline Heart, author Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson generalizes countless pronouncements based on his experiences with his own cats as being true for all cats. Yet time after time, the cats of my experience don’t fit neatly into his theories. I feel as if I’m in a boxing match and not allowed to box back.

The Philosopher’s Dog: Friendships with Animals is a small book bursting with big ideas. I want to delve further into the mind of author Raimond Gaita, discuss the evolution of compassion in humans he describes and how we might nurture that now.

I want to ask Erik Larson, author of The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and the Madness at the Fair that Changed America, what fascinated people about Chicago’s Union Stockyards. How did a slaughterhouse become a main attraction, and when and why did it lose its appeal?

You might be thinking, “Get thee to a book club. You just need to talk about these things with someone.” And you’d be right—up to that last word.

You see, not just anyone will do. I need to speak with the very authors who stoked my ire, my defenses, my support, and my admiration. I need to alter the passive nature of these books, redirect their monologues to dialogues. Sometimes I just want to tell the writers they’re not alone in their perspective. Or maybe I really want to say thank you for letting me know I’m not alone in my perspective.

In The Light in High Places: A Naturalist Looks at Wyoming Wilderness, Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, Cowboys, and Other Rare Species, author Joe Hutto challenges readers with this question:

“Who has stopped to admire the spectacular male starling in the last one hundred years?”

I cried aloud to the page, “I have! I have!”

[Typewriter art by Jeremy Mayer.]

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