Collisions in Literary Space

Don’t you love when two books you’re reading actually collide?

Obviously, there are people out there who love to read one book at the time. But you may have guessed that I’m not part of this tribe. Multi-tasking is supposedly not the most productive method ever, but I’m the girl with about ten books opened on her night stand, all catering to different needs, size-wise and genre-wise. At times, books that I’ve chosen for opposite reasons somehow echo each other.

Just for the sake of not excluding anyone from this post, I suppose mono-readers might also experience that when two books they read one after the other have some weird common streak despite being very different in genre and style.

One of my big plans for 2013 was to read the Bible. I started to realize what I put myself into when I received by Amazon my JPS bible in paperback format, ultra-thin paper (hey, that’s the reason why they call it Bible paper, duh), character size 6 or so. I can carry this Bible around without destroying my shoulder with the weight, but I might be destroying my eyesight in the process.

To get me going, I’m following a course on Yale Open University on the Hebrew bible, taught by Professor Christine Hayes. Her first few lessons are about the different approaches that scholars have used to read the Bible. I couldn’t see where she was going with all this, listing all the probable sources of the Bible, the historical-critical method, the Copenhagen school versus the Germans versus the American one, but I endured it somehow. I knew by then that I would never have been admitted to nor have survived Yale. But I knew that already somehow.

In parallel I’d started reading that spy book / thriller that Mr. Smithereens bought in holidays in Croatia: The Day of the Lie, by William Brodrick. My husband’s argument to make me read this book right now, bypassing the whole TBR pile was: “this book is much more for you than for me. I’d get rid of it, unless you want to try it…” How could I resist?

I embarked into the adventures of an English monk, Father Anselm, who tries to understand, post-1989, Communist terror in Poland and Polish freedom resistance from 1945 to the 1980s. This is really a complex plot with lots of layers and lots of people who are lying and covering-up secrets, except that what they thought the truth was another person’s big web of lies. That’s the point where Mr. Smithereens shuts the book in disgust. And where I get completely addicted, just like back in the days I tried to make sense of the X-files conspiracy theories (this is an age-telling clue, I know)

The instant I was mesmerized was when the monk in the thriller actually started to analyze witness statements using the German analytical method of reading the Bible, to try to understand the underlying truth beyond the lies. Wow!

The other weird moment was just yesterday night, when I’d finished Rachel Polonsky’s Molotov’s Magic Lantern (review coming soon!). My head still resonated with the names of so many Russians writers that I still have to read. Then I picked an issue of Taproot Magazine, a periodic I’m enjoying quite a lot, and the page I opened had a quote from Russian poet Osip Mandelstam: “For joy’s sake, from my hands, take some honey and some sun”.

What a weird chance encounter! Do you often experience serendipity while reading?

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3 thoughts on “Collisions in Literary Space

  1. I just had a similar experience. I was rereading Walden, Thoreau’s account of building the cabin at Walden Pond, near Concord, Massachusetts, in the 1840s. That same week at the library I found home My Heart is Boundless, a compilation of the writings of Abigail Alcott, Louisa May Alcott’s mother. In it I read her letters from the 1840s, complaining about the family’s poverty and wondering what to do about it. Thoreau’s answer was to want less and be entirely self sufficient. Poor Abigail had four daughters to feed so she couldn’t do that.

  2. I experience serendipity all the time when reading (I, like you, am always reading multiple books at once). My all-time favorite was when I decided to read Virginia Woolf’s Orlando at the same time I decided to read Jeanette Winterson’s The Powerbook — both focus on androgyny, but I didn’t know that when I picked one up while reading the other. The Bible is a good source for that sort of serendipity. The year I decided to read it through, the reason I made the decision was that I knew so much literature has stemmed from the Bible, and I didn’t think I could consider myself truly literate until I’d read it.

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