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Monday, May 28, 2012

Reading Style

Most of my life I have been basically a serial reader; that is, I have read books one at a time, one after another.

Then I had kids and I became a simultaneous reader. Stealing moments here and there left me less time to read, so I would start various books and leave them in various locations, in reach when I could manage a moment. Still, I only read one of each kind of book at a time: one fiction, one non-fiction, and one poetry book, usually.

I still do this, except that recently I have started reading multiple poetry books at once. Instead of reading 5 to 15 pages of poetry from one poet in a single sitting, I now tend to read 5 or so poems each from 2 or 3 poets. This is a new strategy for me, and here's how it developed.

I was reading Rusty Morrison's Whethering, and I was admiring her technical virtuosity, the line breaks, the repetitions, and I wanted to let the techniques sink in, so I studied the poems and wanted to think on them rather than plowing ahead to the next set of poems. So I picked up Alicia Suskin Ostriker's The Book of Life to read in the meantime. And it was so intense that I didn't want to lose the emotionality of it by reading it too fast.

As it happens, I've been reading Karen An-hwei Lee's Phyla of Joy for over a month now, prior even to beginning the Morrison book, and I've been reading that one so slowly because Lee and I have so many of the same shared obscure obsessions (selenographia, blindness, invisible blue lines, celadon) that I get overwhelmed by that and have to put the book down.

And then I wanted to read something whimsical because of the weight of all the other books, so I picked up Carol Guess's Doll Studies: Forensics, which wouldn't seem to be whimsical when you consider that her poems are all based on dioramas of crimes scenes as portrayed using dolls by artist Frances Glessner Lee, and then photographed and researched by Corinne May Botz. It's Guess's word choice that constantly surprises me and gives this deeply disturbing book its whimsical quality. There isn't a poem in here that doesn't surprise me with word choice or imagery.

And reading these books concurrently is really working for me in a way I hadn't known it would. The aesthetics of the different poets bouncing around in my mind at once is giving me new ways to appreciate each artist's work, and new ways to see their work and my own.

(And for completeness, let me just add that in non-fiction, I'm just finishing up Bill Bryson's Mother Tongue, and for fiction I'm reading Nathan Englander's The Ministry of Special Cases.)


Shawnte said...

That Carol Guess book sounds fascinating. I must put it on my list.
Now I'm clicking through the online image galleries of those dioramas.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Hi Shawnte,
I hope you like the book as well as I do. Highly original, even odd. The dioramas too!