The ecstatic thrill of reading kickstarts life of writing

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The Simple Act of Reading, edited by Debra Adelaide.
Nanjing Night Net

The Tintin stories were Luke Davies’ “emotional universe” as a child.

The Tintin stories were Luke Davies’ “emotional universe” as a child.

The Simple Act of Reading, edited by Debra Adelaide.

The Tintin stories were Luke Davies’ “emotional universe” as a child.

The Simple Act of Reading, edited by Debra Adelaide.

The Tintin stories were Luke Davies’ “emotional universe” as a child.

THE SIMPLE ACT OF READING Edited by Debra Adelaide Random House, $29.99. Buy now on Booktopia

Which author confessed that reading The Diary of Anne Frank gave her “an electric shock” upon receiving it for her 11th birthday? Who admitted that he was drawn to characters who were “outcasts, outsiders, orphans, odd-bods, all as misunderstood and unbelieved and lost and lonely as I was”?

And who credited the “surreal tragicomic dilemma” of Kafka’s Metamorphosis with helping him pen his own humorous tales?

The answers to all these questions may be found in this collection of essays.

Writers are frequently asked about their literary influences, the reader and audience perennially curious about how their tender minds were shaped; what catalytic, alchemical forces led them to assemble their words in such a fashion.

The Simple Act of Reading is a great compendium of knowledge  because it mines the memories of numerous wordsmiths in search of their reading epiphanies. Although it comes from a direct quote from Junot Diaz, the title is a little disingenuous: there is nothing simple about the act of reading. In fact, as every bibliophile knows, such a deceptively placid activity can have transformative results. The essays here canvass “treasured childhood reading experiences, connections with particular authors or moments in life when reading, or just a particular book, represents a turning point”.

Many authors turn to their childhood and early youth, for it was there that their first bookish passions were cultivated, a love affair that for some became a life-long obsession. Luke Davies rhapsodises about the Tintin stories – they were his “emotional universe” and 40 years later he can still recall with great affection how he and author Herge communicated via snail mail. Even more impressive perhaps, is how unconsciously or maybe consciously, he managed to arrange his life “based on the Tintin paradigm: on my toes, travelling, senses attenuated, everything just adventure and exploration, curiosity and problem-solving”. Wayne McCauley, too, wrote to his literary hero, Gerard Murnane, whose novel The Plains became for McCauley “an iconic book, a black diamond, a Rosetta Stone” when he first encountered it in his 20s. Tegan Bennett Daylight pays similar tribute to Helen Garner, whose work she has read so many times that Garner’s “syntax seems entwined with my DNA”.

A common thread is the ecstatic thrill of being transported into other (more exotic) worlds; David Malouf’s first meeting with Jane Eyre was so deeply felt that he was acutely sensitive to the frosty cold of Rochester’s Thornfield mansion even as he was reading the novel under a blazing sun (“What extraordinary creatures we are that we can be, on the same occasion, in two quite different places …”)

Poet Jill Jones writes about responding viscerally to atmosphere and places rather than remembering actual plotlines, and Kate Forsyth explains how through fictional adventures she was able to roam freely while her incapacitated body was imprisoned by railings, intravenous drips and monitors during a hospital stay.

Other writers talk about a book’s edifying influence, how it teaches empathy when one becomes emotionally invested in the characters. Steinbeck, Dos Passos and Mansfield offered Rosie Scott a moral compass when she was young, dazed and confused.

Elsewhere, Gabrielle Carey waxes lyrical about collaborative reading, about pooling mental resources with other James Joyce fans to try  to penetrate the obfuscation of Finnegan’s Wake.

The Simple Act of Reading brims with joy, nostalgia and affection. Sunil Badami sums up beautifully why we cherish certain books: “because they say, in ways we can’t, things we wish we could. They’re not sermons but conversations, reminding us we’re not alone, we’re not the only person to feel this way.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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