Saturday, November 16, 2013

`Reading As a Form of Happiness'

Dr. Amit Majmudar is a diagnostic nuclear radiologist who lives in Dublin, Ohio, about fourteen miles northwest of Columbus, and is also a poet, a rare writer who has published in both Poetry and the Journal of the American Medical Association, and whose poems have appeared in The Dark Horse and Light Quarterly. Here is “Reading,” subtitled “for Jorge Luis Borges”: 

“I stand before the books as I might stand
beneath the night sky. They’re in stacks and stacks
of self-contained infinities demand-
ing exploration. I have neither maps
nor ladders to pursue these stars,
these books that burn within themselves. That’s when
he comes and shows me where to start,
a blind librarian with a lantern and
a hand that takes my own. He knows the books
for me, he knows exactly where they are.
When he points, I at last know where to look.
The deep night sky he navigates by heart,
and as he shows them to me, one by one
I find those far stars opening into suns.” 

For a dedicated reader, there’s much to admire here, starting with “self-contained infinities,” perhaps a nod to Borges’ story “The Aleph.” Books as stars in the night sky is a pleasant conceit, whether Borges’ or Majmudar’s, or both. Best of all is Borges’ arrival, the blind librarian as Virgil to the poet’s Dante: “He knows the books / for me, he knows exactly where they are.” Borges has served as literary guide for many of us. How many first read Chesterton thanks to him? Or Stevenson? Or Kipling? Or Cervantes? For Borges, the love of books is always associated with his childhood in Buenos Aires and his father’s library, which he described as “the chief event in my life.” In Borges at Eighty: Conversations (ed. Willis Barnstone, Indiana University Press, 1982), in the chapter titled “I Always Thought of Paradise As a Library,” Borges observes in 1980 that he first read Poe and the Arabian Nights as a child, as did many of us. He goes on: 

“But maybe that’s all to the good, since, after all, children read as we should read. They are simply enjoying what they read. And that is the only kind of reading that I permit.  One should think of reading as a form of happiness, as a form of joy, and I think that compulsory reading is wrong. You might as well talk of compulsory love or compulsory happiness. One should be reading for the pleasure of the book.”

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