Thursday, December 22, 2011

Habitual Reading

Monday through Saturday I wake up at 5:15 A.M. to read before getting ready for work. I settled on this time despite not being a morning person, because it was the only time I could find to be absolutely to myself and not risk falling asleep, or preferring to play games, or watch a movie with my wife instead of reading. At 5:15 A.M. I am entirely on my own. My youngest will wake up at about 6:30 A.M., come downstairs and give me a hug, and ask for breakfast. A cereal bar, a bowl of cereal, a glass of water—she’s set and quiet for the next 20–30 minutes. By then I am either finishing my reading, or already on to writing up my notes. At 7:45 A.M., I leave my books and notebooks for the shower, and the rest of the day is work and family until the kids go to bed at night. This is my day.

I started this routine when I was reading The Magic Mountain with a group on LibraryThing. Afterwards, I turned to Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, and now I have continued on to Crime and Punishment. In the evenings, I am reading Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time, the abridged, single volume edition of Joseph Frank’s authoritative literary biography, after which I will continue chronologically through the remainder of Dostoevsky’s novels and A Writer’s Diary.

While reading a chapter, I use a pencil to underline and make notes in the margin—usually cross-references, or keywords. After reading, I skim through a second time to make further marks and refresh my mind on all the details, and I begin ruminating about what I have read. Finally, I begin to write my notes.1 They usually start as a summarization of the action, or the characters. On more successful days, this will verge off into reflective consideration of a very personal sort. This constitutes a sort of commonplace book, though a relatively focused one. I will introduce other works as they relate to my thoughts, but the notebooks are specifically focused on the texts I have been reading, and in fact, I keep separate notebooks for each book I read.

This is just the latest iteration in my attempt to come to terms with my reading, and my need to write something about my reading. I am constantly tempted to return to this blog, or some other forum to share my reading thoughts, but that is a very different thing from what I am now doing, and the one does not readily translate into the other.

Admittedly, I am stuck wondering how much I really have to say that would be of any interest to the world. I am a mere reader, and not a scholar. And the informal reading blogs are typically devoted to summary and reviews, which is not to my taste. I would rather read someone’s reflections on their reading, what it has meant to them, and to what considerations it leads them. The truth, though, is that I am much too busy reading books to spend time reading many blogs. A private pursuit. A private life. Rewarding, if insular.

It is good, sometimes, to open the window and let in the air and the far off noises.

  1. Rhodia’s A5 side staplebound notebooks are the perfect size for me, roughly the size of the average hardcover novel, and the paper takes well to my fountain pen ink.


  1. I had started the Joseph Frank book a while back, at Murr's recommendation, but didn't have time to read it, just read the first chapter or so; but I really liked it. Are you enjoying it? I'm looking forward to when I get the chance to get back to it.

    And please share your reading thoughts! I'd love to hear what you think of Crime & Punishment. I take it you're reading the P&V translation?

  2. I read Frank's chapter on Notes from Underground first, and really enjoyed his reading of Dostoevsky. It seemed to be concerned with making the implicit explicit rather than sawing on some other agenda. Now I've read the first couple chapters and an thoroughly enjoying the biographical narrative. I'll also be reading Bakhtin's book, discovered by Murr's recommendation. The section on Notes was really interesting.

    I like Pevear and Volokhonsky quite a lot. They make the peculiarities of Dostoevsky sing, and they don't Westernize away the foreign aspects of Russian culture into their English language equivalent.

    As for sharing my thoughts, it's something I'm still mulling over. I tend toward navel gazing. Novels are read and enter into my interior self-dialog as a way of working out how to live. A series of posts based on my notes could read rather like a series of sermons or sophomoronic philosophistic consterpation.

  3. It sounds like a nice way to start the day. I wake up early to get my self a dose of chess before the rest of my family wakes up. I need to get back to serious reading again.

  4. My chess has suffered for the last year. I'm still playing, but not seriously. I mostly play friends that have never played competitively. I miss it, but I guess right now it's not a high enough priority for me to devote the time and energy it requires.

  5. Very impressive reading plan you have, Christopher. I've got that Joseph Frank tome too, read a couple chapters during our Brothers Karamazov read, found what little I read nevertheless fascinating. I look forward to hearing your insights into it. Seriously! Bring on that "sophomoric philosophistic consterpation", Man!!

  6. If you knew the full scope of my reading aspirations, you'd know that I'm a raving loony.

    I do want to post about Dostoevsky, but I think that until I've made significant headway, I won't have much to say. I've read all these books before, except for The Adolescent, and they have had a huge influence on me, however it is largely without my being aware of the process. I want to dig deeper into that for personal reasons, and if I learn something, I'll try to share it. Figuring out how to approach it is the trick.

    Thanks for the encouragement.


Don't be a jerk.