Imagine my surprise last night when I am reading an article for class about mental models and not only is Mikhail Bakhtin invoked but so is Michel Foucault! These are the last people I expected to run into in library school especially in a class on human-computer interaction. But the article had an interesting section discussing sense-making and cognitive frameworks. We form mental models of all kinds of things based on what sense we can make of the world (this dovetails so wonderfully with Litlove’s recent posts on stories that I briefly felt faint from hyperventilating from so much excitement). These two gents making an appearance therefore wasn’t such a left field event after all.

There were a few folk who were curious about Nabokov’s quiz on what makes a good reader after I posted about it last week. The quiz is not online and if I had been clever I would have created a little quiz that you could take online but that idea came much too late. Here is what Nabokov gave his students:

Select four answers to the question what should a reader be to be a good reader.

  1. The reader should belong to a book club
  2. The reader should identify himself or herself with the hero or heroine
  3. The reader should concentrate on the social-economic angle
  4. The reader should prefer a story with action and dialogue to one with none
  5. The reader should have seen the book in a movie
  6. The reader should be a budding author
  7. The reader should have imagination
  8. The reader should have memory
  9. The reader should have a dictionary
  10. The reader should have some artistic sense

Obviously something designed to provoke discussion and thought.

As I continue to read the essays in Reading in Bed I am continually struck by how much the importance of rereading is invoked by the various essayists. I am beginning to suspect that there is a cult involved. It does seem that those who extol the glories and importance of rereading are also the ones who would be likely to claim their contemporaries were not producing great writing worth reading even once. This, I think, is an unfortunate viewpoint to have because while there may be lots of fluff and very poorly written books published in any era, there is also plenty of wheat among the chaff. Sometimes you mistake chaff for wheat but you don’t condemn a whole era based on the mistake.

Besides, as I have been mulling over this whole rereading thing, I am beginning to wonder if those who claim rereading supreme aren’t really cowards when it comes to reading. Because you know the books they are advocating for reading and rereading are the classics that have already been vetted by previous generations which makes them safe because they are as close to a sure thing as you can get. There is no doubt, for instance, that Madame Bovary is a great book. Even if you end up not really liking it or feeling passionately about it you still have to appreciate it. For Madame Bovary to become a classic in the first place a whole bunch of people had to read it and talk about it and champion it and exclaim what a great book it is and the first to do so were likely to be contemporaries of Flaubert.

I’m not knocking the classics or rereading. I very much enjoy both. I’m just thinking that before a person gets to rereading there has to be the initial act of reading and isn’t that a courageous act? It is particularly courageous if the reader has chosen a book off the beaten path, a first novel by a contemporary or an older novel not much known. For what adventurous reader would not love to be the discoverer of the next great author or classic?

Does this moment call for a little Tennyson?

                   Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Okay, that was both sappy and silly. I think I’ll stop before it gets worse.