Cover image for Where books fall open : a reader's anthology of wit & passion
Where books fall open : a reader's anthology of wit & passion
First edition.
Publication Information:
Boston : D.R. Godine Publisher, [2001]

Physical Description:
149 pages : color illustrations ; 22 cm
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PN6120.95.B7 W49 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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This is a book about books, about the pleasures, passions, and rewards of reading, about authors dedicated to writing and readers who delight in words in the right order. It contains a rich selection devoted to this seductive subject, from Calvino's meditation on selecting a title in a bookstore to Woolf's essays on the joys of "the common reader," from Schwartz's "Ruined by Reading" to Eco's "How to Organize a Public Library." The book is illuminated by sixteen full-color paintings by Bascove, who here serves as editor, illustrator, and primum mobile. Produced to the highest standards, it is not only a gift for the literary, but also an inducement to the diffident.

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

Bascove is a gifted reader and a superb painter, and her lustrous and sensual art has graced the covers of books by Italo Calvino, Robertson Davies, Jerome Charyn, and T. C. Boyle, all of whom are represented in this elegant, witty, and quietly moving collection of poems, prose, and pictures in praise of books. Bascove's densely composed, richly hued, vaguely deco paintings depict readers and writers bent lovingly over books and notebooks while nestled in cushiony rooms filled with plants, cats, dogs, lamps, and teacups. All is cozy and dreamy. But the writings Bascove has so tastefully selected do not lull the reader into complacency, not with such masters of irony as Dorothy Parker, Fran Lebowitz, Umberto Eco, and Steve Martin on the scene, or such passionate lovers of literature as Rainer Maria Rilke and Elizabeth Hardwick. Bascove celebrates the reading and writing life from childhood to old age, fitting an astonishing number of outstanding writers into a small space just as her lush paintings swell delectably within their frames. --Donna Seaman



Chapter One LOVERS OF READING * * * All good books have one thing in common -- they are truer than if they had really happened, and after you have read one of them you will feel that all that happened, happened to you and then it belongs to you forever. Ernest Hemingway Literature is my Utopia. Here I am not disfranchised. No barrier of the senses shuts me out from the sweet, gracious discourse of my book-friends. Helen Keller Keep going; never stoop; sit tight; Read something luminous at night. Edmund Wilson Sir, he hath not fed of the dainties that are bred of a book; he hath not eat paper as it were; he hath not drunk ink: his intellect is not replenished; he is only an animal, only sensible in the duller parts. William Shakespeare LOVE'S LABOR'S LOST * * * ITALO CALVINO * * * If On a Winter's Night a Traveler In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven't Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you. But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extend for acres and acres the Books You Needn't Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written. And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of the Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered. With a rapid maneuver you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You'll Wait Till They're Remaindered, the Books ditto When They Come Out In Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody's Read So It's As If You Had Read Them, Too. Eluding these assaults, you come up beneath the towers of the fortress, where other troops are holding out: the Books You've Been Planning To Read For Ages, the Books You've Been Hunting For Years Without Success, the Books Dealing With Something You're Working On At The Moment, the Books You Want To Own So They'll Be Handy Just In Case, the Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer, the Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves, the Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified. Now you have been able to reduce the countless embattled troops to an array that is, to be sure, very large but still calculable in a finite number; but this relative relief is then undermined by the ambush of the Books Read Long Ago Which It's Now Time To Reread and the Books You've Always Pretended To Have Read And Now It's Time To Sit Down And Really Read Them. LYNNE SHARON SCHWARTZ * * * Ruined by Reading We gaze at marks on a page, put there by a machine, recognizable as words. Each one denotes something discrete but we do not, cannot, read them as such, except in the first days of learning how. They offer themselves in groups with wholes greater than the sum of the parts. As in human groups, the individual members behave in relation to their companions: each word presents aspects of itself suited to the ambiance, amplifying some connotations and muting others. Their respective rankings must change too. A word will be key here, play a supporting role there, and in each successive appearance will be weightier and more richly nuanced. All this we register faster than the speed of the light illuminating our page, hardly aware of noting the valence, assessing the role and position, of each word as it flies by, granting it its place in the assemblage.     Still more remarkable, these inky marks generate emotion, even give the illusion of containing emotion, while it is we who contribute the emotion. Yet it was there in advance too, in the writer. What a feat of transmission: the emotive powers of the book, with no local habitation, pass safely from writer to reader, unmangled by printing and binding and shipping, renewed and available whenever we open it. ROY BLOUNT, JR. * * * Summertime and the Reading Is Heavy A feeling seems to have arisen that summer is the time for light reading. I don't know where anyone got that idea. The truth about summer is this. There are an enormous number of hours in it -- slow hours -- and yet, before you know it, somehow it is over. So all you have to do is to start reading Heidegger, say, on the first day of summer. One day you took up and both summer and Heidegger are done.     Summer is the time for heavy reading, reading that works up a sweat. I wouldn't be surprised if there were scientific studies showing that the sun's heat melts eye glaze. People are forever leaving Proust behind in summer cottages. "I was in the process of reading Proust from cover to cover to cover to cover last summer," people say all winter, "and then a lot of sand and coconut oil got in the part about Albertine and the dairy maid.... Tell me. This is something I've been wondering about. Is it your feeling that the dairy maid was actually a man, too?" But people do read some Proust in the summer. And next summer they find someone else's Proust in the new place they rent -- a Proust in which nothing has been spilled -- and they read some more.     Are people going to read Proust and make a living at the same time? No. Not ordinary people. Ordinary people are going to wait until they are at the beach, and the phone is not constantly ringing off the hook, and the only discouraging word is the sound of gulls squawking overhead. That's when they are going to read Proust. Some Proust. Things feel heavier in the summer. Whatever you pursue in the summer is going to be heavy, even if it's Ed McBain. So it might as well be Melville's Pierre, or The Ambiguities . Which is not Proust, but does go on and on, and does have dialogue in it like this: "Can it? Can it? No -- yes -- surely -- can it? It cannot be! ... What can this bode?"     The thing to do is to set the summer aside, quite firmly, for all that heavy reading you have been meaning to get around to. "This summer I'm doing the deconstructionists." No one ever says, "This spring I'm doing the deconstructionists." Because in spring you are on the lookout for the first jonquil. I don't care what T.S. Eliot said about April, it is no time for the deconstructionists.     Summer is a different matter. The jonquils are finished. Your sunburn is such that the touch of a zephyr is like steel wool. In the summer you could read the Cantos of Ezra Pound. There is something unreal about the summer anyway, isn't there? Summer is when you see horseshoe crabs and Portuguese men-of-war. If these things exist in a civilized society, then why no great but completely insane poems about usury?     When it's summer, people sit a lot. Or lie. Lie in the sense of recumbency. A good heavy book holds you down. It's an anchor that keeps you from getting up and having another gin and tonic. Many a person has been saved from summer alcoholism, not to mention hypertoxicity, by Dostoyevsky. Put The Idiot in your lap or over your face, and you know where you are going to be for the afternoon.     What better time than summer for some really dense Faulkner? It's always hot in Mississippi, isn't it? Do you think you can make sense of Light in August in Connecticut in February? Do you think anything is light in August in Mississippi, or in Faulkner? Why do you think people write such hefty, seething stuff in South America? For two reasons: (1) Because they have read Faulkner. (2) Because it is hot in South America.     People evidently write in a kind of molten mode when it's hot. Profundity comes boiling up. It follows that people read in a kind of molten mode when it's hot. Profundity gets boiled right back down. No need to burn the midnight oil in summer. Heaviness can just be soaked up. I know a man who, in his youth, caddied for so many people who kept copies of War and Peace in their golf bags that when he was assigned that great novel in college (summer session, fortunately) he was able to read it in eleven days, which is four under par.     Russia is another interesting case. Russia is not known for being hot. And yet its literature is known for being heavy. Perhaps the truth is that heavy literature blooms in extremes of temperature. In most parts of this country, the closest we can come to the extremity of Russia's wintry cold is by lying out in the sun in July in the middle of the day at the beach. Pinned down helplessly by Goncharov's Oblomov .     But you say you have read all the heavy literature produced down through the ages. First, are you sure? You've read Sartre's Being and Nothingness ? You've read it through a couple of times and sorted it all out, as to which is which? (Being is fall, winter, spring. Nothingness is summer.)     Okay. Here are the new heavy books for this summer's reading.     Imperfect Instincts , by Franz Glodz. The gravamen (a good summer word) of this demanding work is that the only way of living authentically is by getting in touch with one's instincts, bearing in mind that one's instincts are radically wrong, and exercising certain largely doomed corrective techniques. After reading this book, you may well not feel like doing anything. What better time to feel that way than in the summer? What is there to do in the summer anyway? Play tennis? Do you really think there is anything authentic, deep down, about your backhand?     Your Parents Didn't Love You , by Ciel LaVolf. Dr. LaVolf argues persuasively that your parents, at least if you were born before 1967, never really cared anything about you, and therefore they saddled you with a resentment toward them that you will carry to your grave and pass on to any children you may ill-advisedly have. Ignore Dr. LaVolf's message at your peril.     All About Flies , by Jo Tzwilitz. Sound like a lightweight subject? Not so. What Miss Tzwilitz has done here is get flies down, once and for all. In the process she answers such immemorial, swarmy-day questions as "What do flies want from me, anyway?" She has translated the language of flies, and given us access to "fly-arias" in which flies reveal, at droning length, that what they basically want to do is to eat something -- just what, is not clear -- in our hair.     This Was , by Garth Pflug. The subtitle of this 486-page confessional poem with no punctuation (except for one comma, which will make you jump and weep and forevermore appreciate commas) is Even Harder on Me Than It's Going to Be on You but Not Much . Enough said.     Life's Adjustable of Chaos , by Vliet Von Vargueles. You thought Finnegan's Wake drove you crazy? Did you keep thinking, while reading Finnegan's Wake , "If I could just come upon one straight phrase, even, that just sort of sounds like a normal person communicating"? Well, this new book is even more so, and longer. So rife is this new book with quintuple semi-entendres that if you could get cable television where you are, you would throw this book away. If the bluefish were biting where you are, you would throw this book away. If any halfway decent-looking sand dollars ever washed up where you are, you would throw this book away. And yet, you find yourself not throwing this book away. Because it is literally too heavy. And it costs $27.95. (Note: According to a rather pleading letter from the author's wife that was inserted in the review copy I received, the book's title is a pun on "Life is just a bowl of cherries.")     Holy Toledo , by Lembeck Thule. This is nothing less than an imagistic survey of the complete sprawling religious spectrum of Toledo, Ohio, presented as a kind of masque -- now satirical, now theological, now dialectical, and always in dialect. Not exactly one's preconception of Ohioan speech sounds ("udge" is used for "of" throughout), but rather a whole new ecstatic language. Entire sermons, exactly as preached in actual Toledan services, are rendered as they would have sounded if anyone in Toledo actually spoke this way. It's tough going, but the effects are uncanny.     Uhhhhhh ... Uhhh , by Hideyo Imi. A thirteenth-century Japanese epic poem, translated into English for the first time, which recounts the moving of Mount Ishi to the top of Mount Oh, boulder by boulder, by sumo wrestlers. The last 3,200 lines of this opus make the schlepping scenes in The Naked and the Dead seem downright airy, but a sprightly opening section gets you in the mood to put your shoulder to the task: Welcome, distinguished reader. I would like you To read this mammoth epic instead of haiku.     So slip on your goggles and your reading trunks, for the sun is high.     Let me leave you with one more thought. In what season of the year do we find ourselves -- I'm speaking for a moment in terms of the physical world -- wading through things?     Surf. Kelp. Books.     Summer. RAYMOND CARVER * * * Reading Something in the Restaurant This morning I remembered the young man with his book, reading at a table by the window last night. Reading amidst the coming and going of dishes and voices. Now and then he looked up and passed his finger across his lips, as if pondering something, or quieting the thoughts inside his mind, the going and coming inside his mind. Then he lowered his head and went back to reading. That memory gets into my head this morning with the memory of the girl who entered the restaurant that time long ago and stood shaking her hair. Then sat down across from me without taking her coat off. I put down whatever book it was I was reading, and she at once started to tell me there was not a snowball's chance in hell this thing was going to fly. She knew it. Then I came around to knowing it. But it was hard. This morning, my sweet, you ask me what's new in the world. But my concentration is shot. At the table next to ours a man laughs and laughs and shakes his head at what another fellow is telling him. But what was that young man reading? Where did that woman go? I've lost my place. Tell me what it is you wanted to know. MARY STEWART HAMMOND * * * Listening to the Radio We sit opposite each other in easy chairs, reading, our feet touching on the hassock. A story on Public Radio emerges from the wallpaper of music. Our eyes lock, listening. Listening we watch the story in the other's eyes, see each word come at the same time. Night swallows the walls of the room. The story ends. We don't move. Floor lamps next to our chairs cast us in separate spheres of light. Is this how we came into being? How one of us will leave? Our eyes locked? How the one left will look only death in the eye, the way the wolf and its prey look at each other for a long moment acknowledging the story, acknowledging the minute the prey turns and runs the contract between them changes? We return to our books, floating in the dark like celestial bodies, a Bach partita supplying the ether. KAREN CHAMBERS * * * Reading Goals When I was about five years old, I would walk by the glass-fronted mahogany bookcase in the living room. It was filled with books, a few porcelain figurines, a cut-glass bowl or two, and frequently a box of chocolates. That bookcase fascinated me and not just because I had a sweet-tooth and would steal a piece of candy when I passed. I longed to be able to read those books, to decipher what those strange symbols on the covers meant, to understand all of those words contained within. I suppose if I had been a brighter and more motivated child, I might have tried to learn to read on my own, or I might have convinced my mother to teach me, but I didn't. Instead I waited patiently to turn six and to start first grade. (Continues...) Excerpted from WHERE BOOKS FALL OPEN by . Copyright © 2001 by Bascove. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Italo CalvinoLynne Sharon SchwartzRoy Blount, Jr.Raymond CarverMary Stewart HammondKaren ChambersCharles SimicElizabeth Barrett BrowningVirginia WoolfUmberto EcoDorothy ParkerRobertson DaviesAnne FadimanMuriel RukeyserBilly CollinsWislawa SzymborskaAnna AkhmatovaJane KenyonRainer Maria RilkeQin ZihaoLangston HughesCalvin TrillinPablo NerudaJerome CharynT. Coraghessan BoyleEdna St. Vincent MillayXi MurongMary GordonJane HirshfieldJoyce Carol OatesMargaret AtwoodSteve MartinRichard WilburFran LebowitzCalvin TrillinAlberto ManguelFrances E. W. HarperNaomi Shihab NyeAudre LordeAnne CastonMiguel de CervantesMaxine KuminKatha PollittKate RushinGeoffrey O'BrienVikram SethCzeslaw MiloszJames SeayElizabeth HardwickVirginia WoolfMarianne MooreRachel HadasRobert PinskyDerek WalcottJane AustenCarol WestonRita DoveMarcel ProustRandall JarrellVickie KarpColette InezWilliam StaffordAdrian SprattXi ChuanDavid LehmanJosephine JacobsonDonald HallGeorge BradleyGeoffrey O'BrienBilly CollinsJorge Luis BorgesMark Strand
Lovers of Reading
If On a Winter's Night a Travelerp. 3
Ruined by Readingp. 5
Summertime and the Reading Is Heavyp. 6
Reading Something in the Restaurantp. 12
Listening to the Radiop. 14
Reading Goalsp. 15
The Pleasures of Readingp. 17
The Library in the Garretp. 18
The Back Bedroomp. 19
How to Organize a Public Libraryp. 21
Ethereal Mildnessp. 24
Books Are for Readingp. 28
Never Do That to a Bookp. 30
The White Page
Poem White Page/White Page Poemp. 37
Purityp. 38
The Joy of Writingp. 40
The Poetp. 42
Afternoon in the Housep. 43
The Notebooks of Maulte Laurids Briggep. 44
Seeds of Poetryp. 46
English Bp. 47
Opportunities in Poetryp. 49
Wordp. 50
Word Musicp. 51
This Monkey, My Backp. 53
If I Die Solventp. 55
Poetry's Valuep. 56
My Curtains: Snowbound from Having a Baby, Finishing a Bookp. 57
The Poetp. 59
An Old Prayerp. 60
Psalm to Snakep. 61
A Word from the Words from Pure Drivelp. 62
The Writerp. 65
Writing: A Life Sentencep. 67
Sign Writingp. 72
Some Thin Line of Comfort
From A History of Readingp. 77
Learning to Readp. 80
Because of Libraries We Can Say These Thingsp. 82
Story Books on a Kitchen Tablep. 84
The Bookp. 85
from Don Quijotep. 87
On Reading an Old Baedeker in Schloss Leopoldskronp. 89
Lives of the Nineteenth-Century Poetessesp. 91
Reading Listsp. 92
Prisonersp. 93
The Poetp. 95
And Yet the Booksp. 96
Where Books Fall Open
Where Books Fall Openp. 99
On Readingp. 101
from The Common Readerp. 102
Poetryp. 104
Teaching Emily Dickinsonp. 105
Library Scenep. 106
Love in the Valleyp. 108
from Northanger Abbeyp. 110
Becoming a Readerp. 111
Maple Valley Branch Library, 1967p. 113
from Swann's Wayp. 115
Children Selecting Books in a Libraryp. 116
Watching the Commuters Readp. 118
Reading Tu Fu, I Wait for My Husbandp. 121
The Trouble with Readingp. 123
The Vicarious Activityp. 124
Booksp. 126
April 2p. 128
Gentle Readerp. 129
This Poemp. 130
6 x 10 x [infinity]p. 133
A Little Treatise on Ways of Readingp. 134
Reading Myself to Sleepp. 137
Ars Poeticap. 139
The Night, The Porchp. 141
Acknowledgmentsp. 143
The Paintingsp. 144
Creditsp. 145