I have never set myself ‘Reading Goals’ – you know the kind of thing: ‘I will read 50 books this year’; or, ‘I will read 25 “classics” this year’.
Many other readers do and I am not criticising them for it. I am glad that those readers are reading so voraciously.
The reason I do not approach my own reading in this manner is that it presupposes I have a certain number of set outcomes that I wish to achieve. It presupposes that I know in advance what I want to find in the chosen texts and that I will, without question, find it there. The novels piled up before me have, as it were, made plain their meaning to me in advance.
At worst, this attitude to reading threatens to turn a careful and attentive approach to meaning into an exercise in which you simply place ticks on a kind of cultural checklist. (Although it doesn’t do this as a matter of course.)
In my work as the Literary Critical Detective my approach to reading is not without purpose. Far from it. In each of my 'cases' I solve literary-critical mysteries that were not even mysteries. I can only do this through a structured response to image and metaphor. However, I am happy to pursue the vicissitudes of study.
An example of my reading: at the beginning of 2011 I reread the first half of Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa (1747-8), a text that I had first read in its entirety 13 years earlier. Once I’d reached the half way stage in this miraculous novel, and Clarissa herself had been firmly established in London, I put the book down and picked up another – namely, Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49. This in turn caused me to return to Freud and then, in a sharp turn, to read Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf
Those of you who kindly pay attention to my scribbled thoughts will know that I have written of ‘readingtrajectories’. Now that I think about it, I find this term uncomfortable. It lacks the appropriate level of uncertainty. Perhaps I can only know in which direction I am travelling but not exactly where I am.
At the moment I do not know entirely know where I am. I have lost my book mark. However, I do know where I am heading. When I have finished reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment I will read:
Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot quitte la scène (Librairie des Champs-Élysées).
This is the French language translation of Agatha Christie’s Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case. I shall read the two texts (original and translation) alongside each other, with a French-English dictionary to hand.
I then expect to read:
Albert Camus, L’étranger.
However, we shall see.