Read Your Way Through

Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing collecting all these quotes. I find them in articles and books. My friends say them or I overhear them in the grocery line. But what are they for? Why am I such a writer-downer? I have boxes full of scraps of paper scribbled with words I once found magical. You’d think maybe I wouldn’t ever look at them, but quite often I go looking for a particular quote and end up lost in wordy bliss.

But do these boxes of words have more of a purpose? I found an answer in Robert Darnton’s The Case for Books, a collection of essays on the role of books in our lives:

Time was when readers kept commonplace books. Whenever they came across a pithy passage, they copied it into a notebook under an appropriate heading, adding observations made in the course of daily life. The practice spread everywhere in early modern England. … It involved a special way of taking in the printed word. … Reading and writing were therefore inseparable activities. They belonged to a continuous effort to make sense of things, for the world was full of signs: you could read your way through it; and by keeping an account of your readings, you made a book of your own, one stamped with your personality.

It makes so much sense when you think of it that way – recording things not just to remember and enjoy but to understand.

Whenever I’m looking for inspiration about writing, I spend some time with Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. She’s another fan of writing it all down:

When I reread my notebooks it never fails to remind me that I have a life, that I felt and thought and saw. It is very reaffirming, because sometimes writing seems useless and a waste of time. Suddenly you are sitting in your chair fascinated by your own mundane life. That’s the great value of art – making the ordinary extraordinary. We awaken ourselves to the life we are living.

Inspiration about writing can also come from movies, though a good bookish movie is rare. I just watched Stuck in Love, written by Josh Boone. Greg Kinnear’s character, an author struggling to write something new, is speaking to a group of writing students:

My favourite book is a collection of short stories by Raymond Carver called What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, and in the closing lines of the title book, Carver says ‘I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark.’ And I think that that’s what writing is. It’s listening for that beating heart. And when we hear it, it’s our job to decipher it to the best of our abilities.

So, with all of these lovely words in mind (and in the box), maybe my resolution this year should be to write it all down. Capture my life. Take what others have said and find deeper meaning by adding my own words.

That, and to read 30 books. If I can get to 25, I can get to 30. Two down, 28 to go.

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