What does reading do? Or rather, what good does reading do?
As a scholar of literature I find my self thinking about this big (too big?) question a lot. I think about it on bad days when I wonder what on earth I have devoted my life to, this fighting windmills business trying to find work teaching literature. I think about it on my good days when the answers are so fundamental to moving through life with an ethic of care and what Rey Chow calls responsible engagement that I can hardly believe my good fortune. Teaching books! Reading books! And I think about this on the average day, when I drive the 200km to work and back listening to audio books, or writing lectures trying to think through how to convince a room full of students that yes, it is meaningful and relevant to think about Kate Chopin‘s The Awakening or James Baldwin‘s Giovanni’s Room or Lucas Crawford‘s Sideshow Carnival today, now, in their very own lives.
This week I will be thinking about reading even more as I steel myself for the inauguration of the next President of the United States. I will think about reading and how it is a revolutionary act to think and listen to the perspectives of people whose lives and experiences and oddities differ from my own. I will think about reading as resistance, as solidarity, and as an act of joyful insurrection and radical self-care.
On Friday January 20th I will also think about what it means to read with and in community as I take my place with sixty other humans to participate in a collaborative reading of Operations by Moez Surani. Operations–or more properly, ةيلمع Operación Opération Operation 行 动 Oперация–is a book-length poetic inventory of contemporary rhetoric of violence and aggression, as depicted through the evolution of the language used to name the many military operations conducted by UN Member Nations since the organization’s inception in 1945. Moez has invited sixty-one people around the world to each read a year from the book. Some people will be gathered in Toronto at Rick’s Cafe for the reading. The rest of us will read from wherever we are and tweet documentation of our reading. For me, this invitation is an act of hospitality, care, and solidarity: I will be able to participate in an action of protest and witness by reading. Through reading. Through the attentiveness that reading requires. And, while I know that reading will not be enough to resist the current and coming civic aggressions, I am glad to move through this week with reading as a mode of resistance and revolution in my heart.
In honour of Moez’s invitation and with a nod to the recent circulation of top-ten lists of the albums that most influenced high-school you, I close with another list. This one answers Paul Vermeersch‘s invitation to document the ten books that influenced high-school you. I offer these as document to my sixteen year old self, who was just learning about resistance, revolution, and being a feminist killjoy. I invite you to add your own list. And I send you warmth as we move forward in solidarity, and with attentiveness.
In no particular order:
1. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
2. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
3. Beloved by Toni Morrison
4. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
5. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
6. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
7. Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank
8. The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
9. The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor
10. Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Dandicat