Trade paperback, 555 pagesAcquired March 2010
Published 1991 (originally 1990)
Read June 2015
by A. S. Byatt
Never has literary research been so exciting. That sounds flip, but I mean it. Obviously Byatt has a bit of advantage in depicting a group of people doing archival work-- close readings would maybe be a little less dramatic!-- but this book really captures that drive to understand written text that underlies literary criticism, a drive that I myself share.
I was enjoying it all along, but at the end it totally clicked for me-- became almost like a heist tale, maybe? It's just a really uplifting ending, the way everything and everyone comes together and unites to do what's right. Made me tingle a little bit. This is a really good book, and my words are inadequate to express why, if I'm honest. (But then, aren't they all? And don't we try anyway?)
Pages 510-12 are just the most amazing description of what it means to read that I have ever read. If I felt like I could get away with it and if I had the patience, I'd quote the whole two pages here, but I'll just leave you with this: "the writer wrote alone, and the reader read alone, and they were alone with each other. True, the writer may have been alone also with Spenser's golden apples in The Faerie Queen.... He was alone when he wrote and he was not alone then, all those voices sang, the same words, golden apples, different words in different places..." I want to quote more, but I want you to read it for yourself, and see the joy of reading expressed, to make that connection between minds, the isolation that is always building bridges. This is a book about the joys of reading, about making connections when we are at our most lonely, about never being alone. Read it alone for yourself.