Canonical literature isn’t the only way to learn about America. The bestseller list can be equally as telling. Matthew Kahn is reading 100 years of No. 1 bestsellers from 1913 to 2013. He blogs about the books and discusses the project in an interview with Salon’s Laura Miller. When Miller asks what makes a bestseller, he claims, “A lot of it is just a matter of accessibility. A focus on plot and character rather than structure and the prose itself.”
Do you ever find yourself skimming novels looking for exciting words and hyperlinks? You aren’t the only one mixing up the digital and print reading worlds. Neuroscientists believe we are developing new brain circuits for skimming online information that are rewiring how we’ve approached reading for centuries. Pair with: Our essay on how writing is also changing to fit our fragmented attention span.
Even before it became officially so in the United States, April has long been the poet’s month. “April” (or “Aprill”) is the third word of one of the first great poems in the English language, The Canterbury Tales, and the first word in The Waste Land, which does its best to feel like the last great English poem. April — “spungy,” “proud-pied,” and “well-apparel’d” April — is also the most-mentioned month in Shakespeare, along with its springtime neighbor May, and it has given a poetic subject to Dickinson, Larkin, Plath, Glück, and countless others. Why? Do we like its promise of rebirth, its green and messy fecundity? Its hopefulness is easy to celebrate — and easy to cruelly undercut, if you’re T.S. Eliot rooting his lilies in the wasteland of death.
I visited an ophthalmologist to find out whether surgery was an option, and he responded with a question: ‘What if I told you that your problem gives you superpowers?’
Now I had a voracious appetite to consume certain books I’d read long ago, revisiting passages that had always been especially moving. Or — and this was fun and also eerie in its accuracy — I found myself submitting to cravings for books I had never before read but the combined language, plot, and characters of which turned out to produce the perfect meal of prose for this pregnant bibliophile.
Why do we reread novels obsessively as children but hardly ever as adults? At The Morning News, Clay Risen discusses why rereading appeals to children so much. “It was a residual sense of wonder, left over long after I had accepted that the reality on the page and the reality beyond it are distinct.” Pair with: Our essay on the pleasures and perils of rereading.
But Beware of Pity I could not face. To do so, I felt, would be too dangerous–like rifling through someone’s letters after a death. I would discover things about him, about myself, about us, that I would not be able to withstand.
Novels remind us that the hard questions matter, they always have, and that we can’t ignore them just because we’re comfortable, well-fed, sheltered, and secure. Maybe those same comforts, which give us time and leisure enough to read novels in the first place, are the very reason why we need them so badly. A great novel is always felt as a kind of gift, and here’s the strange thing: these gifts are heartbreaks we wouldn’t suffer, tears we wouldn’t shed, agonies we wouldn’t undergo, if we simply left the books alone and did something else with our time.