The Joy and Enthusiasm of Reading
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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
On Mondays, we bring you our revival of the 1950s radio series, This I Believe. Today we hear from writer Rick Moody. He's the author of several novels including "The Ice Storm," "Purple America" and his new work, "The Diviners." Our series curator is independent producer Jay Allison.
JAY ALLISON reporting:
In his memoir "The Black Veil," Rick Moody writes that in his youthful search for identity, the place he found his one reliable thing, as he calls it, was not in contests for masculinity, prestige and social standing, but in books. Books made him feel he was good at something. Here is Rick Moody with his essay for This I Believe.
Mr. RICK MOODY: (Reading) `I believe in the absolute and unlimited liberty of reading. I believe in wandering through the stacks and picking out the first thing that strikes me. I believe in choosing books based on the dust jacket. I believe in reading books because others dislike them or find them dangerous. I believe in choosing the hardest book imaginable. I believe in reading up on what others have to say about this difficult book and then making up my own mind.
`Part of this has to do with Mr. Buxton, who taught me Shakespeare in 10th grade. We were reading "Macbeth." Mr. Buxton, who probably had better things to do, nonetheless agreed to meet one night to go over the text line by line. The first thing he did was point out the repetition of motifs, for example, the reversals of things--fair is foul, and foul is fair. Then there was the unsexing of Lady Macbeth and the association in the play of masculinity with violence. What Mr. Buxton didn't tell me was what the play meant. He left the conclusions to me.
`The situation was much the same with my religious studies teacher in 11th grade, Mr. Flanders, who encouraged me to have my own relationship with the Gospels, and perhaps he quoted Jesus of Nazareth in the process: "Therefore speak I to them in parables, because, they, seeing, see not, and hearing, they hear not, neither do they understand."
`High school was followed by college, where I read Umberto Eco's "Role of the Reader," in which it said that the reader completes the text, that the text is never finished until it meets this voracious and engaged reader; the open texts, Eco calls them. In college, I read some of the great Europeans and Latin Americans--Borges and Kafka, Genet and Beckett, Arto(ph), Proust. Open texts, all. I may not have known why Kafka's "Metamorphosis" is about a guy who turns into a bug, but I knew that some said "cockroach" and others "European dung beetle."
`There are those critics, of course, who insist that there are right ways and wrong ways to read every book. No doubt they arrived at these beliefs through their own adventures in the stacks, and these are important questions for philosophers of every stripe. And yet I know only what joy and enthusiasm about reading have taught me in bookstores, new and used. I believe there is not now, and never will be, an authority who can tell me how to interpret, how to read, how to find the pearl of literary meaning in all cases.
`Nietzsche says, "Supposing truth is a woman? What then? Supposing the truth is not hard, fast, masculine, simple, direct?" You could spend a lifetime thinking about this sentence and making it your own. In just this way, I believe in the freedom to see literature, history, truth unfolding ahead of me like a book whose spine has just now been cracked.'
ALLISON: Rick Moody with his essay for This I Believe.
We are inviting everyone to write short statements of personal belief. You may visit our Web site, npr.org, to find information about submitting your writing, and you can also read and listen to all the essays in our series.
For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.
MONTAGNE: Next Monday on "All Things Considered," a This I Believe essay from Jason Sheehan(ph) of Colorado.
You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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