Reading Habits

Advice and insight from a professional poet.

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Something weird keeps happening to me. I order one book online, then I get all these email updates — “Maybe you’ll like this book…”  These online marketing tactics generally work. I think, “Wow, I would like that book,” and so I order it, and I LOVE IT. So now I’m afraid that these marketing tools have tapped into some secret of my soul. What else do these online gods know about me?
— MW

 

I don’t think the book recommendation tool is any cause for alarm. The recommendations come after an author, subject, and keyword search, so really the recommendation has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the books you’ve been ordering electronically. My Kindle recommends books that I like all the time. Now, it does get a little creepy when Gmail syncs its advertisements to the content of my private email messages, but so far — knock on wood — these have been fairly innocuous.

I do understand where you’re coming from. Reading is such an intimate, private activity that activates each individual imagination. When I was 13, I was reading Forever by Judy Blume on a flight seated right next to my dad when “Ralph” came into the scene. Thankfully Dad didn’t have access to all the things I was imagining. Poems especially give our imaginations free range.

So with one bound, Jack was free…
and he woke up to find it had all been a dream.

But when do you wake from the book of the dream,

shrug it off with a cold shower, a shot of black coffee?


There can be no forgetting; even after the fire

the archives are always somewhere intact—
in the world, or that part of the mind that the mind

cannot contemplate. But you have forgotten

the book you brought back; it lies on your pillow

as real as the pennies the tooth-fairies bring

or the horse’s head left by the heavy squad.

Don’t open it—the pages look blank in this light,


and tomorrow the words will draw your pen through them


until you have traced the whole terrible story


and think it your own. But no one can own


a library book, and this library book


is already long overdue; hand it back—


there will be no tart letters or final demands,


just a knock at the door where no door ever was.

 

And you listen:
but it is only the milk-train

or your heart,
pounding over the points.

(from Don Paterson’s “The Alexandrian Library”)

21 June 2011

Kristen Hoggatt lives, works, and writes in Boston, where she received her MFA from Emerson College. She volunteers at 826 Boston.
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