Variatons on Blindness (I)

If you’re lucky enough to get paid to read, then you’re probably unlucky enough to feel that reading is a job. You might well enjoy what you read most of the time, but even so, if it’s part of your work, you can’t help but read it in ways that make the reading anything but the stuff of simple pleasure: you read with a pen or pencil in hand, you ask yourself after every sentence, “Is this good?” “What does it mean?” “How would I teach this?” “Do I even understand this?” You read (or watch) yourself reading, constantly making sure that you’re drawing meaningful conclusions or making suggestive connections, because in one way or another you’re going to be accountable for what you read. Otherwise, why would anyone agree to pay you?

Now as far as making a living goes, one could do much, much worse. But still, if you wind up in a read-for-pay career, it’s likely that a) once upon a time a love of reading played a role in your decision to pursue this career, and/but b) this career of yours has at best complicated this love in ways that on occasion makes the word “regret” not entirely ungermaine to the topic at hand. Sure you avoided selling radio time to advertisers or strip mining in West Virginia, but remember when you just loved reading?

I mention all this in order to present what was for me an exceptional reading experience: José Saramago’s Blindness. I liked, a lot even, this novel from its very first (if memory serves me correctly) long sentence, and my fondness for it only grew as I continued. About 100 pages into it, I reached a happy place I had not visited for some time. I knew I was there when I looked at my watch, saw that it was nearly midnight on a weekday, and said to myself, “Okay, just one more chapter.” I realized that this was a book so good that it silenced all the typically bothersome professional yammering that comes steadily from all the other semi-related-to-reader parts of me (teacher, scholar, writer). I was just reading this book, by which I mean that I was unusually present in the reading experience, by which I mean that I was probably out at some boundary where what I already knew a book could show me meets what I was at that moment learning lies just beyond that.
Blindness, by José Saramago • VINTAGE • AVAILABLE AT BLOOM


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