Books: Some Confessions

by Jeff Oaks

I am a slow reader. I’m also an impatient one. I will buy a book based on a table of contents and then never read it. The Table of Contents was all I wanted. It was all I needed, a list of titles to steal, a list of words to use, a set of plot points.

I collect and assemble books the way that reliquarist finds and enshrines pieces of the true cross, shrouds of saints, knucklebones of prophets, teeth of bodhisattvas. Less, in other words, for whether they are authentic or not. More to keep myself from feeling too comfortable. Through the bones to hear the god’s whisper.

In fact, I hate to read sometimes. Sometimes for years, it feels as if reading is the mental equivalent of eating my vegetables. I do it out of necessity, to keep my job, to keep my friends.

Most of the time, I can’t abide fiction as Fiction, as a made up story, as an entertainment. I read to learn things first, to disappear second, to appreciate artistry third. To congratulate someone for merely writing something down does not appear on the map. Most of the time I can’t abide poetry as Poetry.

When I say I’m an impatient reader, what I mean to say is I think I might at any moment die. I’d prefer not to be irritated by a complex family tree or a torturous plot while I’m gasping for my last breath.

To really read one great book a year is enough. It took me two years to recover from Anna Karenina. I don’t enter into those relationships lightly.

I don’t need an axe to break up the frozen sea within me. I need a ship, a submarine, a whale’s belly, a magic shell to take me from shore to shore. Or, in the case of poetry, a spell to walk on water, to swim at great speeds, to change weight for wings.