“To walk into a library is like listening to an orchestra tuning its instruments”



From The Schofield:

Andrew Mitchell Davenport: Are you reading books front to back?

Lewis Lapham: Well, with Markson you don’t have to read that way. The same way you don’t have to read the Quarterly front to back. When I pick up a new novel, I will start in the middle. I will read ten pages in the middle, and if get interested in the sound of the writer’s voice I will go back and start at the beginning. With books that I’ve read before, I don’t have to go back to the beginning. I can pick up Moby Dick almost anywhere in the book and I’ll know who’s speaking and who that character is and how far we are out in the Paci!c Ocean and which way the wind is blowing. And it’s the same way I read around in Shakespeare’s plays. People in the Elizabethan period, in the early 17th century, used to read the way I do. Pick it up in the middle and follow your curiosity. They were consistently reading. They were devouring books. Those who could read, that is. Richard Burton in The Anatomy of Melancholy talks about that approach. Suddenly there’s a printing press and the people are overwhelmed with all these books. It’s just a wonder to behold. They feel themselves surrounded by knowledge.

To walk into a library is like listening to an orchestra tuning its instruments. You can hear them all. That’s the excitement of walking into a library, and a lot of the Elizabethans had these grand libraries, they’d spend all their substance on books.

Pursue Whatever Beast Is In View: A Conversation With Lewis Lapham