cover image Reading Life: Books for the Ages

Reading Life: Books for the Ages

Sven Birkerts / Author Graywolf Press $16 (191p) ISBN 978-1-55

Previously published in the American Scholar, the Believer and the Virginia Quarterly Review, among others, these critical responses address a group of novels-including The Catcher in the Rye, The Good Soldier and The Moviegoer-that chart the ""topographical reference points"" on the rough ""map of Birkerts's inwardness."" Though he has read many of the books several times, Birkerts, who teaches at Harvard and edits the journal Agni, is still often ""surprised, going back, to find the work had grown fresh again, full of unexpected turns and nuances."" Most of the essays are structured to reflect this unanticipated and gratifying energy by beginning at the moment of first encounter with the books under discussion-""the frisson of first connection"": Madame Bovary in a Montana bunkhouse or the discovery of Humboldt's Gift after the breakup of an important romantic relationship. Looking back on the lonely, estranged and marginal selves that found (and still find) solace in the ""disputatious inner swing"" of the ""secret Masonic life of reading,"" Birkerts uncovers a stabilizing realization. Through ""shifts"" and ""twists of vantage,"" this collection recounts the essential transformational value of a lifetime spent discovering the self that ""comes fully awake only in the dream of a book.""