I’m going to tell you a story about a book.
A few months ago I went to a reading at The Bookshelf, our local independent bookseller. I didn’t recognize the name of one reader (Daniel Coleman? Author of Yardwork?), but the other was my friend Shane Neilson, and I love to hear him read, so I went.
It was a solid event, though too sparsely attended. Daniel’s reading was quite interesting, and Shane’s was good as always. Afterwards, I was chatting with Daniel about some of the ideas he had raised in his reading, and Shane mentioned that those ideas had been raised much more deeply in Daniel’s earlier book, In Bed with the Word, which was about reading, spirituality, and cultural politics. I was intrigued, but The Bookshelf didn’t have a copy, so Shane promised to loan me his.
Then I forgot all about it.
Shane, however, did not. The next time we met for lunch, he dropped me off his copy, and this morning I sat down on my front porch with my coffee (escaping the unseasonable heat of my house), and read it front to back, out loud. I don’t read everything out loud (Poetry, yes. Philosophy, sometimes. Fiction, rarely), but this book seemed to ask for vocalization, so I obliged.
It didn’t take that long to read, even aloud – maybe two and a half hours – and it was worth every minute. It’s a little gem of a book that gets into all kinds of my favourite things – the posture of reading and reflection, the function of slowness in thinking, the difference between criticism and what Daniel calls discernment, the spiritual (not to say religious) significance of reading, the necessity of good reading to turn to moral action – and so forth. He also cites a whole range of authors who have been influential on me, from Simone Weil to Jacques Derrida. It was a provoking and affirming read.
What it is not (despite what the previous paragraph might seem to imply) is a work of philosophy, not in a rigorous sense. It’s far more the sort of book that I have come to call a meditation, something like Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life, or (closer in time and space) Tim Lilburn’s Going Home. What I like about these kinds of books is how they take up their subject in much they way that Daniel’s book recommends – slowly, thoughtfully, leisurely. They take their time. They adopt a posture of humility or (as I’ve often argued from Heidegger) of thankfulness.
Before I was even quite finished In Bed with the Word, I knew it was the sort of book that needed to be on my shelf. I started walking down to The Bookshelf to get my own copy, reading as I went. They still didn’t have it in stock, but I ordered it. There aren’t enough books like it out there.