Nighttime reading

As a thank you for hosting her during her stay in Iceland, my colleague Ursula sent me a book. Since she has a PhD in Comparative Literature, and is a professor at Harvard, I decided that her taste in books is probably good enough that I should actually read the book she gave me. It is by a Nobel Prize winning author,  Orhan Pamuk, and is entitled Museum of Innocence.

I am not an avid reader, or at least not an avid reader of non-fiction. My nighttime reading for years has consisted of non-fiction essays. I love to read heavy theory late at night. Narrative fiction on the other hand is not my favorite, mostly because as I get tired, I start to get impatient to know what will "happen" next in the story. This is never the case with a theoretical essay, where every paragraph is full of interesting ideas. Instead when reading a novel, I inevitably stay up way too late, trying to get to some point in the story where something "happens" that is satisfactory enough for me to say "now I can go to bed." I obsessively keep reading, even if I am very tired, just to get to that point.

A few nights ago, this strategy worked out OK. The Museum of Innocence is about a man who is just about to get engaged to a wonderful woman, when he falls in love with another woman, and so from the first page, I knew the engagement party would be an "event" in the story, an event after which I could easily put the book aside. I like knowing events like that are upcoming, as my eyes get tired and droopy, I think "well the next chapter is the engagement party, and so after that I can go to sleep."

Having made my way through the engagement party, I had actually no idea what to expect next in terms of a turning point in the story. So I was reading and reading last night, all about the main character's emotional torment and the various ways he was both torturing and consoling himself in the aftermath of the engagement party, with no end in sight.

As the clock moved past 2am, I was starting to get worried, wondering if I would need to cheat and flip through the book to get to that "now I can go to bed" point. When suddenly, I got to it! It was not an event in the story line, but rather a theoretical point that explains the title of the book, a discussion of the level to which he had become obsessed with the objects that the woman he loves had touched. Objects as momento, objects as memorabilia, objects as part of our memories, objects as fetish, object as negative bodies, objects as part of our emotional and intellectual engagement with the world.

Of course, in some ways this is also an event, an event in the emotional process of this character. He had found a way to abstract, he had found a way to cope, and I was relieved. Now I could go to sleep.


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