Conditions for good book reading

Tagged: books

For the past several months I've been trying to read The Brothers Karamazov (for the second time). I gave up the first time after some 150 pages. I really put a dent in it but I stopped.

What makes the conditions for a book to be read and to be read well - with delight, focus, and connection?

I was asking myself this because I find the answer eludes me these days; it has been rare for me to be pulled into a book. When I was younger this was very different. A lot of supposed answers seemed obvious, but of those before me, many seemed parallel to a quote I had read in an article a while ago:

As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other, said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is why so many people meet their lifelong friends in college, she added.


The article is about the difficulty of meeting friends in your thirties. The three conditions (not that there aren't more, or that this is set in stone) for making friends really stuck out to me: you need proximity, repeated, unplanned interactions, and a settings where one can let their guard down.

Last night I found myself thinking about these posited pillars of enabling friendship. I haven't done much reading in the literature and I'm about as far away from an academic as the last paper I submitted (nearly 10 years ago), but I feel that these pillars nicely work for all kinds of things - the capacity for one to immerse in a book being one of them.

Now let's talk about The Brother's Karamazov. Sort of.

First off, there's a lot going on in this book. I feel woefully unprepared to even write about it, especially knowing its significance in literature. Something being regarded as canon plays an important role in this conversation, so let's put a pin in that. Let's go through these purported pillars and I'll try and make a case to see if the metaphor runs parallel in a strong enough manner.


To develop a relationship with a book, you need proximity. You should see the book several times a week, or even a day. Have it left out where you work. Carry it in your bag and you carry the entire work of a text with you. Imagine that! With the book in close proximity your worlds will collide each time you encounter it, and slowly two circled universes will overlap, and when you actually sit down and read, you will be in the middle of a venn diagram that has been slowly fusing together.

Repeated, Unplanned Interactions

You need to read nearly every day, everyday if you can. Read before bed. Read in the morning with your coffee. Instead of checking your phone on the toilet after you wake up, bring a book. Now you are not only in proximity of the book - you are in the aforementioned venn diagram. You have cracked the spine. You do this now, repeatedly.

On thursday you are set to pick up a friend from the airport but their plane is late. So you pull out your book (not your phone) - an unplanned interaction. Did you think you would be reading at the airport? An experienced reader would, but us young and lonely lecteurs don't yet know it.

Vulnerable / Intimate settings

This is where I am most curious, especially when I'm dealing with books of purported gravitas - the books of so-called canon (yes, problematic). I read these because I'm seeking something - insight, advice, hope, inspiration, movement, connection, answers, questions, compassion, guidance, empathy -- I want to feel so humxn that I may as well be sitting next to the author.

So read when you feel the dread of it all. Read when joy is bursting at yon's breast. Read regardless of age - the voice of another passing through time, time that is a circle, the reader and the read - a venn-diagram with you somewhere in it.

Whether you need a friend to weather the human condition with you, someone to rage against the dying of the light, someone to sit on your balcony and smoke cigarette's and watch it all go by - well, you're likely to find one or two in the words on the lines in the paragraphs in the pages in the chapters of the books. If you have an open heart the will jump right out of the page - or you will dive right in.

Something like that.