Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Reasons For Reading

The narrator of Poul Anderson's "The House of Sorrows" (All One Universe, New York, 1997) lists three reasons for reading:

"The Zarathustrans study their holy writ but add nothing new" (p. 86);

"The rest of us...keep old books if they are useful or enjoyable, but otherwise, why should we care?" (pp. 86-87);

the Greeks loved learning for its own sake but he had thought that this love, like that of men for boys, had died with the Romans until he entered a library where he "...felt as though [he] stood among ghosts." (p. 87)

Knowledge of the movements of the stars helps navigation but knowledge of the nature of the stars would not be useful (he thinks).

The Zarathustrans reading their scriptures have the potential for learning more if they are exposed to other literature. Recent posts on this blog have been about the meaning of Lamentations and the nature of Zen experience. Usefulness and enjoyment are excellent reasons for keeping books. The narrator, sheltering in the barricaded library during a period of civil unrest, learns more as the librarians read to him:

"...I took happiness out of the vaults. Suddenly around me, speaking, loving, hating, striving, not dead but merely sundered from me in time, were the builders, the dwellers, the conquerors, Persians, Turks, Mongols, Romans, Greeks, Phoenicians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Pelishtim, Egyptians, endlessly manifold. In their sagas, I could lose myself, forget that I was trapped and waiting for whatever doom happened to be mine." (p. 97)

- and he even learns the concluding verses of Lamentations, which, in his world, are preserved only in that single library.

1 comment:

Paul Shackley said...

In fact, there are four reasons here: scripture; usefulness; enjoyment; learning for its own sake.