Ferociously intelligent. . . . Schwartz obeys the laws of gravity, but also manages to float free of the Earth at times, and almost to fly. -Frederick Busch,
Los Angeles Times Book Review "This slender rhapsody on the joys of reading will be gobbled up like the rarest and finest chocolate." -Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post "Provocative. . . . A moving memoir. As Schwartz defines for herself why she reads, she helps others understand their literary obsessions." -John Espey, Chicago Tribune "I was at home in this book as if I was, in fact, at home in one of our old big chairs reading myself into life." -Grace Paley, author of Long Walks and Intimate Talks "Lynne Sharon Schwartz successfully maps the gray areas of a passion some might find hard to classify as a true addiction: reading books. The accuracy of Schwartz's insight made this addicted reader, at least, feel uncomfortably well seen; she nailed me, page after page." -Stacey D'Erasmo, New York Newsday
Novelist Schwartz (Disturbances in the Field) learned to read at the age of three, encouraged by parents whom she describes as "people of the book." As a seven-year-old, she was reading every book in her Brooklyn home and remembers being captivated by classics from the Little Leather Library such as "The Little Mermaid," from Andersen's fairy tales; Edward Everett Hale's The Man Without a Country; and The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. In this thought-provoking essay, Schwartz links her sense of self to what she has read over a lifetime. Although she acknowledges that literature has not transformed her life or taught her how to live, reading, to Schwartz, is a pure activity that has made her receptive to the ideas of authors who have enlarged her vision of the world. So intimate is the connection between Schwartz and books that have made an impact upon her emotionally that she cannot bear to see the film version, for example, of A Little Princess, because she does not want to see the author's words transformed visually. Author tour. (May)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
When a Chinese scholar recommended not reading in order to keep one's mind free of outside influences, novelist Schwartz (The Fatigue Artist, LJ 4/15/95) was prompted to pen this rambling autobiographical essay on books and reading. At age three, Schwartz was a child prodigy whose reading ability was shown off to guests. In the college catalog, she discovered the interconnectedness of books and ideas. As an adult, she learned that she didn't have to finish every book she started but still couldn't throw away a book, even a bad one. Other readers are sure to find themselves here, getting everything else out of the way in order to finish the day by reading or finding the right book at the right time. Schwartz concludes: "Reading teaches receptivity. Reading gives a context for experience, a myriad of contexts. So much of a child's life is lived for others. All the reading I did behind closed doors...was an act of reclamation. This was the way to make my life my own." Her work will be of interest to school and public libraries.-Nancy Patterson Shires, East Carolina Univ., Greenville, N.C.
We generally think of potboilers as knocked-off, hack novels meant to bring in some cash and attention ("keep the pot boiling") until the author can come up with another "real" book. How unfortunate, then, to have the word "potboiler" occur to one while reading Scwartz's memoir of her life as a reader.
Schwartz (The Fatigue Artist, 1995, etc.) is known as a novelist whose strong, fiercely felt prosewhose good proseoften fails to cohere in a fully realized novelistic framework. This memoir, alas, is no different. Reading is a great subject. Not nearly enough books or essays (outside academia, anyway) have been devoted to it, and certainly very few have achieved the literary immortality of, say, Walter Benjamin's essay "Unpacking My Library." Because of this, there is a temptation here to be uncritical and lap up the not-insignificant charms of Ruined by Readingas Schwartz (in a narrative ranging from childhood to success as an author) laps up Heidi, A Little Princess, Martin Pippin in the Daisy Field, etc. The problem is that very little of enduring satisfaction results. Schwartz's reminiscences are centered largely on her child and teenage selfand childhood can be a breeding ground for adult sentimentality and excess. The book will have resonances for many readersbut mainly short- lived ones. Why? Haste (or a sense of it, anyway). Self- indulgence. The good stuff is terrificas when the college-age Schwartz recommends Kafka to her parents, then receives a phone call from her father reporting a distinct difference in their readings and demanding to know what The Trial was really about. "My heart leaped," she writes. "This was exactly what I wanted. We should theorize this way every waking hour."
Best for an unsophisticated audience of book-lovers: The sophisticates may feel that they could have done it better.