Reading Through the Night by Jane Tompkins

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

two and a half dragons

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Published June 12th 2019.

I loved Reading through the Night, at least in regards to what it was advocating. However, the execution was a little off. I wasn’t enthralled by the words or the experiences very much. The main point that Tompkins is trying to get across is the importance of reading in our daily lives and how it can help us get through anything. I know this is true for myself because reading has helped me keep sane. But I felt I had gotten everything I needed from this book within the first third. This is also specific to me. For many others this may be the first time they’ve considered how powerful reading can be for them or they would like a little nudge in that direction. For those of us who already know the power of reading this book could still be useful, but it is less likely.

Tompkins states early on that books aren’t written to be analyzed and taken apart. Yet that is exactly what she does throughout the book and it is literally part of her profession. She’s a professor and literary scholar. I agree with her on both counts actually. I think some books are meant to be analyzed and annotated and some are not, at least not the same kind of analyzation. She spends the entirety of the book analyzing other books, which is odd given her earlier statement, but also what I expected.

I would have enjoyed it more if I had read any of the books she was discussing. The book read like a literary lecture and I hadn’t done the homework. For that reason when Tompkins describes specific books I find myself drifting. Perhaps if you have read Sir Vidia’s Shadow this book will appeal a bit more to you as a tool for deeper thought.

The highlight of the book, for lack of a better word, was that she was facing down Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Her battle to remain relevant in a constantly moving world when she couldn’t get out of bed was touching and inspiring. I chose to read this book because when I was in the depths of my depression I could only read and I spent a ton of time in bed. I was drawn in by how much this person had also received through the written word while in a similarly difficult position. I wish I had learned a bit more about Tompkins as a person because those parts were my favorite. There’s a section where she writes about how reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance caused her to want to drive a motorcycle. And she did! The reader gets the impression that she didn’t keep it for long, but still she was inspired by a book to actually do something.

I think that is what so many of us forget. Books are not just thought experiments to be opened and closed without action. Books are meant to inspire us to action even if it is just within our own lives. Reading is very passive, but that doesn’t mean readers have to be. Every book can and is a call to arms.

It is for this reason that I didn’t finish Reading through the Night: this book was calling me to read and learn more and to allow that reading to affect my life. I already do those things and will continue to do them always. Once I have found the essential kernel in a book it isn’t necessary to read the rest of the book. If the book is still enjoyable I will naturally finish it, but otherwise it is finished off at a chapter break.

I would recommend this book for the serious readers and those who need a reminder of how enlightening our reactions to reading can be about our own lives and emotions.

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