The Bready article reminds me of many things, not least the ideas of my late, great mentor Johannes Speyer: the father of Active Reading and lifelong campaigner on behalf of the slogan ‘More Reading, Less Books’.
I may have written before on this subject but – as Speyer himself was always keen on saying – it is better to repeat yourself than never be heard.
Speyer is, of course, a paradoxical figure. He was a writer and critic who had very little faith in the future of either writing or criticism. He hit the ironical heights, however, when he penned an essay called Stop Writing, challenging young and old artists alike to put down their pens for a while and ‘give us all a chance to assess the mess we’ve made, before throwing fresh trash on the mound’. It was in this same essay that he proposed an international ‘Non-Writing Month’ (he was secretly hoping for a ‘Non-Writing Decade’ but decided to start low) during which everyone would promise to dam the creative river for thirty days or so and devote their time to reading or re-reading the books they already owned. ‘Most of what we need,’ he wrote, ‘we have already got. We just can’t be bothered to look for it.’
Like a lot of Speyer’s work, this essay was never published. Curiously, Speyer insisted on publishing his entire output with the same publishing house, despite the fact that they frequently pushed away the fruits of his endeavour, usually on the grounds that it was ‘far from beneficial to their trade’. They had a point. It probably wouldn’t have done their business that much good to have published an essay instructing people to stop buying new books.
Some of Speyer’s views were extreme – I recognise that now – but it’s often hard to argue with the foundations of his logic, especially when you see some of the books people are writing these days (and the books they aren’t reading). So then – what about a non-writing, no-new-novel reading week in 2009? Anybody with me?