As noted in the most recent excerpt from my glorious memoir ‘Conversations with Speyer’, Johannes Speyer was probably the first critic to fully explore the concept of ‘read-cycling’ – that is, reading books on bikes.
Certainly, there are easier – and less perilous – ways of consuming literature than this. Having tried it itself, I can confirm that even the most talented ‘read-cyclers’ are likely to suffer a few bumps and bruises along the way. I know at least one man who broke his ankle whilst reading Scott Fitzgerald on a mountain bike. Another unfortunate reader was so engrossed in the latest novel by Fjona Uu that she cycled straight into a lake.
Reading and cycling are not natural bedfellows, whichever way you look at it. But that is the point of the activity. ‘Read-cycling’ puts the risk back into reading. Your experience of a book changes drastically under certain circumstances. Reading a poem in an armchair is one thing; reading that same poem whilst pedalling furiously with both feet is quite another. I heartily recommend taking this risk. (I also recommend wearing a bicycle helmet. And shin-pads. And some sort of upper-body protection).
My eyebrow elevated in curiosity. ‘Surely that’s somewhat dangerous? Taking a book on a bike?’
‘Of course it’s dangerous! That’s the point. Not to fall off a bicycle, per se, but to be willing to take the risk. But they misunderstood me, of course they did. They thought I was cycling along main roads, my head in a book. What a load of nonsense! I cycled through empty fields, and I only fell off half a dozen times. Later I designed a contraption which I fastened onto the handlebars to hold the book.’
Chapter Three, Part Two has just been published. Contain your excitement, if you are capable.
Readers will have to wait a few weeks until the next excerpt, owing to on-going negotiations between me and my typist.
‘When Does This Start?’, ‘The Death of the Birth of Texts’ and ‘Introduction to an Epilogue’ are much less successful. They also represent one of the few occasions in which we find Speyer actively entering into dialogue with, or sliding in the direction of, contemporary criticism. On these grounds we can only consider them brave failures. Speyer wasn’t a game player; he was at his best when swimming neither with nor against the tide, but in a different sea entirely. The closing paragraph of ‘Introduction to an Epilogue’ is about as good as he gets when it comes to current debates.
Chapter Three begins.
Now, I wouldn’t say that I was afraid of cats, in general, but I must confess that this one had me on the back foot. It gave the impression that it knew something about me, and wasn’t afraid to use it against me. Though I was not in the least bit ashamed of my behaviour, a few moments in this cat’s company found me pressed up against a tall wall of guilt.
This memoir has it all: encounters with mad professors, encounters with intriguing books, and encounters with mysterious guilt-enforcing cats. What do you want, impatient reader? Read the latest part here.