I am a utopian reader, in both senses that the word is understood. My dreams of the reading I will do are eutopian, a vision of a better world, but also utopian: this reading exists in no place. I have no place for it in my time.
This is why my office, living room, and bed room look like ancient cities of crumbling book towers. Will I never learn that books cannot be stacked if they have pencils jammed in them to mark where I have reached?
I was struck by how differently other readers must think of reading, when I came across the following dedication in a copy of Maurice Garçon’s history of justice under the Third Republic which I recently acquired:
Whoever the previous owner of this book – Grospierre
, the ‘very nice man’ [correction: Garçon wrote ‘in kind hommage’- was, Garçon rendered him the honour of gifting him the book.
And Grospierre seems to have taken this seriously, launching into a reading of the first volume.
I don’t know what stopped him. Boredom or time limits are the reasons I am familiar with, but who knows. Perhaps Grospierre died clutching the book in his hands. What I do know, is that he knew he might not get to the end, or at the very least had a more pragmatic attitude to how he read the three volumes. I know this because he did not bother cutting the pages beyond the point where he had read.
Now my first impulse on discovering this was to sit down and cut all the pages, nice and ready to be read.
These reactions imply two different attitudes to reading: one pragmatic and ad hoc, the other utopian and somewhat unrealistic. Will I get further into Garçon’s volumes than Grospierre, given that unlike him, I owe Garçon no debt of honour?
If these questions of the materialities of texts interest you, I am helping to coorganize a conference this summer where people who know a lot more about these kinds of things and have much more interesting things to say will be talking. The CFP is here.