Monday, July 5, 2010

Pleasure Through Difficulty

I read somewhere a few months ago an interview with Alberto Manguel, the Canadian writer, editor and anthologist, and marked down a phrase that resonated with me. I may not have it word for word, but he expressed something along the line that “reading is pleasure through difficulty.” What lay behind this thought, if I remember correctly, was the argument that the pleasure we derive from reading comes from a willed and directed action.

Let’s look a little closer at this argument. Much of what brings us pleasure comes from a passive attitude: hearing music in whatever form, viewing painting and sculpture or any of the plastic arts. Theatre and movies are a combination of these two; all we have to do is to put ourselves in their vicinity. The enjoyment of nature, the pleasure of the outdoors, the experience of a different place, the company of family and friends, all fall within these parameters. To enjoy the written word, however, is something completely different.

Reading for pleasure a very deliberate action. It has to be separated from other reading activities such as to gain information, to find explanations or directions, and all the other uses we find to communicate by the written word. To become “literate,” to gain the ability to read and write, takes a lot of work long before any true “pleasure” can come from it. A person who cannot read or write well finds no pleasure in such activity.
Once you have attained a level of skill, you can begin to read material that may have no application to your daily life. Reading for pleasure takes the imagination and applies it to words and concepts, the stories of places and people, or emotional and rational suggestions that move our spirit in a way that makes us feel good about ourselves and our world, that gives us pleasure.

Choice and effort, we see, are the twin foundations of enjoyment through reading. So how does a poet make these choices easier for his intended audience/readership? Remember, unless it is forced upon the reader he will have no reason whatsoever in these times to approach poetry for fun. The poet must make it pleasurable. Any concept hidden in language not familiar to his audience is soon forgotten except for by a few critics and cognoscenti. This seems to point to two things. A poet should make his words and ideas accessible to as many as possible and he should do his best to present them in a memorable way. There are poets I read whose words ring though the depths of me but who bore me when they read for an audience. There are also poets whose poems leave me cold until I can hear their voice echoing inside my mind. And occasionally a miracle happens – the poet who sounds great on the stage and still sings from the page.

Those are the ones I go back to, again and again. They make me feel the pleasure of reading and make me glad I am literate.

And the difficulty of reading is worth all the effort.


annaken said...

Ah, reading! It has almost become a lost art unless it somehow is attached to reading on-line!

As a little girl, I can remember reading Nancy Drew books in the backyard for hours and hours.

What a pleasure reading has been for me....

Conrad DiDiodato said...


thanks for showcasing ideas of one of Canada's best (most interesting) writers. I agree also that reading is something that humans do with great difficulty: actually the human brain isn't wired for it! But what worlds it opens up for us.