Monday, January 16, 2012

Perplexities of Reading

Reading used to be simpler.  One just had to find a comfortable chair, turn on a good reading light, open the book and read.  Now reading has become a project or rather, in my case, two projects.  

First, I am reading The Guide of the Perplexed by  Moses Maimonides.  The edition we (the reading is part of a class in the Basic Program of Liberal Education of the University of Chicago) are using is the translation by Shlomo Pines.  
A close reading of this two volume work requires not only attention to the text, but accompanying support of the following volumes from my library: The Oxford NIV Schofield Study Bible, my (two volume) edition of the Complete Works of Aristotle; Geddes MacGregor's Dictionary of Religion and Philosophy;  and an English language dictionary.  The translator's introduction suggests that I may have further recourse to Plato, Epicurus, Galen and others (this may require a camp out at the Chicago Public Library).  Admittedly, these are requirements for reading a serious work of philosophy that inter alia attempts to reconcile the old testament prophets with ancient Greek philosophy.

Second, one might think that reading a short twentieth-century poem with four cantos consisting of less than one thousand lines of verse might be a little easier.  But, no.  
This is Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov, a volume that includes in addition to thirty-six pages of poetry almost three hundred additional pages consisting of epigraph, foreword, commentary on the poem, and an index.  The result of which requires, so far (since I am less than half-way through the book), the additional support of both a dictionary and my copy of the Norton Complete Works of Shakespeare.  The editor in his foreword also has the following advice for the reader:
"Other notes, arranged in a running commentary, will certainly satisfy the most voracious reader.  Although those notes, in conformity with custom, come after the poem, the reader is advised to consult them first and then study the poem with their help, rereading them of course as he goes through the text, and perhaps, after having done with the poem, consulting them a third time so as to complete the picture.  I find it wise in such cases as this to eliminate the bother of back-and-forth leafings by either cutting out and clipping together the pages with the text of the thing, or, even more simply, purchasing two copies of the same work which can then be placed in adjacent positions on a comfortable table . . ."

At which point my table, or rather desk, is completely filled with books.  I either need to find a larger desk or need to find less complex reading projects.

The Guide of the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides. Shlomo Pines, transl. Univ.  of Chicago Press. 1963
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov. Vintage Books, New York. 1989 (1962)


Parrish Lantern said...

Reminds of when I first read After Babel & I carried a notebook everywhere to make reference to books I'd need to read & understand said book.

James said...

Agreed. Steiner is one of those polymath authors who requires reference materials.