The Desperate Reader

January 2nd, 2019 § 0 comments

Roberto BolaƱo on books that appeal to the “desperate reader”. Which, I suspect, are probably the only kinds of books I like:

Let’s take, for example, an average reader, a cool-headed, mature, educated man leading a more or less healthy life. A man who buys books and literary magazines. So there you have him. This man can read things that are written for when you’re calm, but he can also read any other kind of book with a critical eye, dispassionately, without absurd or regrettable complicity. That’s how I see it. I hope I’m not offending anyone. Now let’s take the desperate reader, who is presumably the audience for the literature of desperation. What do we see? First: the reader is an adolescent or an immature adult, insecure, all nerves. He’s the kind of fucking idiot (pardon my language) who committed suicide after reading Werther. Second: he’s a limited reader. Why limited? That’s easy: because he can only read the literature of desperation, or books for the desperate, which amounts to the same thing, the kind of person or freak who’s unable to read all the way through In Search of Lost Time, for example, or The Magic Mountain ( a paradigm of calm, serene, complete literature, in my humble opinion), or for that matter, Les Miserables or War and Peace.

….

Furthermore: desperate readers are like the California gold mines. Sooner or late they’re exhausted! Why? It’s obvious! One can’t live one’s whole life in desperation. In the end body rebels, the pain becomes unbearable, lucidity gushes out in great cold spurts. The desperate reader (and especially the desperate poetry reader, who is insufferable, believe me) ends up turning away from books. Inevitably he ends up becoming just plain desperate.

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