The Pleasures of Reading without a Pen

For twelve years now, I’ve read books with a pen or pencil in hand (including library books!). This, after all, is how “critical readers” read, leaning over a page, pausing reflectively to note something significant in the margin, looking — from a distance, from the perspective of another watching them read — fully engaged with the text. Lately, the act of reading has felt more and more like a pose, a feeling which intensifies when I turn back to pages I had read a mere two or three hours ago only realize that I have no idea what I was thinking when I underlined this sentence or drew a star next to that paragraph.

For the past month, I have been running an experiment: to read an entire novel without a pen or pencil in hand. When I rode the bus to or from Providence in the month of March, I delighted in opening the pages of Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming Pool Library (1988) without the need for holding something else, free to grip the book with both hands, to read and to reread without adjusting my position in order to write, and to relish the (sound of the) sentences to myself in the unbroken flow of elegant paragraphs, pages, and chapters.

For the month of April, I plan to do all of my reading without a pen or pencil in hand. I’ll still, of course, keep a notebook nearby should I feel the need to jot anything down when I skim back over the pages. That way I’ll at least know what I was thinking when a text moved me to put my own pen to paper…

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