To Read, Perchance to Dream

By Susan Salter ReynoldsJune 30, 2012

    Wonderful Investigations by Dan Beachy-Quick. Milkweed Editions. 352 pages.

    THIS IS A BOOK about reading. It offers the kinds of insights into the act that most of us never stop to indulge in, and for that we are eternally grateful. This is not the first time that I have enjoyed Beachy-Quick’s writing and felt, in reading him, that I was entering the hut or cabin of a hermit. Books would be open on every surface. “Have a cup of tea,” he might say, distracted. Silence. Followed by a simple utterance that might change the way the visitor thought about everything, forever. This is much how Beachy-Quick feels about reading: “Reading is a method of entering; entering is a form of initiation.” Traditionally, he explains, we read a poem, for example, to get to the end, to get the reward. What if we saw a poem as an environment that we enter? A place to ask questions and experience changes? “Reading,” he writes, “is an experience that obscures experience, an experience that mars itself — when we feel we’re reading successfully, that is deeply and vividly, we forget there is a book being read, we forget our hands hold the book, we see with different eyes than the eyes through which we see. It is like a dream, reading.”

    The idea that reading offers a dream world, a parallel one, is familiar. But Beachy-Quick takes this a step farther. Reading before sleep, reading books to children before they go to sleep, is a way to slide gently through a middle place and into forgetting, into the little mini-death of sleep. “This sleep does not deny the world but lets the world go, trusts that…another world will appear, reminiscent of the waking one but altered, a world in which every figure is born from the self dreaming.”

    You get up, stretch, walk outside, absorb the strange and wonderful things that Beachy-Quick writes. Mirrors within mirrors. He writes, he tells us, to be a better reader, not the other way around! Writing and reading: filling an empty page with words vs. taking in the words of others. The Greek word for forgetting (lethe), he writes, shares a root with the word for truth (alethe). “Truth,” he realizes, “contains within it its own disappearance.” The scholar struggles to remember, but the poet struggles to forget. “Reading is discovering truth,” he writes, “so that truth can return to nothing.”

    So a little goes a long way, here, but it does go a very long way. Perhaps you take expensive vacations when you feel out of balance, off-kilter. You might try reading Beachy-Quick, who most certainly delivers perceptual fine-tuning.

    LARB Contributor

    Susan Salter Reynolds is a book critic and writer who lives in Los Angeles and Vermont. She has three children: Sam, Ellie, and Mia.


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