Michael Schmidt on the Mystery of Reading
Early in Michael Schmidt's new work, The Novel: A Biography, he portrays reading as a mystery:
A novel is a kind of rabbit hole. It led Gorky's Nastiah into all-absorbing emotion, the Victorian schoolboy into adventure, and a young Mexican into an imaginary, heroic Europe. Novel reading begins in a paradoxical double action of escape and engagement; reading conventional novels takes readers from where they are to realms that are shaped, with beginnings, middles, and ends. Taste changes over time: Our developing habit requires increasingly subtle stimuli and satisfactions -- a hunger for experience transformed, that transformation being the writer's aim.Schmidt doesn't use the term "mystery," but that's what "rabbit hole" implies, for Lewis Carroll's use of a rabbit hole led Alice and her readers to a wonderland where they were trapped in an escape. As for Gorky, he is well known still, but the novelist who led the Victorian schoolboy into adventure was the now-neglected G. A. Henty, and the "young Mexican" led by some novelist "into an imaginary, heroic Europe" was none other than the author of The Novel: A Biography.
So far, so good . . .