The Darkling Book

Open your hands, here comes a book. Pretend for the sake of the soul its an orphaned book, some hand me down. Perhaps it’s a prison book. Certainly you weren’t planning to read it. But it’s a printed volume and it’s all you have. Outside rain batters the windows.
 This was the original circumstance of literate people. Without privilege of choice one simply had to read a hand me down book. It was as true for Shakespeare as it was for Lincoln or Malcolm X.
 The creative writing business (of which I’m a product) presumes both choice and leisure as coefficients to the act of reading. Accordingly few American writers read as though their lives depend on it. But what I call “darkling reading”–the reading we do when life is constrained, when we’re isolated by poverty or disablement, by race, by refugee status, this is separate from matters of taste or what’s called “canon formation.” The darkling book is what’s at hand and it’s what you’ll make of it.
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