To Read is to Devour


Now read that again, but out loud. Really taste the sounds on your tongue. 

“Reading” is a sterile, insipid word. It suggests some five-finger-forehead professor, perched on high-backed chair, hawkish nose thrust into a book as he curls his lip in high-minded disdain. In short, an act of comprehension, tinged, at most, with polite pleasure. Because of these erroneous assocations, many of us have lost the ability to read—to rip and tear and crunch like animals, and to revel in a frothing “ecstasy of the words”. 

Literature, especially poetry, and including non-fiction, recalls the campfire, a symbol that burns at the centre of our psyche. We forget that reading, like eating or drinking, satiates our basest urges: for communion and communication. These things must be felt, not thought. We must read with our guts rather than our minds.  

I write this not because I am an enlightened soul, but because I struggle with it more than most. I struggle to separate reading from the intellect—which is especially important during the first reading of a text. Dissection and analysis can come later. 

In my efforts to become a more primal, instinctive reader, I have stumbled upon a few things:

Language is music. Before it became an internal, intellectual system, it was an association of sounds. Therefore, we must listen to it. We must externalise the words, allowing them to wash over us, so we may feel their energy and vibrations within us. Like a bulb which converts electricity to light, we can convert words from an intellectual to a sensory energy, freeing them from their prison-of-the-mind. Language is a beautiful music, that we must create and listen to as often as possible. 

Another mistake is trying to remember what you read. I am especially guilty of this: I even wrote an article about it. While it is not totally worthless, the ultimate goal of reading is never to remember, but rather to be “transformed”, to become “a new man”. This is not accomplished by stuffing your mind with ideas—rather, it requires a sort of pre-intellectual cognition, or an unconscious response. To read is to devour, with unhinged carnal pleasure, so that the book becomes a part of you: its letters buried in your cells, its sentences twined with your DNA, its music vibrating in your blood—its beating heart nestled against your own. 

I cannot remember the books I have read any more than the meals I have eaten; but they have made me

Ralph Waldo Emerson

5 1 vote
Article Rating
Notify of

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Brian Scoles
Brian Scoles
10 days ago

Earlier this week someone shared a similar poem with me: Marginalia by Billy Collins

Here is a link: