Reading Menus. Alternative »Play« and »Stop« Buttons

Before you start reading this piece, please start playing on your computer Serghei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf:

Think of it as background music, an alternative narrative or a modern hourglass for this reading session.

Back home in Romania, my daily reading menu includes all sorts of readings: each morning, in the office, I get updated while reading the latest news from all over the world, regarding culture, politics, economy; on the bus, on my way back home, if I find a free seat, I usually start reading literature, whatever I am currently reading at the moment and I did not forget to put in my bag in the morning; in the afternoon, when I get a free moment, I try to keep up with the readings for my research; at night, in bed, just before going to sleep, I like to randomly pick something from the big pile of books I keep next to my bed and read a few pages until I get sleepy.

A reading-must for each week is at least 2 children stories, one that I read in English, for children coming to the library where I work from Monday to Friday and one that I read in Romanian, for the children coming in the Bookshop where I work on Saturday.

Weekends are all about alternative reading. Because on Saturday, I usually end up reading in the strangest spaces: parks, cafes, cinemas, cafeterias, buses – as I always carry with me the current piece of literature that I am reading at the time. And on Sunday, I try reading travel guides and be on the road.

My guiltiest reading pleasure is to sometimes read while having a hot bath. I like not feeling the weight of my body while reading. When I have these kinds of »underwater« reading sessions I always get a pencil and a notebook next to the bathtub as most of the time I end up also writing or drawing.

I also have to confess, that I’ve ended up several times continuing to read in my dreams a book that I was reading before going to sleep. And although I felt very frustrated because I wasn’t able to remember the details regarding the ending, in the first five minutes after waking up in the morning, I sometimes felt that the ending I came up with in my sleep, the ending that I both wrote and read in my dreams, was sometimes maybe even better than the one in the book.

Since I got to Solitude my reading menu completely changed: each morning, I now skip most of the news section for a German reading and practice session; I mainly read in my studio or outside, works coming from different areas, like anthropology, sociology, narrative medicine, cultural studies, narrative therapy, literary theory and comparative literature for my project on illness narratives; I’ve managed to build a new pile of books next to my bed, supplying myself from the libraries and borrowing from the other fellows; I now also read on a E-book reader and I am still trying to figure out how I feel about that, since I am a big fan of holding in my hands and also smelling the books; I do not read children stories anymore, but I’ve started writing one. I still carry at least one book in my purse, and so, even here, I am ready to read everywhere. Although I’ve replaced the »underwater« reading sessions with »outdoor« reading sessions, on the bench in front of the Castle, these also require a pencil and a notebook for writing and drawing and also make me sometimes forget about the weight of my body. Several times already I’ve had insights about my project just before falling asleep, so now I keep a pen and paper just next to my bed and I force myself to get up in the middle of the night to write down the ideas I have, before completely forgetting them.

From time to time, I discover in Solitude new flavors of reading, in the encounters with the different people from all around the world.

Li Lorian, a Jerusalem-based performer, uses two complementary texts – both written by her grandmother – read in parallel for her newest performance dealing with migration – one regarding her exile, the other about a happy trip in Europe. She uses a neutral voice which sews them up together, making them seem as one piece. In this process, she is redefining a form of migratory reading, which has a tragic effect on the audience, in relation to the superposition between personal story and History.

Kinga Toth, a Hungarian artist, builds symbiotic performances, where reading and music coexist. For her, the word and the sound, in order to fully express their potential, must always be interconnected, as they reflect each other and communicate just like living organisms.

Yania Suarez Calleyro, a Cuban journalist, noticing a common »addiction«, as she called it, among the fellows, the other day came up with the idea of organizing a Facebook group, in order to be able to better share the books we love. It is both contagious and intriguing to see what the others read. My reading menu might just change again.

One night, after a dinner some of us had together, Assaf Alassaf, a Syrian writer, came up with the idea that each of us should read out loud his favorite poem. As the poems were read, each shared a little part of their inner world, their mind and their reading menu with the others, and no matter the language in which the poem was read, we all had the sense of building together the and belonging to the same narrative.

Xinjun Zhang, a Chinese performer, put an inkwell in my hand as he was leaving, because »you are a writer«, as he said it, and »you will surely need it, as you write every day.« Needless to say, that by the time he left, I’d also received from him some speakers he left behind, as my computer really needed some audio enhancers. But while the ink was kept especially for me, I chose the speakers for myself.

Reflecting back on all these encounters I’ve recently had, I’ve realized that the story we tell or we want to tell and the story that’s heard or read is never completely the same, more than that, the story is a living organism, it keeps permanently reinventing itself, as we are always negotiating our relation to reading and books, to stories and words, in relation to our encounters, life experiences, expectations and hopes.

We receive and share stories daily, taking this for granted sometimes, without maybe thinking what it takes for a story to be a story, what it takes for a storyteller to be a storyteller. The fact is that both are embedded in between the »Play« and the »Stop« buttons, or, in other words, in time. Every story has a timeline, every story needs time to be heard or read and then again time to be shared and retold.

Clive Wearing, a British contemporary musician, can’t read books, as he is suffering from chronic anterograde and retrograde amnesia, which is making him remember only his last seven to thirty seconds; after that his memory is reset, thus making it impossible for him to have any memories or to build any connections outside that narrow time frame. Despite his medical condition, Clive Wearing can still play the piano, although he will not remember it afterwards.

By now, the song playing in the background should be around the fifth or sixth minute, meaning, in an alternative time measuring system, that it took you three pages to hear the first part of the story of “Peter and the Wolf”. It is up to you to decide what or where the full stop will be.