In Plain Words
Two years ago, I started working at the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair. When a friend of mine told me of a bookseller looking for an assistant, I imagined weekends spent caressing first-edition copies of “Ulysses” and “The Waste Land.” To my mind, books and literature were metonymically linked, and I couldn’t imagine that “books” would entail anything other than great works of literature.
It’s an understandable oversight: When we’re taught to read, we begin by reading aloud—logistically, I’m not sure how you could teach a child to read in silence—and our first attempts at transliterating lines and curves into words always begins with oral utterances. But our use of the same word—“read”—to signify both reading aloud and in silence perhaps obfuscates our awareness of the intrinsic difference between two very different activities.
No, that’s not true. Rather, the only way I know how to break up with people is by letter. There’s simply something about that highly charged, traumatically emotional, in-person exchange that I can’t handle: the desperate reading of facial expressions, the vulnerable body language, the nervous shaking, the words—confused and incoherent—forced upwards through a constricted throat, threatening asphyxiation.