In this excerpt from an interview with Michael Silverblatt, the host of KCRW’s Bookworm, Junot Díaz, the author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao articulates an aspect of the communal nature of books that isn’t often brought up: he argues that we learn to read communally, and that this isn’t necessarily a mode of reading that we should move away from. Here’s the audio – there’s a fervor to Díaz’s argument that doesn’t come off in a straight transcription:
(This is an excerpt; the full version can be downloaded from the Bookworm web site.) For those who can’t listen, a quick synopsis: Silverblatt, looking at the way Díaz uses science fiction and diaspora culture in his novel, sees a similarity to how James Joyce uses Dublin in Ulysses, as a lens through which to scry the world; in Oscar Wao bits of sci-fi and pop culture become a “vast encyclopedia of the world”; the universe reveals itself in particular. Díaz then takes that idea and runs with it: as a reader, he sees his own book as a single part of an “enormous conversation of books”:
Nobody learns to read outside of a collective. We forget – because we read and we read alone – we forget that we learn to read collectively. We learn with our peers, and a teacher teaches us. . . . When you read a book – and especially like this book, where there’s gonna be Spanish, there’s gonna be historical references, there’s gonna be nerdish, as they say, forget the elvish, the nerdish, there’s gonna be fanboy stuff, there’s gonna be talk about Morgoth, about dark side, about John Brunner’s science fiction books, about Asimov, about Bova, about Andre Norton, about E. E. Doc Smith’s Lensman, you know all this weird esoteric stuff, amongst all these Dominican references, Caribbean references, urban black American references, all this nerd talk, all this kind of hip “we went to college” speak – the reason that’s all there in one place is the same reason that reading is a collective enterprise. When we did not know a word when we were young and learning, we would ask someone. We forgot – I think many of us forget – that praxis, that fundamental praxis. What I want is for people to read and remember that reading, while we may practice it alone, in solitude, it arose out of a collective learning and out of a collective exchange . . . .