Ruined by Reading

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Does the reading of many books impede the development of the mind? Novelist Lynne Sharon Schwartz meets this proposition in an interview of a Zen scholar in the NEW YORK TIMES. This notion sparks her unusual memoir, short on hard facts but long on ideas. Schwartz learned to read at three and a half, and words have retained a cabalistic power for her. She has always defined herself as a reader. Is this definition valid?

Schwartz embarks on a conversation about her childhood and family, significant books, and reading in the late twentieth century. She shares the first texts which were important for her, gives her youthful (mis)understandings of them, and reflects on their significance in adult life. Never strictly linear, Schwartz demands an interlocutor who reads for pleasure authors ranging from Hans Christian Andersen to the French philosopher, Jacques Derrida. Her quicksilver text is pungently personal, even when directed to abstract questions on the changing role of reading in the late twentieth century.

The author loves the music of words for its own sake and writes with respect for the magical in language. Reading is tied to every facet of memory, even her mother’s kitchen tools. Schwartz’s readers share the feel of her childhood home. They taste Sunday afternoons with her grandmother. The atmosphere of Schwartz’s places and people lingers in memory. For readers who are addicted to books, this slim volume is a sensual delight. Schwartz preaches to the converted. She has been fulfilled, not “ruined,” through reading.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCII, April 15, 1996, p. 1409.

Boston Globe. May 26, 1996, p. B27.

Chicago Tribune. June 16, 1996, XIV, p. 5.

Kirkus Reviews. LXIV, March 15, 1996, p. 434.

Library Journal. CXXI, April 15, 1996, p. 89.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. May 26, 1996, p. 1.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIII, March 11, 1996, p. 47.

Smithsonian. XXVII, December , 1996, p. 137.

The Washington Post. May 29, 1996, p. F2.

The Women’s Review of Books. XIII, July, 1996, p. 36.