However I would tell it, my 'reading biography' would lead only to the point where reading fell into itself like a waterfall: where I met books whose surface lacked the left-right and top-down direction that drew the eye across the pages. It was not that my eyes stopped scanning, or that the pages stopped turning, but rather that reading was in some vital sense suspended - that meaning, as it would be born from the page, was turned into a kind of wandering, across the same pages that drew my eyes across them.
Reading and non-reading, both at once - I read, now, in response to what fascinated me in the interval into which reading, meaning seemed to plunge. It was books in which I'd find that same plunging that I sought - books as they were ringed around a waterfall, the fall of reading into itself. A reading-adventure that has continued to this day, with sudden openings - the discovery of the work of an author new to me (Ford, McCarthy) and blockages - say, my recent reading of Handke's Crossing the Sierra de Gredos, about which I wholly concur with Steve, or the bloated circus-tent of Sebald's Austerlitz: books gone wrong somehow - in each case, an author parodies himself; he has become grand, indulged, a prominent man of letters writing his magnum opus ... What boredom! Bernhard, say always had the sense never to fall into that trap, and Blanchot never relaxed his vigilance. And think of Duras, writing all the way up to death ...
Still, there is the surprise that I would never involve myself in the clash between what is called literary and what is called genre fiction (I was always a reader of science fiction) - or feel a proud vindication, seeing Ballard revered, or Dick; or Crowley receiving his due, or Wolfe (the early Wolfe, up to 1983 or so ...) But also a kind of reassurance - a reading-confidence that allows me to pick up and put down a book forever whose first page I find disagreeable. Do I know what I want? I know, rather what I don't want and can happily lead myself by my own hand past the walls of books in a bookshop.
Still, there is no question but that I should have abandoned the Handke earlier - and have given up Austerlitz almost at once. Misplaced faith - an author can go wrong, can take a wrong turn, and the worst one is into the magnum opus, the massive book, the authoratitive book, that would draw all the strands of an authorship together. Laughter: Mishima was right to make his magnum opus, if that was what it was, from four separate novels; or perhaps he'd learnt his lesson from Kyoto's House, as I understand that book from his biographer's accounts.
Many of my admired authors have a small pallette of concerns, of moods, of characterisation, of plot. A small palette, painting dark grey on black - but that is enough, for it is in the wearing away of plot, of character, in the exacerbation of mood that I find I can discover that kind of non-reading, the inward waterfall that draws me to its edge.
Bergman complained Tarkovsky came to make Tarkovsky films - but then the same can be said of Bergman, whose characters often have the same surname and run uneasily into one another. Bernhard writes Bernhard books, and Duras, and Blanchot ... they may seem to concentrate themselves into an idiom, making themselves dense, but it is rather a wearing away that they accomplish and that is their accomplishment: idioms worn out, idioms stretched finely over nothing.
Duras characters, say, weep too much; Bernhard's intellectuals are all exactly the same, and write the same way; and with Blanchot - like Beckett - the sense that the books, lined up, constitute one long line of research, an exercise - but in a kind of authorial disappearance. To say, 'I'm not here'; to let writing be present, to present itself; to let language thicken and congeal there where plot and characterisation seem to wear themselves away to nothing.
A reader's biography. Regret as I read Kundera's The Curtain, and know the books he commends are too rich for my tastes; they show too much, these epics, these big narratives. I want the door of fiction to open only a chink; I do not want a fictional world, but only a portion thereof. Green's Concluding, say. Echinoz's Ravel. I don't think much of my taste, which seems to have become obsessional. How did I lead myself into this dead end?, I ask myself. How did I come up against this closed door? But then I am glad for my obsessive's confidence - that a bookshop, a library, is something I can navigate, that I have a faculty of judgement by which I can claim or dismiss a book, even it sometimes goes awry.
What am I looking for as I read?, I ask myself. The opposite of a mirror. A surface that refuses me. A page written as though under glass. Can I read? Am I reading? But sentences, nevertheless, that draw me with them - a kind of suspense even in the absence of intrigue. A suspended reading - not boredom, but - what? A wandering of reading in itself. A kind of plunge, Niagra's horseshoe of water plunging, roaring.