Reading as Hiking

I read nonfiction almost exclusively. If you look at my reading list right now you'll see a history of Google, a history of New Zealand, and a history of Western religious thought. And I've been thinking about my one-track approach to reading lately, and started viewing it like hiking. Reading nonfiction is like walking along a flat, wide sidewalk. Each sentence is a cement square that lines up perfectly with the one before—leading me comfortably down a path. There's nothing wrong with this, I can walk for miles on sidewalks and get where I want to go.

A couple nights ago I sat down with a small book of surrealist poetry and had a completely different experience. I could feel muscles in my brain working that hadn't been used for a long time. Instead of walking along my comfortable sidewalk I was suddenly trekking through the backwoods. The path was twisted, rough, and filled with gaps I had to navigate. Sometimes the path was barely visible, but the extra work of joining jarring associations was fun. This space for interpretation is one of the reasons I like to read Zen koans. Surreal poetry and koans have a certain spark I haven't found in other writing and I think it's because the path through the text to meaning isn't clearly marked.

So this post is a reminder to myself that I should vary my literary treks. I'm not going to find soluble fish in a history of Google, and I need to remember that words can be magical as well as useful.