ABC of Reading by Ezra Pound

Larry McMurtry recommended Pound’s ABC of Reading to me via Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen. It’s one of those books about books – a book about reading.

Reading here is a verb’s verb. It’s all action, baby! It’s listening, it’s feeling the words in your mouth. It’s about l-i-v-i-n on Planet Earth. And if it’s not fresh, try again, amigo. Stand up to your full height and sound that barbaric yawp (or don’t – Pound isn’t a Whitman guy: “There are thirty well-written pages of Whitman; [I] am now unable to find them.”).

The book itself hits a crystal clear Middle C of its own song. It requires a lot of you. Reading this book is an exercise in gold rushin’. Most of the time, you the reader find yourself hunched over and squinting, sifting for any glint of shiny hope in the form of Element 79, Au, gold. It is labor. Take your time. Be patient. When you find what you’re looking for, a reward! Exaltation!

The first half is a manifesto about what writing is, and what reading is. Pound’s purpose here is to shine a spotlight from the greats, whenever and wherever they wrote. He’s showing us what it’s like to redline the medium, and to grok greatness.

The second half is a highlight reel – from Chaucer to Whitman. He plays the clips, and then he breaks down the film – “How does this sound feel in your mouth? Listen to that rhythm baby, LISTEN.”

This food takes chewing, sure, but it’s delicious. Read what you like, sure, says Pound. But wow, listen to these cats. Keep going. Keep working on your craft. Before you know it, you’ll step back and find out that you’re a bona fide Writer. You’re godlike – you call forth something ageless and form it into the now, baby.

Select Quotes:

“I the main I don’t see that teaching can do much more than expose counterfeit work, thus gradually leading the student to the valid.”

“More writers fail from lack of character than from lack of intelligence. Technical solidity is not attained without at least some persistence.”

“The best work probably does pour forth, but it does so AFTER the use of the medium has become “second nature.”