Of Time and Readers
with David Redd
This may be the first instance in which we have published correspondence in its entirety. We hope it will spark a discussion that we can feature in future issues.
Belated thanks for your comments in BW on “Bests.”
In recent years science fiction fanzines have taken to discussing the entire shortlist for the Hugo best-of-year awards, and yes, I too feel that “what fascinates me is less the books than the discussion itself.” Good point. Is this feeling a sign of my reading experience, or of my interests shifting with age?
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Thank you for your kind words. And you raise a very interesting question!
I now realize I’ve sometimes wondered much the same thing as you, but I never formulated the matter so clearly and succinctly. I’ll add the letter to issue 435 and hope it stimulates some discussion. I’m very curious what the responses might be.
* * *
I think my short answer is: When I was younger, discussions would not have meant very much to me. I had not yet read as much as those who were doing the discussing, and I would not always have known what they were talking about.
But now I know more or less what to expect, especially in the reviews we publish, such as those of Danielle L. Parker and Bertil Falk as well as many others. What interests me is what they think and how they look at the works they review.
In my own reviews, which are relatively rare, I try to tell prospective readers what they need to know, but I also tell them what I think about it. I’m trying to be provocative; I would be delighted if readers wrote and told me how they see things differently, and why.
The long answer is that Mallarmé was right:
La chair est triste, hélas! et j’ai lu tous les livres.
The flesh is sad, alas! And I have read all the books.
— Stéphane Mallarmé, Brise marine (1866)
The poem itself tells of poetic creation as a flight beyond the everyday world, as an experiment that sometimes succeeds and sometimes fails.
The opening line also points to creation — and, by extension, interpretation — as a shortcut. We can’t literally read everything, and we have only so much time. Anyway, what would be the point? What are we going to do with it?
Mallarmé built a superstructure of poetry on what he had read. Others may write formal reviews or engage in discussion. I see both processes as adventures in reflection and creative thought. And that, it seems to me, is our best use of time.