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This article is taken from PN Review 146, Volume 28 Number 6, July - August 2002.

Forty-nine words for Snow William Germano

Having no choice, the American transcendentalist Margaret Fuller accepted the universe. Whenever I pick up a published book, I think I know how she felt. I can choose how to read a book in the library but I can't rewrite it, except as a thought experiment. Some other editor has already tackled it all, the manuscript, the author, the design department, the sales team, the marketing squad, and the rest of an editor's challenges. The result of all that work is the package I hold in my hand. But when I read a manuscript, all the comforting givens about form and content disappear. An unpublished manuscript - even a completed one - is a field of possibility.

Reading manuscripts, student papers, or even one's own drafts is about what might be, the pleasure of the sketch versus the authority of the finished canvas. (Who doesn't know the disappointment of reading what counts as one's final version?) Maybe it's the lure of the incomplete, but lately I've been thinking about what we don't know, or cannot say, about reading. We do it every day, for more hours than is probably good for us, yet who has the language to describe it in all its variety? Like thrushes' songs or varieties of Bordeaux, ways of reading could seem pretty much alike. One could even think that reading is a simple thing. But one would be wrong. Reading has stories to tell.

I Confess

In ...

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