Tandem Reading

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I’m a huge fan of tandem reading: reading two books at a time, one of which is usually a novel, the other of which is usually a book of stories, essays, poems, fragments or lyric randomness. I find the dialogue between the two books can be quite illuminating. How one chooses which books to pair depends on deliberate and unconscious motivations, external circumstances and inner strife.

Last month, I read The End Of The Affair by Graham Greene while reading Eros: The Bittersweet by Anne Carson. This pairing is admittedly a pretty obvious one: a man wants to explore the ramifications of love, both in fictional and philosophical renderings. That man, tragicomically enough was me.

But while I devoured Greene’s novel in two or three days, Carson’s book-length essay about the Greek conception of Eros and human perception took me almost a month to finish. While I lived our her thesis almost unconsciously in Greene’s novel, I had no need to think critically about the character’s motivations because they were nearly flush with my own.

It was only when I read Greene’s thesis expressed philosophically in Carson’s book that I began to question my own beliefs (as well as Greene’s character’s beliefs). Although she didn’t reference Greene specifically, her varied inquiries into love  and desire could just as well have been dissections of his character’s motivations and madnesses.

What Carson did provide, fundamentally, was a definition of desire that all novels can be judged by: “All human desire is poised on an axis of paradox, absence and presence its poles, love and hate its motive energies.”

(For more reasons to read Carson’s Eros: this awesome appreciation.)

Anyway, tandem reading provides many such textual mirrors and prisms. I highly recommend it.

Currently I am tandem reading Samuel Delany’s Stars In My Pockets Like Grains Of Sand (a bizarre, densely-detailed science fiction novel that predicted the internet, among other things) and Sens-Plastique by the Mauritian author Malcolm de Chazal (a six hundred page book of surrealistic aphorism and observations about colors, nature, sexuality, space and time that can be dipped into at random.)

The upshot of this matching is that my eyes are twitching more than before and I’m seeing hybrid colors in my dreams.


Michael Berger is a barely-published writer and book-seller living in San Francisco. He is one of the founding Corsairs of the Iron Garters Bike Club and is currently pursuing a degree in applied pataphysics. He sometimes eats oatmeal for dinner. More from this author →