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Good Reader, Bad Reader

“Many artists…have two souls, two beings within them. There is God and the devil in them; the mother’s blood and the father’s; the capacity for happiness and the capacity for suffering; and in just such a state of enmity and entanglement towards and within each other as were the wolf and man."

– Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf

Hermann Hesse - a reader
image credits: The New Yorker

We live with polarities within us; everything has a double, dual nature.

Hermann Hesse captures that really well through his writing. So does James Baldwin when he talks about how discovering your ‘self’ can be both a catastrophe and a miracle (not his exact words).

I often think of reading this way.

What I mean to say is that I often feel like I’m this one type of person, as a reader, and then, a moment later, I take on a different, and sometimes wholly opposite, form.

The ‘good reader’ in me approaches all that she reads with an open mind, engages critically with the text, and really seeks to understand the un-written beyond the words.

The ‘bad reader’ in me doesn’t care for the underlying nuances and deeper layers of meaning and perspectives. All she cares about is mindlessly consuming one page after another, for one too many reasons. 

At times, the ‘bad reader’ DOES NOT EVEN READ. Even the negative has its own duality.

But, these polarities live IN us.

What we have to decide is how we connect both ends. Maybe even turn them into a thing that’s acceptable, and, eventually, beautiful.

I read in books all the time that coursing through us and the world are beliefs about ‘what is’ and ‘what could be’ – like Haruki Murakami’s “mediocre realists” and “mediocre dreamers” (from his novel ‘A Wild Sheep Chase’).

Good Reader Bad Reader - Haruki Murakami A Wild Sheep Chase

Now what heals and what damages can only be known through recognition.

Life, in Walt Whitman’s words, encompasses…

“…sunny expanses and sky-reaching heights…” as much as “…bare spots and darknesses…”

You can’t be any one WITHOUT the other.


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