The Problem of Reading

It was an edition of Cabinet magazine that referred to a book called The Problem of Reading by artist and photographer Moyra Davey. Her book Long Life Cool White was already a much-thumbed book of photographs in my library. Cabinet’s description intrigued further but they were sold out and suggested an email to Moyra Davey. How about this for a compelling description:

What is the most gratifying form of reading? Is it the reading of total absorption we may remember from childhood, done face down on the bed “in the fading light behind closed doors”? Or is it the kind that “imposes a state of loss, discomforts, unsettles, brings to a crisis [the reader’s] relation to language,” the reading done with “pen & notebook,” the more demanding pleasure that implies a connection to writing and to creative work? Davey’s essay mediates the question “How should we read?” through writings on reading by over a dozen authors from Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Roland Barthes, and Virginia Woolf quoted above, to Georges Perec, Franz Kafka, Italo Calvino, Walter Benjamin, and Stephen King.

Moyra replied to say “I’m sorry. It’s out of print.” A search revealed nothing on any of the book sites and EBay had never sold a copy. Six months later an email from Moyra dropped into my mailbox entitled “Copies Found.”

A New York gallery Murray Guy recently held an exhibition of Moyra’s photography. For the exhibition they are now selling both books, though I am sure stocks of The Problem of Reading are limited.Was it worth the frustration and anticipation? A definite yes; forty seven pages of photographs and writing about books and reading to savour and reread. A slim bedside book.

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