Last year, I wrote about absorbing books into your bloodstream: a different way of thinking about reading and absorption. Instead of just thinking about the book as being able to absorb us readers, this blogpost was about seeing the reader as the one that absorbs the books she reads. Over the course of a lifetime one can absorb a lot of books; and this can leave a trace.
I keep lists of books I read, on Goodreads, in my planner. My visualization of the things I read – the trace that absorbing them left behind – has always been linear or chronological: a catalogue. But this week, I saw this amazing exhibition at the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt am Main, that changed my way of thinking about the absorbing trace of books a person reads throughout their life. Stephan Huber now has a permanent room in the MMK where his beautiful landscape sculptures are on display as well as – and this is what I stood gaping at for 2 hours – his “Reise durch den Überbau”. Freely translated it pictures a fictional map of his life’s journey in terms of his artistic, philosophic and literary influences. It looked phenomenal, but more than that it opened up a new, spatial way of thinking about my personal reading history, a way of keeping track of the trace that is so much more than a mere catalogue.
At different times in your life you are inspired by different things, different styles, genres, authors. Presented on this map as clusters of islands where Stephan Huber’s intellectual life’s journey went past. Seeing it all laid like that out in this map was just breathtaking. It made me realize that reading rarely happens in a vacuum: yes, the activity itself is mostly solitary, but reading one book might inspire an interest in a similar one, from the same author or the same genre. And some books make more of an impact than others, they inspire more associative reading and thus they shape your intellectual journey, your readers’ identity.
A spatial understanding of literary reading is also what inspired “The Tourist Map of Literature“, which I found when googling ‘maps of reading’ after seeing Huber’s personal map. This website allows you to see a spatial representations of groups of authors, based on the name of an author that you yourself enter into their system. The “map” that pops up shows you authors that are spatially farther or nearer the author that you typed in, showing you more or less similarity and thus providing you with insight into what you could read next.
I think it is going to inspire my own personal map of lifetime reading. To be continued…