Issue 13, Poco Bear Letter #3: On Not Reading

The editors of Pseudo Mag have decided that we don’t talk to each other enough, even though we meet every day and talk all the time. Through the ‘Poco Bear Letters’ column, one of us will write to the other in every issue and document the conversation on the internet as millenial postmodernity demands.

To One Poco Bear,
Who once said to me, “Of course you can write it., like, your thing.”

This feels hella weird. Probably because these letters have got a new meaning since we started friending and working from two different cities.

My reading life since I met you has been so influenced by you that i honestly don’t know what shape it will take once it endures the distance. I am curious to see what choices we make with regards to our books and writers. Some will remain mutual of course, some will be exchanged and shared, i am most looking forward to the new people we bring to the table for each other. One thing I’ve noticed about our reading partnership is that neither of us take each other’s recommendations lightly. If either says, “Mate, you gon love this one, it’s exquisite”, never has the other not endeavoured to read it. She will take some time perhaps and maybe not like it after the first chapter, but the recommendation will be taken to heart. This is such a flourishing way to honour someone. I adore it. It feels like a witchly ritual as one book gets read by all four of us, one by one, lighting four candles. I can imagine a dark room with four literal lit candles, the four of us reading books, creating scholarly shadows on the walls, and silently passing and handing one another the books after they’ve been read to be read by the other. It doesn’t feel like I’ve read a book anymore unless one of you guys reads it too. It feels like a twisted version of Berkeley’s argument. “If I cannot discuss the book I just read with my best friends, have I really read it?”

Reading can be a struggle though sometimes, well, a lot of the times. I don’t feel like it. I don’t feel into it or upto it. I just feel like rewatching the same T.V shows and watching Zendaya interviews on YouTube. I used to feel bad about it before. “Wtf, you claim to be the editor of a magazine, you want to study literature, how can you not be into reading? Isn’t this your thing? Like, this is the only thing you are remotely good at, so you better be good at it, you lazy fuck!” That’s what my brain used to say to me when that happened. But now I have grown up and told my brain to grow the fuck up, and i just learned myself a new definition of reading. I realized I am reading all the time, even when i’m not, even when I don’t have a book in my hand or words in front of me, i’m reading. It’s like in Ali Smith’s Autumn :

Hello, he said. What you reading?
Elisabeth showed him her empty hands.
Always be reading something, he said. Even when we’re not physically reading. How else will we read the world? Think of it as a constant.
A constant what? Elisabeth said.
A constant constancy, Daniel said.

I realized it was time to shun the one-dimensional description of what it means to be reading and adopt a new approach towards the concept. We are reading things all the time. Turns out, when you’re human, it is impossible to stop reading. Our senses constantly pour into us involuntary information about our world and our brain sometimes also conjures up information that is outside of our world, and so it turns out we have very little control over what we are reading.

Aren’t people who meditate simply trying to not read? They are trying to stop the sensory overdrive of information and ideas that flows in constantly, they are trying to gain some amount of control over that natural state of constant reading.

I started doing the exact opposite when I learned the new definition. I started paying attention. I focussed more on the experiences and the aspects I wanted to read more and zoned out or paid less attention to things I didn’t want to read. I started noticing things that I had missed, I started valuing things that I had overlooked. I started to look for in the world what I look for in a book – insight, human-y nuances, language-y witchcraft, perspective, answers, ideas. I realized that the book is just a textual version of the world as seen by one person, and that when I tried to read the world I was trying to do what that one person did – form my own worded version of the world. That’s when lit theory started faintly making sense to me. The horizon, the point of contact, the abstract time-wimey fuckin wibley-wobbley relationship between the writer, reader and the text.

We are the reader AND the writer AND the fucking text, all at the same fuckin time.

  1. We are constantly reading.
  2. What are we reading? Our perception and interpretation of the world (the text)
  3. We are constantly writing and rewriting our perceptions and interpretations of the world to be read by us.

We are the author that we can’t escape, we are the author that never dies, or we are the author that keeps killing herself and then resurrecting in a Nolan-y, The Prestige-y way.


Those are too many realizations. Am I on the right track? Please give opinions and feedback.

I like knowing that there are more ways to be a reader than to be reading a book. Books are phenomenal, as Umberto Eco says in ‘This is not the end of the book;’ “The book is like the spoon: once invented, it cannot be bettered.” But the book has ended up becoming a capitalist commodity, and I’d like to believe that one’s identity as a reader is not contained in whether they have access to books, that being a reader is an all-inclusive, open-to-interpretation identity, that the act of reading is an unconditional choice and not just a hobby or a passion that can develop only with the availability of books.

And maybe the better way to go about this is by promoting methods of free access to books,  by celebrating libraries and finding and developing more ways to increase the accessibility of books.

But the glamour around being a “booknerd”  or “well-read” always seems to have a bit of a micro-aggressive Brahmanical undertone in the Indian context.

So when I came across Ali Smith’s quote in ‘Autumn’ it intrigued me hella, and so did Italo Calvino’s character in ‘If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller’ :

‘Me? I don’t read books!’ Irnerio says.
‘What do you read then?’
‘Nothing. I’ve become so accustomed to not reading that I don’t even read what appears before my eyes. It’s not that easy: they teach us to read as children, and for the rest of our lives we remain slaves of all the written stuff they fling in front of us. I may have had to make some effort myself, at first, to learn not to read, but now it comes quite naturally to me. The secret is not refusing to look at written words. On the contrary, you must look at them, intensely, until they disappear.’

Later Irnerio is asked ‘Then would you mind telling me why you come to the university?’

Irnerio replies, ‘Why shouldn’t I? There are people going and coming, you meet, you talk. That’s the reason I come here; I don’t know about the others.’

FullSizeRenderAgain, it makes for a cute circle of closure that two of the books i quoted and referred to in this letter I borrowed from you. Happy things make me think of sad things. It just crossed my mind how people who are suicidal just want to not read anymore, they want to put an end to the constant reading of the matter that is troubling them. 

I hope everyone always feels like reading something if not a book. I wish the wish to read for everyone in this world. What can be more telling of life and newness than the eager want to read.

Your very own witch,
Another Poco Bear


Written by Kimaya Kulkarni. Illustration made by Mavni at a sleepover in 2014.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s