The Alchemy of Reading

Die Alchemie des Lesens

The alchemy of reading is something truly special. The merging of worlds. Allowing the new content to penetrate the cracks in the armour of our perception, to outwit our protective mechanisms and to break into us, stirring us up, destroying and deeply moving us, beginning to swirl inside us and, if everything goes well, our inner limits have been extended just that little bit; we have become a fraction more open, have dropped one or other perception – in favour of a trace of freedom.

But how does one actually become a reader? Why do some people read while others do not?

I have a really simple theory about this, based on my own experience and many discussions with all kinds of people, and it can be summarised thus: people who do not read have not yet read their first book. This does not mean that they have never read a book, it only means that an alchemist process has not taken place. That they are still „sleepers“ who have not yet been triggered.

However, as soon as they come into contact with the correct (in this case textual) content and re-discover (similar to a chance meeting on the street with a dear friend whom you have not seen for ages) a part of their being which, although as yet unknown, still missed, a magical process begins which normally lasts a lifetime. We can simply call this „reading“. And the person who finds themselves in this process „the reader“.

In other words, without this deeply existential experience, there is no reader.

How does such an alchemistic experience arise?

It’s easy: it is the result of a matter drawn by magnetism. The right book comes into contact with the person reading the book, almost by chance… But, as is so often the case, certain preconditions can be very advantageous. It functions best when the reader possesses the following qualities: boundless curiosity, a thirst for adventure and knowledge, aesthetic needs and, above all, a demand for understanding. From this perspective, the reader is above all seeker.

For this reason this passionate reader, who greatly loves reading although being the most selective of all, is also not attached to a particular genre: irrespective of the fact that he will of course have his own preferences specific to his being, he will, with equal passion, devour a non-fiction book, a fictional book, a book on philosophy and a children’s book, similar to a music freak who takes just as much pleasure in listening to good jazz, rap, rock, world music, electronic sounds or classical music.

Oh yes, I remember my first book so well. I remember this in the same way that I remember my first love, my first kiss or my first school day at school or other things which sit deep in my memory to stay there forever. And I don’t mean the first book that I held in my hands or the first book cover which attracted my attention and not the first book that I ever read in my life literally.

No, I am talking about the book which marked the beginning of a transformation process which is still ongoing. From the book after which nothing was ever the same; from the book that inspired me in a certain way and which kindled my love of reading.

I was thirteen years old and perhaps the predisposition had been in me for a long time. The seeds had been sown a long time before in my past: whatever, my real reading „career“ began with Fjodor Michailowitsch Dostojewski’s Der Spieler. The plot of the story is not important here although it is perhaps worth mentioning that Dostojewski’s books deal with deep and extremely lively psychological novels, which profoundly describe the abysses of the human soul and the motivation of human behaviour. And Der Spieler was the same.

You could say that some things fell into place for me; a need I had was satisfied at exactly the right moment in exactly the right way. Today you would say that a resonance between different worlds took place. Later, I often experienced this profound influence that a book can have on the life of a person. I will write about many of these books…

And it is correct: in the case of such a „reader“, all the classical addiction symptoms appear. A profound biochemical reaction is triggered and now he constantly hunts for this certain something. However, in this case the addictive substance is the craving for understanding and meaning

Some books will have an effect and inspire you your entire life, regardless of how often you read them. And some are meteorites, which fundamentally and uncompromisingly restructure our inner tectonic situation but „only“ once, dependent on time and state of mind.

And totally in keeping with what I have said above, this time I would like to recommend a book which was only recently published and which really made me think. It is Wer hat dir gesagt, dass du nackt bist, Adam? from Michael Köhlmeier and Konrad Paul Liessmann. As the subtitle says, this book is about „mythological-philosophical temptations“.

It is an interplay of literary renarrations of exciting fairy tales and myths (Michael Köhlmeier) and a corresponding philosophical discourse (Konrad Paul Liessmann), which deals with the main issues of the respective story. In so doing, he always takes account of the details of the material to be examined but the great thing is that he also examines aspects relating to society, with its current political-social demands, in his philosophical deliberations.

The book deals with twelve essential issues which are worth thinking about: curiosity, work, violence, revenge, lust, secret, I, beauty, mastery, power, boundaries, fate. Because the book affected me so much, it would almost be unfair to highlight a particular aspect. But I would like to do so.

The chapter on violence truly shocked me (read it yourself and you will see why!) and provoked me to intensely think about this issue. And for this I would like to thank the authors.

Thanks for your attention – we will read from each other!


Image Title Author License
Die Alchemie des Lesens Die Alchemie des Lesens Bianca Traxler CC BY-SA 4.0