On Beauty in the Face and Hands of a Reader

By Philomene Long

Fred Dewey, essayist and Director of
Beyond Baroque in Venice, California.

Photo: Philomene Long

The experience of watching someone read a book, in my mind, is one of the most beautiful things in the world. But why? Physically, the physiology of it suggests all the factors in enlightenment. I wrote these down and every one of them is visible in the face and hands of a reader: mindfulness, investigation, energy, rapture, tranquility, concentration, and equanimity.

The life of imagination is to live at the heart of oneself and others. I can see this, the image nation of our culture, the city of imagination, in the face and hands of a reader, in the act of picking up books, holding them, carrying them, taking them out of pockets, sitting, one person handing a book to another. Reading involves the hands. The hands become the tools of enlightenment.

The image, alone, of someone with their head in a book, a book they are holding in their hands, is the image of enlightened mind and enlightened body. Both are equanimous — quiet feeling / complete feeling — arising in the term "gentle reader." Gentility arises while one reads, seen reading by others—the back straight or bent, and holding the book at a distance the hand gently touching a phrase or gripping it, turning pages, a bear hug, devouring.The quiet act of reading is not only freedom of mind embodied — required for a democracy — it is free, beyond all categories of age, economics, gender, degrees. It is both selfless and self-contained; you're entering an author, the whole world, another time and place. Some might see it as selfish, but at its core it is all-inclusive. It is the gentle and tumultuous flow of images that build and deepen the mind, giving birth to the individual. It is not by chance that, at the moment of the formation of our constitution, libraries were being created everywhere. Free books, for free. The spread of democracy is the spread of reading and the spread of freedom. It is the spread of mindfulness.

Sor Juana Inez (The tenth Muse of Mexico) walking the streets of Los Angeles, Bashos, Borges, Lorcas, Dickinsons, Yeatses... Los Angelinos all over the city picking up, reading a book, reading a poem — embodying thoughtful spirits, revealed by radiant faces, even if just a line, all in motion. Living with lines of poems moving through us — giving each other appropriate time... We ask: "and what line are you living with today?" Not the one at the supermarket or the insurance company any more, and perhaps even there!

The image of someone reading is contagious. It resonates and deepens beneath the barrage of media and events. It cannot be stopped. It has the power to create readers everywhere — a city with its citizens going through their dailyness with immortal words and phrases running through, stirring their minds and faces to life. Perhaps, will you, gentle reader, consider this line of mine:

There is one book, one writer
And the reader, the writer, the book
Are one

© 2006 - Philomene Long

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