--I've been spending my recent weekday evenings in the University of Washington's Suzzallo Graduate Library Reading Room, as I've been feeling guilty of late for being a more desultory reader than I'd like to be. Much of this is due to a change in lifestyle from my glory days of reading five books a week; I wasn't employed full-time when I was a teenager spending literally entire days in bed with a book. But even when I arrive at those couple or three leisure hours in the evening, it's just too difficult for me to really concentrate while in my home environment with the dirty dishes in the sink and the possibility of the television doing the thinking for me just a remote-control click away.

I have Jason (who, as my faithful readers may or may not know, is a UW student) to thank for tipping me off about Suzzallo after I bitched to him one morning about not having a quiet place exclusively dedicated to the humanistically sacred act of reading. Located on the north end of UW's Red Square (their version of the central campus "quad"), the college-gothic design screams anachronistic venerability. Just ascending the marble steps and entering through the tall, tall doors is enough to make one feel studious.

The reading room itself, with its vast, 65-foot arched ceilings and row upon row of tables equipped with reading lamps (similar, as a matter of fact, to that creepy boardroom in Network where Ned Beatty fanatically screams and speechifies at Peter Finch). Everyone there seems to instinctively know that the room's total silence must be maintained; the most careful and discreet unzipping of a backpack or clearing of a throat echoes loudly, transmitting any disturbance more effectively than a P.A. system.

With no distractions, it's all down to you and your book(s), and time passes quickly. It's an environment very conducive to reading one wouldn't exactly consider "light." In that silence and with no possibility of mundane distraction, I was able to intuit my way through Borges's metaphysically mind-bending, insoluble-riddle-posing Collected Fictions- a book that intermittently pushed what I'd considered my reasonably fair comprehension skills to their now feeble-seeming limits- with relative ease. Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen M. Higgins's A Short History of Philosophy? Piece o' cake at the Suzzallo Graduate Library Reading Room! The real mental benefit of taking on reading that, for whatever reason, takes you out of your comfort zone and level of ease becomes very apparent when you can devote a certain amount of your energy to it. I always emerge feeling like I've done something truly worthwhile, an all-too-rare feeling for me.

--To cut the high and heady concentration of information and ideas in the Solomon and Higgins's book, I've finally broken down and indulged that literary doyen, Oprah Winfrey, by reading her latest "classic" book club selection, Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. Now, I don't fault Jonathan Franzen one little bit for the disastrous notoriety he was granted by the "old" Oprah book club; his revealing essay "Meet Me in St. Louis" makes it apparent that perhaps Oprah is better off trotting out dead or unavailable authors for veneration rather than making sensitive and more accessible ones feel trivialized and commodified by forcing them into glossy, artificial videotaped "segments" the likes of which anyone who'd truly read and gotten The Corrections would know were bound to make the author uneasy. Although it's hard to say that the richest woman in showbiz did anything "wrong" by selecting the book and seeking to promote it in the manner to which she was accustomed, to read Franzen's very honest, detailed, and self-effacing account of the experience is to realize that he was clearly in the right.

However, I also can't really fault Oprah's taste or the very positive thing she's been trying to do for years now in the way of getting an increasingly illiterate public to read. Sure, some of her selections have been namby-pamby feel-good wastes of time, but who else could inspire legions of suburban housewives, people whose lifestyles manifest the wish to eradicate any hint of doubt or discomfort, to read "dark," "depressing" works by Franzen, Toni Morrison, or Joyce Carol Oates? And how else would I have run across a table stacked high with dirt-cheap Harper Perennial paperbacks of Marquez's sultry political fairy tale at the local Costco?

It's difficult not to notice, though, that the giant orange "O" logo of prescriptive endorsement, which was often permanently imprinted by ecstatic publishers onto a book's cover art in the pre-Franzen days, is now a sticky label that is easily peeled off and disposed of.

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