I read a lot. I always have, but in those two years I gorged myself on books with a voluptuous, almost erotic gluttony. I would go to the local library and take out as many as I could, and then lock myself in the bedsit and read solidly for a week. I went for old books, the older the better–Tolstoy, Poe, Jacobean tragedies, a dusty translation of Laclos–so that when I finally resurfaced, blinking and dazzled, it took me days to stop thinking in their cool, polished, crystalline rhythms.
I don't see the use of reading the same thing over and over again,' said Phillip. 'That's only a laborious form of idleness.'But are you under the impression that you have so great a mind that you can understand the most profound writer at a first reading?'I don't want to understand him, I'm not a critic. I'm not interested in him for his sake but for mine.'Why do you read then?'Partly for pleasure, because it's a habit and I'm just as uncomfortable if I don't read as if I don't smoke, and partly to know myself. When I read a book I seem to read it with my eyes only, but now and then I come across a passage, perhaps only a phrase, which has a meaning for me, and it becomes part of me; I've got out of the book all that's any use to me and I can't get anythning more if I read it a dozen times. ...
My mother used to read to me every night when I was little. We got through most of the major fantasy books of that time. The Narnia books by C.S. Lewis were my favorites and, later, Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. I started making dolls to fill in the gaps of the dolls I had. Obviously we couldn't buy centaurs and fauns and elves and fairies, so I made them to play with the normal dolls I had. I must have been about six years old when I started making fantasy dolls.
So -- I confess I have been a rake at reading. I have read those things which I ought not to have read, and I have not read those things which I ought to have read, and there is no health in me -- if by health you mean an inclusive and coherent knowledge of any body of great literature. I can only protest, like all rakes in their shameful senescence, that I have had a good time.
I haven't read much, but it still seems impossible to me that anyone, no matter how much he read, could've read every book in the world. There must be so many of them, and I don't mean every single book, good and bad, just the good ones. There must be stacks of them! Enough that you could spend twenty-four hours a day reading! And that's not to mention the bad ones, since there must be more bad ones than good ones, and at least a few of those, like anything, must be good and worth reading.
I prefer the company of books. When I'm reading, I'm never alone, I have a conversation with the book. It can be very intimate. Perhaps you know this feeling yourself? The sense that you're having an intellectual exchange with the author, following his or her train thought and you accompany each other for weeks on end.
Anyhow, I had found something out about an unknown privation, and I realized how a general love or craving, before it is explicit or before it sees its object, manifests itself as boredom or some other kind of suffering. And what did I think of myself in relation to the great occasions, the more sizable being of these books? Why, I saw them, first of all. So suppose I wasn't created to read a great declaration, or to boss a palatinate, or send off a message to Avignon, and so on, I could see, so there nevertheless was a share for me in all that had happened. How much of a share? Why, I knew there were things that would never, because they could never, come of my reading. But this knowledge was not so different from the remote but ever-present death that sits in the corner of the loving bedroom; though it doesn't budge from the corner, you wouldn't stop your loving. Then neither would I stop my reading. I sat and read. I had no eye, ear, or interest for anything else--that is, for usual, second-order, oatmeal, mere-phenomenal, snarled-shoelace-carfare-laundry-ticket plainness, unspecified dismalness, unknown captivities; the life of despair-harness or the life of organization-habits which is meant to supplant accidents with calm abiding. Well, now, who can really expect the daily facts to go, toil or prisons to go, oatmeal and laundry tickets and the rest, and insist that all moments be raised to the greatest importance, demand that everyone breathe the pointy, star-furnished air at its highest difficulty, abolish all brick, vaultlike rooms, all dreariness, and live like prophets or gods? Why, everybody knows this triumphant life can only be periodic. So there's a schism about it, some saying only this triumphant life is real and others that only the daily facts are. For me there was no debate, and I made speed into the former.
I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in my life. And I am horribly limited.
I was very fond of strange stories when I was a child. In my village-school days, I used to buy stealthily popular novels and historical recitals. Fearing that my father and my teacher might punish me for this and rob me of these treasures, I carefully hid them in secret places where I could enjoy them unmolested. As I grew older, my love for strange stories became even stronger, and I learned of things stranger than what I had read in my childhood. When I was in my thirties, my memory was full of these stories accumulated through years of eager seeking. l have always admired such writers of the T'ang Dynasty as Tuan Ch'eng-shih [author of the Yu-yang tsa-tsu] and Niu Sheng [author of the Hsuan-kuai lu]. Who wrote short stories so excellent in portrayal of men and description of things. I often had the ambition to write a book (of stories) which might be compared with theirs. But I was too lazy to write, and as my laziness persisted, I gradually forgot most of the stories which I had learned. Now only these few stories, less than a score, have survived and have so successfully battled against my laziness that they are at last written down. Hence this Book of Monsters. I have sometimes laughingly said to myself that it is not I who have found these ghosts and monsters, but they, the monstrosities themselves, which have found me! ... Although my book is called a book or monsters, it is not confined to them: it also records the strange things of the human world and sometimes conveys a little bit of moral lesson.