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the Complete Review
the complete review - literary

Reading is Walking

Gonçalo M. Tavares

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To purchase Reading is Walking

Title: Reading is Walking
Author: Gonçalo M. Tavares
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2006-2019 (Eng. 2019)
Length: 422 pages
Original in: Portuguese
Availability: Reading is Walking - US
Reading is Walking - UK
Reading is Walking - Canada
Enciclopedia - Italia
Enciclopedia - España
  • The Encyclopedia Series
  • Translated and with a Foreword by Rhett McNeil
  • Portuguese titles:
    • Breves Notas sobre a Ciência (2006)
    • Breves Notas sobre o Medo (2007)
    • Breves notas sobre as Ligações (2009)
    • Breves notas sobre a Música (2015)
    • Breves notas sobre a literatura-Bloom (2019)

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Our Assessment:

B : uneven but worthwhile

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
El Cultural . 16/3/2018 Ascensión Rivas

  From the Reviews:
  • "La obra, en ocasiones críptica y carente de actitud narrativa, es un nuevo prototipo de la original forma que tiene Gonçalo M. Tavares de reflejar el mundo. Y solo es apta para valientes." - Ascensión Rivas, El Cultural

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Reading is Walking collects five volumes of Gonçalo M. Tavares' Encyclopedia-series, originally published between 2006 and 2019: 'Brief Notes on Science', 'Brief Notes on Fear', 'Brief Notes on Connections (Llansol, Molder and Zambrano)', 'Brief Notes on Music', and 'Brief Notes on Bloom-Literature'.
       As translator Rhett McNeil explains in his Foreword, all of the books Tavares has published -- some 40-odd volumes -- are marked "Notebook of Gonçalo M. Tavares" and numbered; these are notebooks 19, 22, 26, 37, and 39. McNeil suggests that the first four collected here are: "poetic meditations on a subject. Philosophical poetry. Or the other way around" -- with the final one looking like: "an idiosyncratic dictionary". It's not just the final one in which the approach is distinct, however; each one is in some way tailored to the subject matter.
       The layout of the text already suggests the author is prodding readers to a different way of looking: instead of aligning the text with the top of the page, Tavares (generally) presents it bottoms-up; if there is white space, it is on the top of the page. This is particularly pronounced in the opening book, 'Brief Notes on Science', where the notes are, indeed, mostly very brief -- many just two or three lines, along with a bold-face heading. leaving a great blank of space atop them.
       In 'Brief Notes on Science' Tavares' understanding of science is a broad and somewhat romanticized one ("the perfect scientist is also a gardener: he believes that beauty is knowledge"); his observations and reflections tend towards the philosophical-abstract more than the substantial -- straying rather far in places, as when he offers:

A Hypothesis

     Joy is a catalyst for a scientific experiment; sadness, an inhibitor.
     Sadness restricts; how can a sad man discover something ?
     Only those who are happy take risks.
     Sadness is anti-scientific.
       While this is a bit far-fetched, Tavares' musings here are most agreeable when they don't focus on actual/traditional scientific practice, but rather wonder, for example: "Is poetry not science ?" On the other hand, some attempts to get at scientific method will drive any practitioner nuts, such as the claim that:
Science and Democracy

     Science is a democracy in which each person counts as a vote. But it isn't the entire population that votes, it's only scientists, the investigators.
     The victorious theory, as is the case in this day and age, would be called Truth.
     This is how something is proven in science.
       No, it's not.
       But he does get some things right -- unsurprisingly, specifically, when it comes to language, such as in considering metaphor (versus 'logical language'), including some nice riffs on understanding the use of the appropriate tools depending on the task at hand.
       And there are more general propositions that are intriguing, such as:

     Language utilizes science to achieve the illusion of Truth, just as language utilizes art to achieve the illusion of a certain sort of Beauty.
       Or also:
     All our science agrees upon the presupposition that reality does not lie.
     It's an unproved presupposition.
     And what if reality lies to us ? Is it dissembling ? Is it dramatizing ?
       But there isn't Wittgensteinian rigor to all this (such as is needed with this definitional-linguistic conundrum), and Tavares undermines some of this more interesting speculation with overbroad (and unexplored) claims, such as that: "Science is slow because phenomena lie a lot".
       In 'Brief Notes on Fear' Tavares is on firmer ground, the pieces generally slightly longer, the explorations more narrative -- to good effect, as in a beautiful look at 'The Correct Moral Philosophy', which begins:
     You await the correct moral philosophy the way a lover awaits his beloved in a train station. But the train is running late and you start to get nervous.
       Or a piece such as:
Calm Down !

     Even if you descend to a place in which you can no longer see the clarity of the surface, don't worry too much, because the surface of the world -- it too -- will be dark in just a few hours (night is drawing near).
       'Brief Notes on Connections (Llansol, Molder and Zambrano)' is very much in dialogue with the: "three writers whose work demands from us a response, a parallel movement, a dislocation", María Zambrano, Maria Filomena Molder, and Maria Gabriela Llansol. It includes actual dialogue. the juxtaposition of quotes by these writers, as well as, appropriately in this book of engagement with others' writings, some fine reflections on the act of reading itself. So, for example, Tavares sees:
     Writing as a translation of reading. A translation that is not only incorrect, wrong; more than this, disastrous. I write in an attempt to translate what I have read between two identical languages, but I fail, and thus creativity; invention as an obvious failure, not of repetition but in the attempt to pass something from one side to another.
     No place, no country, nowhere is further away than the page I am reading. The page that is twenty centimeters away from my eyes is, ultimately, a much greater distance, depending on my will to perceive it, that is: to perambulate.
       'Brief Notes on Music' then tackles this other art form, with a focus also on this different perception -- hearing. Here, too, Tavares, has some nice ideas -- notably:
     The human ear is made to hear music, and it isn't by chance that its internal structure isn't a straight line, much to the contrary: it is curved and counter-curved, counter-curved and curved.
     And, in the labyrinth, this strange thing occurs: moving forward is often the same as moving backwards.
     I am in a labyrinth.
       Interestingly, Tavares' pieces in these 'Brief Notes' are not nearly as concise as those on science and fear were; he explains more -- and sometimes strains with those explanation. It's debatable, for example, that: "listening is a choice, it is a decision, not a passive occurrence", and that: "Ninety percent of what we hear is, therefore, the result of a pragmatic decision: I want to hear this". I would argue that ninety percent or more of what we hear is beyond our control; one of the reasons I am not an avid (classical) concert-goer is because, aside from what I want to hear -- the musical programme -- I find it so hard to tune out the incidental noise all about emanating from the surrounding audience. It is very difficult to hear only what you want to hear.
       The final book, 'Brief Notes on Bloom-Literature', comes with both a descriptive sub-title -- "Technical-Literary Dictionary Manifesto of the Bloom Books" -- and a sub-sub-title -- "One of the many (definitive) ways to make literature". It is indeed presented in dictionary-form -- not too exhaustive (not even every letter in the alphabet is covered), but with many letters having several entries.
       It's a neat, compact literary vision -- and a useful gloss on 'Bloom-literature'-writing Tavares' own work. The features of Bloom-literature are intriguing -- though some maybe go a bit far: requiring all female Bloom characters to be named 'Maria' and all male ones 'John' (adding numbers to differentiate between all the Marias and Johns ...) is probably not an innovation that should catch on. But the call to insist on clarity at the smallest level -- don't use obscure words -- coupled with obscurity on the next level -- sentences should be demanding -- is more interesting -- i.e.:
Every word that individually requires investigation should be eliminated.

Every sentence that does not require investigation should also be eliminated.
       The dismissal of the all-too-familiar is to the point:
A predictable literary text is not a literary text. It's a tourist's guidebook.
       And who wouldn't be drawn to by Bloom-literature if indeed it's true that:
the Bloom-writer writes each sentence as if it were the last sentence that the reader will read. The reader will die at the end of this sentence: this is the way the writer should think.
       It is great to have these five 'Brief Notes'-volumes collected in Reading is Walking, but it is a bit of a shame that they were not made available in separate small volumes -- as they were originally published. There is some unity here, but they really should be treated distinctly; I'd go so far as to suggest that they are so much better appreciated individually that readers should take a break between each of the books and fill that time with other reading matter; each of these deserves to be considered on its own -- and probably benefits from that: read one after the other one is too tempted to look for overlap and continuity (which there is just enough of to throw you off ...).
       The collection is uneven. The longest book (page- and piece-wise) is 'Brief Notes on Science', which is also the weakest -- even as, in sum, it offers as much that is successful as most of the others; there's just a lot here too that is flawed. 'Brief Notes on Connections (Llansol, Molder and Zambrano)' does not require familiarity with the work of the three Marias -- though that does enhance appreciation of what Tavares does here considerably -- and is an interesting engagement with reading (specific -- these three authors' work -- and general), but it's the final book, 'Brief Notes on Bloom-Literature' that is both the most rewarding and satisfying (and deserves to be published as a handy little pamphlet all its own).
       Reading is Walking is a nice brimming-over volume -- hit and miss, in part, but always intriguing.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 February 2020

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Reading is Walking: Reviews: Gonçalo M. Tavares: Other books by Gonçalo M. Tavares under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Portuguese author Gonçalo M. Tavares was born in 1970.

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