Against originality

There is after all no such thing.

There simply cannot be!

This can be proved from first principles.

Words — and therefore sentences, paragraphs, pages, books — acquire what meaning they have, termed an acceptation, by the general consensus of a language community. Words mean what we use them to mean. But we cannot use words arbitrarily, or at least not if we expect to be understood. I may call a lion a blanket but no one will understand “lion” when I say blanket; they will understand “blanket.” Such fatal slippages may occur on the lexical level (malapropisms), the syntactic level (solecisms), or the discourse level (Finnegans Wake, Dada). Originality is the enemy of comprehension. Q., as one likes to say, E. D.

But, a querulous reader might object, you are talking about innovation, not originality.  —Cliche, too, is the enemy of comprehension, this reader might point out. —Boredom is the enemy of comprehension. Titillate us, this reader might exhort, with the new, the never-before-read, the thrill of the unknown!

O hypothetical reader! So logical. So greedy.

Why not be satisfied with reiterations of what you’ve already read? Most people are, you know. Sure, it’s dressed up in fancy new duds, but it’s the same old bones and flesh underneath. Watch it dance!

Well. I concede this much: boredom is the enemy. But the stuff of story is always matter that we’ve seen before, rearranged and repainted in brighter colors. Have you never read Television Tropes & Idioms? In the truly original, in the really, actually never-seen-before, what is there for us to grasp hold of? How could we understand it? “If a lion could talk et cetera.” We should approach the rootlessly new with baby steps.

I’ve nothing against innovation, don’t misunderstand. But the fetishization of originality — “MAKE IT NEW!” — “ÉTONNEZ-MOI!” — is a disease of Modernism (note the capital M) that we need to inoculate ourselves against. It’s a recent fad, and one that we should have long since outgrown. Consider Pope:

Some to conceit alone their taste confine,
And glitt’ring thoughts struck out at ev’ry line;
Pleased with a work where nothing’s just or fit,
One glaring chaos and wild heap of wit.
Poets, like painters, thus, unskilled to trace
The naked nature and the living grace,
With gold and jewels cover every part,
And hide with ornaments their want of art.
True wit is nature to advantage dressed,
What oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed;
Something, whose truth convinced at sight we find,
That gives us back the image of our mind[.]

But true expression, like th’ unchanging sun,
Clears and improves whate’er it shines upon,
It gilds all objects, but it alters none.
Expression is the dress of thought, and still
Appears more decent as more suitable;

And but so mimic ancient wits at best,
As apes our grandsires, in their doublets dressed.
In words, as fashions, the same rule will hold,
Alike fantastic, if too new, or old;
Be not the first by whom the new are tried,
Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.


This is the rational impulse of humanism, refusing to bow to either Apollo or Dionysus, rejecting both extremes. Boredom is indeed the enemy (“We cannot blame indeed — but we may sleep”). Let us chart, then, a middle course, between the Scylla of the artist-as-divinity and the Charybdis of the artist-as-drudge; and let our craft be called Artifice (with its sails of labor filled with the winds of inspiration), and let us navigate across all the infinite seas (because all the seas are one) to another world, a new one, a better one. A little at a time.

The most glamorous fraud in the world

Everyone loves lists, making lists being one of the chief delights of mastering the arts of literacy. The best lists are capricious, free-form, and strongly believed in, like this one:

Bringing Up Baby: It’s silly and ridiculous and sidesplittingly, eye-wateringly hilarious. I’ve seen it umpteen times and it is always just as fresh and delightful as it was the first time.

Heart of Glass: Haunting and weird and pretentious as fuck but beautiful, beautiful. I had an art teacher in middle school who liked to say: “There are no boring subjects, only bored people.” Don’t be a bored person!

8 1/2: If the first ten minutes don’t have you jaw-dropped and goggle-eyed, then there’s something wrong with your soul. Perhaps it could be missing…? And that’s just ten minutes, there’s so much more!

Eclipse: I hadn’t seen this for years when I happened across it on television. I came in on it towards the end, Monica Vitti is having a little spat with someone (Alain Delon!), then she goes shopping, buys something, and walks out of the frame. The movie keep going for another ten minutes, and we never see any of the characters again, just traffic, rainwater, trees swaying in the wind—but it is mesmerizing! Pure visual poetry.

Barry Lyndon: Pure visual poetry again, but of a more epic kind, and funny too. Also desperately pathetic and heart-wrenching. It’s just as important not to take the cynical and worldly narrator too seriously as it is not to accept Barry Lyndon’s version of himself at face value.

Edward II. There’s something about all of Jarman’s films that enthralls and intrigues. It’s not the homoeroticism—although that is of course always delightful—nor even Tilda Swinton—still the most beautiful woman in the world, as everyone knows—but something deeper, closer to the bone. The enthusiasm with which he embraces anachronism and narrative discontinuity, knowing that they’re both unavoidable, really, so why not put them to artistic use? His honesty in admitting he doesn’t know the answers to the problems he confronts, and not knowing is no barrier to finding out but rather the first step. And his anger, his refreshing anger, at all the cant and deceit and hatred and futile destruction in the world-as-it-is.

Prospero’s Books. You know how sometimes a movie will have an extraordinary title sequence, wow bam boom zoowie, and then the movie proper starts and it’s shit? Prospero’s Books has an opening like that, and then it just keeps on going, and you think: He can’t keep this up, he just can’t, it’s impossible. But he does. He does.

The greatest writer in the universe (I)

Is of course Joanna Russ.

Where did I first encounter her work?

It may have been her book reviews in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in the late seventies (of the previous century, I mean; I was a teenager, I’m not that old). Certainly they have formed my view as science fiction as a literature; how much so I did not appreciate until rereading them earlier this year in The Country You Have Never Seen.

Or maybe a story I read there? “The Extraordinary Voyages of Amélie Bertrand” is a splendid pastiche of Verne, with not a sting in its tail but a caress.

Or did the essay in Delany’s The Jewel-Hinged Jaw make me go out and buy up everything of hers in print?

Because I did. It took a while, but I have every book of hers as listed in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. I am a completist for only a few writers—Russ, Davenport, Yourcenar, Crowley (John, not Aleister), Shaw, Disch, this is not an exhaustive list—but Wow! I must read them all! I must have my own copy so that I can read it again and again! This was my reaction to encountering Joanna Russ.

What prose, what intelligence, what beauty and compassion. What humanity. I like books that make me feel more intelligent than I actually am. (It’s a vice, perhaps.) Joanna Russ’s books make you feel more humane that you actually are. They’re a view—like peering through a knot-hole in a barricade—onto a larger, a wider, a better world.


A real mermaid in a real river, twenty knights on bay horses, Charles le Magne ceding to the Duke of Anjou, a bridge built on one side of the stage while on the other swarms of workmen methodically erect and demolish a miniature castle twenty-five feet high, the invasion of the north by the pagans, Eleanor the Fair brought with a train of horsemen, bridesmaids, nobles, counts, and servants to wed Louis the Pious “who never showed his white teeth in a smile” and through it all, here, there, everywhere, now cajoling, now laughing, now pointing, making faces, preternaturally active, skipping, calling on the music—the Satyr, the genius loci of the beech woods, whose gray, smooth, straight trunks surrounded the entire natural amphitheater, producing at the top a half-canopy of new leaves: limp, half-extended, like umbrellas with the skeleton showing through the early-spring substance and just the color of new lettuce.



She was a soft-spoken, dark-haired, small-boned woman, not even coming up to their shoulders, like a kind of dwarf or miniature—but that was normal for a Mediterranean Greek of nearly four millennia ago, before super-diets and hybridization from seventy colonized planets had turned humanity (so she had been told) into Scandinavian giants. The young lieutenant, who was two meters and third tall, or three heads more than herself, very handsome and ebony-skinned, said “I’m sorry, ma’am, but I cannot believe you’re the proper Trans-Temporal Agent; I think—” and he finished his thought on the floor, his head under one of her ankles and this slight young woman (or was she young? Trans-Temp did such strange things sometimes!) somehow holding him down in a position he could not get out of without hurting himself to excruciation. She let him go. She sat down on the balloon-inflated thing they provided for sitting on in these strange times, looking curiously at the super-men and super-women, and said, “I am the Agent. My name is Alyx,” and smiled. She was in a rather good humor. It still amused her to watch this whole place, the transparent columns the women wore instead of clothing, the parts of the walls that pulsated in and out and changed color, the strange floor that waved like grass, the three-dimensional vortices that kept springing to life on what would have been the ceiling if it had only stayed in one place (but it never did) and the general air of unhappy, dogged, insistent, sad restlessness. “A little bit of home,” the lieutenant had called it. He had seemed to find particular cause for nostalgia in a lime-green coil that sprang out of the floor whenever anybody dropped anything, to eat it up, but it was “not in proper order” and sometimes you had to fight it for something you wanted to keep. The people moved her a little closer to laughter. One of them leaned toward her now.

“Pardon me,” said this one effusively—it was one of the ladies—”but is that face yours? I’ve heard that Trans-Temp does all sorts of cosmetic work and I thought they might—”

“Why yes,” said Alyx, hoping against hope to be impolite. “Are those breasts yours? I can’t help noticing—”

“Not at all!” cried the lady happily. “Aren’t they wonderful? They’re Adrian’s. I mean they’re by Andrian.”

“I think that’s enough,” said the lieutenant.



And the whisper comes again, but louder this time—Shall these bones live!—and it stirs the edge of Zubeydeh’s veil where she sits brooding over the abyss. And a little, errant breeze without the power of a fingernail goes down into the valley and breathes over the dry bones, a little breeze not even as alive as the real Aunt Dunya’s voice, which now passes from wall to wall over the dead watercourse and the barren rocks. It is nothing living but only the memory of another voice, the voice of Dunyazad, Shahrazad’s sister, that mad, dead, haunted woman who could not tell stories, who could not save herself. It is the voicelessness of Dunyazad that passes like a sigh from wall to wall of the valley of dry bones and shivers faintly over the multitude of the dead. It has no Word. It has nothing to say. It whispers its crazy nonsense thoughtlessly and hopelessly to nothing at all, but where it passes, throughout the length of that still, grey place, there is the barest shiver, the faintest stir, the dimmest, most imperceptible rustling. You can barely see it. You can barely hear it. From autumn leaf to autumn leaf goes the message: something, nothing, everything. Something is coming out of nothing. For the first time, something will be created out of nothing. There is not a drop of water, not a blade of grass, not a single word.

But they move.

And they rise.

Nightstand I

Book Chair
It’s not really a nightstand, it’s a vintage child’s chair, but it’s usually stacked with books. This week (from bottom to top):

Homeport Collections wholesale catalog. Why is this still here? Never mind.

Michael Wood. The Road to Delphi: The life and afterlife of oracles. What do we know and how do we know it? The ancients, I think, did not so much believe in oracles as they simply understood what they were good for: demonstrating the futility of foreknowledge (because foreknowledge — like any kind of knowledge, only more so — is always incomplete).

Donald D. Hall. Worlds of wonder, days of judgment: Popular religious belief in early New England. The puritans and pilgrims were of course nothing at all like the people we were taught about in grade school.

G.B. Shaw. Complete plays and prefaces, volume III. Rereading Arms and the Man, Caesar and Cleopatra, Man and Superman. All of his plays are funny, especially the serious ones. Nothing is so Terribly Important that it can’t do with a little mockery.

Marianne Moore. The complete poems. I had forgotten how really really good she is!

Kai T. Erikson. Wayward puritans: A study in the sociology of deviance. New England culture was very far from being monolithic. Outsiders thus serve to remind the insiders of who they are, and where no outsiders exist they must be created (much like Voltaire’s God).

John Putnam Demos. Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the culture of early New England. A statistical, sociological, and biographical account of the seventeenth-century Connecticut witch prosecutions.

Walter W. Woodward. Prospero’s America: John Winthrop, Jr., alchemy, and the creation of New England culture 1606–1676. Our emigrant ancestors were much stranger than we generally give them credit for. But then the past is always strange.

Gjertrud Schnackenberg. The throne of Labdacus. Rereading again. A book-length meditation on Oedipus, free will, guilt, redemption, art. I was reminded of it by Road to Delphi, above.

A case for leisurely literature

Immediately after finishing the Tale of Genji, I read Egil’s Saga. Both take place at roughly the same time (circa 1000 C.E.), and were composed not much later (about a century) and in similar forms (verses embedded in prose narrative); both feature large casts roaming about unfamiliar and long-vanished cultures and landscapes; both stories span multiple generations (in neither is anyone alive at the beginning still around by the end); and both are classics in their respective traditions — still read today after the lapse of a millennium.

Why then did reading Egil, of fewer than 200 pages, seem like so much more work than reading Genji, weighing in at 1120 pages in the Royall Tyler translation?

(Please don’t misunderstood: I strongly recommend both. But reading Egil did seem so effortful.)

I think it might be partly a limitation of the capacity to process narrative. Egil is so compressed it is terse. Decades fall by in sentences, and although there are also more extended sequences, such as the expedition to the north or the court case at the end, the overall impression is of a headlong rush into oblivion. And it is such a strange world! The men are, as a rule, at the same time childish and murderous, prone to bursting into a frenzied rage for no particular reason. And the women — well! The women! And everyone is thoroughly drunk much of the time.

On the other hand, Genji is capacious, it enfolds everything, it takes its time, years slip languorously by like moving from one stage to the next of a casual love affair, perhaps even one never to be consummated. Fifty pages might be devoted to a boating party, then a hundred to how to deal with a willful princess. Nothing ever happens, really, yet it is never dull. And it is such a strange world! Manliness is best expressed by the tendency to burst into tears for no particular reason. The women blacken their teeth and shave their eyebrows, only to paint them on again in green — not that anyone can even see the women most of time (not even each other), so dim and hemmed about with barriers are the spaces they inhabit. And everyone is quite drunk a significant fraction of the time.

What do they have in common? Eruptions of the supernatural, snatches of poetry, intrigue (romantic or political), the melancholy of exile and of frustrated love.

And how do they differ? O worlds unknown and apart! No overlap at all, truly —

Viking Iceland.

Heian Japan.

Sometimes a book is like a desk drawer crammed so full of index cards that it won’t shut, all of them covered all over with tiny, precise handwriting. This is Egil.

Sometimes a book is like a house, a large one, where one might spend the mornings sipping milky coffee on the terrace, in a chair under the leaf-shattered sunlight; the afternoons in the library, shadowy and cool, remote from the doings of the rest of the household; the evenings, after dinner, aloof in a corner of the drawing room, someone at the piano over there plinking away at something resembling Chopin, at one’s elbow a goblet, discreetly renewed, of excellent claret; and at night, in the cool moonlight falling through the windowpanes, in bed, crisp linen sheets pulled up to the chin, one arm thrust out, asleep, athwart, enwrapped in dreams that one has no need to recall. This is Genji.

Is one better than the other? No. Of course not. But one is more leisurely than the other. And in leisure there is pleasure.

Rhetorical questions and rhetorical answers

History is only a catalog of the forgotten.
(Henry Adams)

I’m still a slow learner. But let’s talk about witches.

James Wakelee’s first appearance in the documentary record is 18 February 1640/41 O.S., when he is noted as owning four acres of land at Hartford, Connecticut (1) [Love, p. 127]. The last record, a court order of May 1691, part of his long struggle to free his assets from legal difficulties, mentions, off-hand, that he has died [Hoadly, p. 35].

Everyone knows about the witch craze of 1692–93 in and around Salem, Massachusetts, but few remember the earlier prosecutions. Towards the end of 1662, in Wethersfield, Connecticut, James was indicted for a capital crime; recognizing his peril, he abandoned his family and property and fled to Rhode Island [Adams, pp. 260-261]. That indictment has not survived, but a deposition from the later trial of Katherine Harrison for witchcraft mentions him:

Thomas Bracy aged about 31 years testifieth as follows that formerly James Wakeley would haue borrowed a saddle of the saide Thomas Bracy, which Thomas Bracy denyed to lend to him, he threatened Thomas and saide, it had bene better he had lent it to him. Allsoe Thomas Bracy beinge at worke the same day making a jacket & a paire of breeches, he labored to his best understanding to set on the sleeues aright on the jacket and seauen tymes he placed the sleues wronge,… and soe was forced to leaue workinge that daie.

. . . . .

After that Thomas Bracy aforesaide, being well in his sences & health and perfectly awake, his brothers in bed with him, Thomas aforesaid saw the saide James Wakely and the saide Katherin Harrison stand by his bed side, consultinge to kill him the said Thomas, James Wakely said he would cut his throate, but Katherin counselled to strangle him, presently the said Katherin seised on Thomas striuinge to strangle him, and pulled or pinched him so as if his flesh had been pulled from his bones, theirefore Thomas groaned. [Taylor, pp. 49-50]

This deposition, sworn before magistrates, must, in some sense, be true; Thomas Bracy was not lying. (2)

Now, such historical events as these, however minor (or, rather, historical texts, since what we can receive of the past is almost entirely textual) — such events might seem to bear their sense plain on their surfaces. But that’s not true, I think. Most of us nowadays would say: This man quarreled with me so that I could not concentrate on my work. But this 17th-century tailor said: He bewitched me! And we might say: I had a bad dream and my neighbor was in it. And yet these people said: He’s a witch! (3)


Of course, there can be no other subject than what we might call the real world, simply because there is no other subject. What then (for example (4)) is science fiction about? The real world. What is fantasy about? The real world. And witchcraft? Again, the real world. But the means that they have, science fiction or fantasy or witchcraft, (5) of going about being about the real world differ — and are as different from each other as from any other rhetorical mode.

A rhetoric is only the tekhnē (6) of discovering and framing a discourse: a method for abstracting from the real world our experience of it, or a means of expressing that experience. Witchcraft has its own distinctive rhetoric, basically a Manichean one, with virtue and evil contending in opposition for men’s (for these deponents were mostly men) souls. This James Wakelee, accused but escaped witch, was possibly one of my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfathers [Jacobus, p. 627].

Witchcraft is not merely rhetorical.

Nor is fantasy.

Nor science fiction.

Our own words pull our attention out of ourselves, away from what we know, or wish to know, for a while — a little while — to an imaginary world very like our own world (insofar as that world is not itself imaginary), only not, you know, not quite

Not quite the same.


1. He appears on the third list of the “Names of Such Inhabitance as were Granted lotts to haue onely at The Townes Courtesie wth liberty to fetch wood & keepe Swine or Cowes By proportion on the Common,” [Love, p. 125] probably as a result of efforts to attract useful trades to the settlement. James is recorded somewhere — I do not have the reference at hand — as having been a weaver.

2. That is to say, Thomas clearly harbors some animosity towards James, but he is not perjuring himself here. At this point, James has been living in Rhode Island for about seven years, interrupted by a year’s return to Wethersfield which ended with James again fleeing an indictment or the threat of one.

3. There’s more to it than that, of course. But the so-called witches of modern horror stories and movies have nothing, nothing whatsoever, to do with it, nor do the antics of those who call themselves witches nowadays. The standardized indictment for witchcraft sums it all up succinctly: “Joane Carrington thou art Indited by the name of Joane Carrington the wif of John Carrington that not hauing the feare of God before thine eyes thou hast Interteined familliarity with Sathan the great Enemy of God and mankinde and by his helpe hast done workes aboue the Course of Nature for wch both according to the Lawes of God, and the Established Lawe of the Common wea thou deseruest to dye” [Adams, p. 93].

4. Genre is a marketing category: where to send the ad dollars, which shelf to plunk the product on. At my local library, books one and three of Paul Park’s Roumania sequence were shelved in the science fiction section, two and four in adult fiction. When I pointed this out, the librarian asked where I thought they should go; I told her it hardly mattered, genre is arbitrary, but keep them together; and she gave me one of those why-do-I-always-have-to-deal-with-the-lunatics looks.

5. It’s probably important to point out here that this is not a question of definitions. The question is how, exactly, words trick us into believing, or temporarily consenting to believe, things that we know are not true, cannot be true, can never be true. There’s more than one way to pull off this trick. The various tricks, or sets of tricks, I am calling a rhetoric. Thus the rhetoric of fantasy is not the same as the rhetoric of science fiction, however we might choose to define those categories.

6. Greek τεχνη = art, skill, craft, trade, science; artifice, cunning, trick; work of art. That’s a good phrase to end this little essay with: science fiction stories are works of art.


Adams, Arthur, editor. Records of the particular court of Connecticut 1639-1663 (Collections of the Connecticut Historical Society Volume XXII). Hartford: Connecticut Historical Society, 1928.

Hoadly, Charles J., editor. The public records of the colony of Connecticut, from August, 1689, to May, 1706. Hartford: Case, Lockwood and Brainard, 1868.

Jacobus, Donald Lines. History and genealogy of the families of Old Fairfield. Volume 1. Fairfield (Conn.): The Eunice Dennie Burr Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution, 1930.

Love, William DeLoss. The colonial history of Hartford gathered from the original records. Hartford: Privately printed, 1914.

Taylor, John M. The witchcraft delusion of colonial Connecticut 1647–1697. New York: The Grafton Press, 1908.

Soundtrack I

Earphones are wonderful things, muffling the here-and-now of the acoustical world, and replacing it with some new distraction of one’s free choice. I don’t always work with earphones clamped to my head, but when I do, I need the new noise to be wordless, or in some language I can’t understand. Chamber music is best.

Some recent winners of the repeat-button endorsement (this list is alphabetical to avoid the appearance of a ranking):

Commonplace book I

But what have been thy answers, what but dark
Ambiguous and with double sense deluding
Which they who asked have seldom understood.


If one had studied the human spirit a little, one knows what power the marvelous has over it.


Since inquiry is the beginning of philosophy, and wonder and uncertainty the beginning of inquiry, it seems only natural that the greater part of what concerns the gods should be concealed in riddles.

My favorite libraries

Libraries, any library, have always been to me a species of paradise.

For example, my first visit to the Laurel branch of the Prince Georges County Memorial Library System. The slanted sidewalk up to the glass doors. The circulation desk to the left as you go in, with its mysterious hulking cameras and stacks of Hollerith cards. Children’s section to the right, adult to the far left, music straight ahead. Since this was the sixties, bomb shelter pictographs on a plaque by the door (and a bomb shelter in the basement, behind the bathrooms, the hallway painted that sea-sick dull green found only in public buildings of a certain vintage). And most of all, of course, my incredulity at being told—Mrs. Baxter had to repeat it to me—that I could read any of the books, I could take home as many books as I wanted. Well! Lives were changed, let me tell you.
Stanley Memorial Library

School libraries, elementary and middle and high. Small enough that you can read all of the books in certain sections, large enough to provide constant novelty. Not to mention a refuge from my beloved fellow students, charming and delightful persons, all of them.
Andrew White Library

At college, I spent a lot of time at Clark Libe, when I needed a grind, conveniently just across the gorge from north campus if you knew the basement route through the chemistry building, and almost all of the books there of approximately zero interest and thus no distraction. But my favorite by far was the Andrew White Library. Sundays, I’d wait outside for the doors to open and make a beeline for my favorite carrel on the second level, near the main stacks. And fantasize about having a library like this all my very own. It still figures frequently in dreams, not unpleasant ones—running down an endless iron staircase six steps at a time. It also makes an appearance towards the end of Pale Fire:

Along the open gallery that ran above the hall, parallel to its short side, a tall bearded man was crossing over at a military quick march from east to west. He vanished behind a bookcase but not before Gradus has recognized the great rugged frame, the erect carriage, the high-bridged nose, and the energetic arm swing, of Charles Xavier the Beloved.

Our pursuer made for the nearest stairs—and soon found himself among the bewitched hush of Rare Books. The room was beautiful and had no doors; in fact, some moments passed before he could discover the draped entrance he himself had just used. The awful perplexities of his quest blending with the renewal of impossible pangs in his belly, he dashed back–ran three steps down and nine steps up, and burst into a circular room where a bald-headed suntanned professor in a Hawaiian shirt sat at a round tabled reading with an ironic expression on his face a Russian book. He paid no attention to Gradus who traversed the room, stepped over a fat little white dog without awakening it, clattered down a helical staircase and found himself in Vault P. Here, a well-lit, pipe-lined, white-washed passage led him to the sudden paradise of a water closet for plumbers or lost scholars[…].


Nowadays, I do have a library of my own, a small one of little more than 2000 volumes, but just a short train ride away is one of the greatest research libraries in the world. I mean the Library of Congress, of course. And unlike other libraries of its stature, this one is openly available to any citizen, with or without academic credentials, free of charge: surely a great testament to the idealistic strain of American democracy. My only complaint is that the bathrooms (whether for plumbers or lost scholars) are so far away from the reading room. But what a reading room!

It’s always a thrill just to walk in. And I can read any book I want!
Jefferson Reading Room