I enjoy editorial work. I had a chance to do some recently for The Rumpus.
My Evenings Reading Alone by K. Thomas Kahn is, like many Rumpus essays, intensely personal. The author tells how his partner’s snores literally drove him into a forgotten world: a world of books, where he becomes reacquainted not only with certain authors, but also with himself. Here are the opening lines:
One night, out of nowhere, he started snoring: laboringly so, the walls bending away from his exhales, so that even the cat crept off to sleep somewhere else. I lay awake reciting the Rime of the Ancient Mariner backward to no avail; try as I could, I couldn’t map my breathing to his.
They fitted him with a CPAP mask… Through the hissing darkness, I would roll over and see a massive shadow with a tentacled snout… I would go out on the balcony and see stars, jutting out my index finger as if I had an audience toward bodies like Lepus or Orion…
… we somehow succumb to sleep, like a man hanging by his fingers at a cliff’s edge succumbs to the valley below… the plummet into the dark continent a refuge… Drinking from the waters of Lethe…
I began sleeping in the spare room…. I slept surrounded by books we’d shipped by freighter, and some nights I imagined—my nights were all fantasies; I had escaped the from the epicenter of snores but I must have known we were living out a metaphor—that I could still smell the water on their spines, long-since sloughed away.
I began to sleep without him, and instead began to sleep with others: Proust, Mann, Borges, Woolf, Akhmatova, Dickinson… I didn’t know that I would later thank him for giving me the night, or rather the company of night. In Vertigo, W. G. Sebald confesses: “It is thanks to my evening reading alone that I am still more or less sane.”
The doctors… gave him pills; and when the pills didn’t help him, I started taking them instead… For years, it was the only way I knew how to sleep. I found refuge in the books… my books, forgotten books offering a treasure if only I could read them properly.
I enjoyed the thought of him transitioning from pills to books, and escaping his partner’s sawing wood.
Sometimes mistakes don’t jump out at me until after I scan my work. My original pillow was much too small for the man’s head. I had to perform a little digital surgery before proceeding. I also repositioned my signature so it was less intrusive. Definitely a big improvement.
Ultimately the author looks back on the experience with gratitude. He may be awake at night, but he’s with his beloved books. Here’s the last line of the essay:
There are still some nights when I wonder whom he’s keeping awake now, but I always circle back to the fact that I’m awake now—and I say a quick, quiet thanks, both to him and to the books, and return to fingering the spines.
Ever been kept awake by someone’s snoring?
Do you like to read going to bed? Any recommendations?
Can you recognize any constellations besides Orion? (Alas, he’s the only one I know.)
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