The psychopathology of reading

Two of my best friends, the Antigeist and her man, G., like to read to each other when one of them’s taking a bath. Recently, having worked through all the other short fiction in their apartment, they were left with The Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain (or, G. being G., the collected works of Robert Musil, although the Antigeist doesn’t mention that option).

“The prospect of Twain” (pictured at right), the Antigeist says, “left me sulking in my bubbles,” “pissed that we so carelessly whipped through all our other bath-time short-story favorites.” She goes on:

G opened the book and read the titles for me to choose from. I suggested he should pick.

“Okay, let’s read this one.” he said, and added casually, “it’s the story that made my father lose his faith.”


I was blown away. You have to understand the weight of those words. G’s dad was no ordinary believer, he was a missionary the first half of his life, dedicated to spreading the word of God in foreign lands. An uber Christian [Ed. note: in the Church of Christ vein], who, legend has it, mysteriously lost his faith and left the ministry shortly before G’s conception. It took him over twenty years to reconcile with God — G’s entire child and young adulthood — which is how G came to be a minister’s son who has never spent a day of his life in church.

A twenty year separation from God because of a short story? Needless to say, my interest was pretty flipping piqued. I had no idea Twain was so dangerous. So punk rock. I would have paid attention had I known he was a holy muckraker! Hell yeah we’re going to read that one.

(Also, many thanks to Monk for introducing me to this Twain gem: “Such is the human race. Often it does seem such a pity that Noah and his party did not miss the boat.”)

Other book stories of note:

  • Bookslut’s Jessa Crispin writes of a situation near but not dear to my heart: the religious household that forbids the children to read anything out of step with God’s Word. “My aunt and uncle are the type of people to challenge books at their children’s schools,” says Crispin, “and they probably would have, had the kids not been shoved into private, strict religious schools from kindergarten on.”
  • And finally, at House of Mirth, James Marcus writes: “At a book party I attended last night, the author gracefully thanked his wife, editor, agent, mother, best friend, and (this being New York) his shrink, all of them in attendance. As the applause died down, I heard the following exchange directly behind me, which could have come straight out of The Psychopathology of Everyday Life: “So you’re his psychiatrist!” “So you’re his mother!”


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