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THE BEST BOOKS OF 1996 | NONFICTION

RUINED BY READING A Life in Books By Lynne Sharon Schwartz Beacon Press: 119 pp., $18

December 29, 1996|FREDERICK BUSCH

Here's the story, by a fine novelist, of her happy addiction to books. She's as mad for them as Eudora Welty describes herself in "One Writer's Beginnings," unable to "remember a time when I was not in love with them--with the books themselves, cover and binding and the paper they were printed on, with their smell and their weight and with their possession in my arms, captured and carried off to myself."

"Ruined by Reading" is an essay of 119 pages by a gifted, ferociously intelligent novelist whose humor in her fiction ("The Fatigue Artist," "Disturbances in the Field") has usually taken the form of irony; she sees simultaneities or disjunctions and she ironically demonstrates them. In her essay, which is a love letter to books she read and reads and to the act of reading itself, Schwartz obeys the law of gravity but also manages to float free of the Earth at times, and almost to fly. For while she speaks here of intellectual obligations and serious encounters, she also writes about fun--about what has set her free.

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