Reading Books

I’ve always had a weird relationship with books.  I wish I read more as a kid and teenager, but the books I did read influenced the young me more than any movie ever could: Samuel Clemens; William Golding; Laurie Lee.  By college and university I was still focused on play rather than study, although, perhaps, always with an aesthetic or a scene in the back of my mind (maybe Tom Wolfe’s New York or Brett Easton Elis’ L.A.), and I’d smoke and posture my way around campus, Soho and Carnaby Street with an unthumbed copy of Paradise Lost that needed to be read by Monday morning’s seminar.  Of course it wasn’t.  Of course I skipped the class.  Yes, majoring in literature I really should’ve read more than I did, and whether the scrapes I got into instead of being in the library, the mad characters encountered, the strange vibes felt, have proved educational in their own way, I can but wonder.  One thing’s for sure, I’ve taken my own sweet time in catching up on all that missed reading.

Reading fiction whilst writing a book has bothered me for a while now.  It’s very easy to hear the voice that you’re reading interfering with your own.  After reading an editor’s thoughts along the same lines, I started thinking of reading (whilst writing) as a form of pollution and have since stopped while a project’s on the go.  But the problem with that is that it can take two years to write a book, and that means reading no books for two years.  The way around this is reading non-fiction; as well as learning about something new, you’re still seeing words on a page that aren’t your own.  This system also enforces a break between projects (when else can you read fiction?) which is good for sanity and relationships with other humans instead of, you know, fictional characters.  Not to mention creative burnout.  This is just my take and many people read and write simultaneously with great success, it’s just that I’m not one of them.

Forced away from work this week with gastroenteritis (my students will love me: no midterms), I’ve enjoyed a literary blowout of Roth, Bukowski and Franzen.   Regarding the last one (Jonathon Franzen, Freedom), to all the doom-mongers and naysayers who broadcast the death of the novel I say try getting this kind of depth of experience in a movie or on your goddamn smartphone.  Anyway, after a week lost in books, fully escaped and free, I’m starting to think that perhaps my instinct to live life full-throttle when I was young was the right one after all.

Next week, Andrew Oberg chills out and finds space from a project.

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  1. Andrew
    Posted April 22, 2011 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    Very interesting. I had the opposite childhood, can’t remember a time when my nose wasn’t stuck in a book. And lately, non-fiction is the really the only thing that catches my fancy, but I’m sure that’ll change.

    So as a writer, where does inspiration come from? The characters you’ve encountered on the streets or between pages? Both, of course, I’d have to say, and the balance between will influence what kind of writer you become. I wonder how differently I’d write with another background behind me…

  2. Posted April 29, 2011 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    Excellent post, Paul. I overcome this myself by reading lots of short samples when I am writing, rather than full novels. Although, I still read full novels in the early stages.

    As with all of the other experiences and methodology, I suppose it is another case of each to his/her own.

    On the subject of Franzen, having read ‘The Corrections,’ ‘Twenty Seventh City’ and ‘The Discomfort Zone,’ I am looking forward to starting ‘Freedom,’ which is located on the virtual shelf of my e-reader. I felt reading Franzen would be much more likely to influence voice than some of the other books I have been reading ans duly set it aside.

    I am starting to establish a pattern of a new idea screaming to get onto the page as I am approaching the end of a first draft.

    I have one second draft finished and one first draft nearing the half way point. Fighting for attention are two other novel ideas, one almost completely formed and possibly elbowing to the front of the queue.

    Time… time………

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