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.