My intentions are good. I buy books and stack them up all over the place. As a teacher I was often offered free books from university presses and I gladly accepted them. Now that I'm having difficulty reading print, my Kindle is chock full of books. That I haven't read. And may never read.
Today we had a discussion about this on one of my Face Book groups. I was ashamed to mention my non-reading there. I am very ashamed to admit that I don't even read the journals that publish my work. Even when I get the journal in the mail, or more often now, online, I don't even read my own pieces. If I have published a poem, I might read it, but a story? Not even.
But all my life I have read books. I learned to write by reading books. And I am indebted to every author I've ever read because I know that all those poems and stories and essays and novels and memoirs have influenced me. The sum total of all those words went into my head and settled into its place there. But at some point, I stopped reading a lot.
Is it because we have a TV up here in the attic? I told Dale please don't put that thing up here. But he did. And I watch it. A lot. And I know that has a lot to do with my not reading, but it is certainly not all of it. It was also very hard to read again after getting my BA in English Literature. It's a crime, learning to dissect literature. Because you drain it of its blood. It's not that I didn't love reading it all and thinking about it. But I don't give a shit about symbolism and metaphor trope blah blah. I don't think I was able to read at all the year after I graduated.
What I do do is write. A LOT. I write every day, usually. If I don't write for a few days, I feel useless, like I am accomplishing nothing at all with my life. Writing is what I do. It is who I am. I know so many writers who read a lot. And maybe they write just as much as I do. Maybe not. But almost all writers, it seems to me, talk about what they are reading and what they have read. Which means I sometimes, often, keep my mouth shut.
And it's such a complicated onion. Sometimes when I start to read a book, like Tropic of Cancer, I get so excited to write that I just can't keep reading. Because I have to WRITE. Immediately. The other side of this is that if I'm working on a book, it is dangerous to read someone else. Because it often changes the way I'm writing. I'm like that when I'm around people in general. My accent will change. I will move my hands in different ways when I talk. The language and phrasing that I use will change. I suppose I mimic everything. And I don't want to mimic when I write.
When I was working on my last book, I read Lamott's Help, Thanks, Wow. And her voice and tone and attitude wandered into my rhythms and attitude. I ended up writing some essays I shouldn't have written at all. And had to remove. And there was stuff I had to slice out simply because I had read her book.
I am impressible. And suggestible. If you tell me about your constipation, I will be constipated later in the week. If you tell me you have a rash, I'll be convinced I'm breaking out the next day. If you have a British accent and I am around you for a few days, my accent will change. And maybe that's why I don't read so much these days, and that when I do read, I read a lot of nonfiction, books that in no way resemble what I'm writing.
But the other reason I don't read is I get bored. Quickly. Which is not to say that I can't discipline myself and force myself to stay on track when I'm pulled in, but sometimes, even when I get pulled in, I stop reading. Why? Because I lose interest? Because I get distracted?
Today I went to the New Yorker and read a story. And it bored me to death. Nothing happened in the story. The language was ho-hum, so ho-hum that I would rather have read bad language. Because at least that would be entertaining. The main character wasn't developed in any meaningful way. And I saw no point to the story at all. It gave me nothing. I learned nothing. I wasn't inspired or motivated. Or thrilled. It didn't even give me anything to think about. One thing became very clear to me though. I will never have a story published in the New Yorker. Unless I change my writing and write dull stories with boring language wherein nothing happens. And why would I ever want to do that?
What occurs to me is that I want to read books just like my books and that further confirms what a narcissistic I am. I want to write books that I would want to read. And I want to write about myself because I don't really know anybody or anything better than my own landscape. And all this makes me feel very selfish.
And all this is why I have almost stopped asking people to read my books. Because I probably won't read their books. And, like me, people just don't seem to read. You know it's bad when you can't get your close friends and long-time acquaintances to read your books.
The interview series that I am doing here is my way of giving something back. Because I don't read, I don't write book reviews. But when I interview these women, I do read their writing. And I think about it. And then have a conversation about it. And then write that down and publish it here.
I would like, almost have the impulse to, go read something now. But I will most likely watch TV or a movie. Or sleep. Or smoke. Because the book I am reading now is wonderful. I know the writer personally, But the book is fucking with my head, and with my words. I can feel it happening. I am starting to hear people in my head talking to each other and they have nothing to do with the novel I'm working on now.