Tag Archives: reading

Monday Memories of Memory

It’s Monday. We made it through the holidays, though to be fair, our small, mostly-self-contained family usually does that pretty well. Let’s see if I can make it through a day of writing as well. I did a few errands and such first, and the most important of these was perhaps sitting in Coffee Culture in Gainesville with Rena the Partnerloverperson, drinking a peppermint white mocha and plotting out my writing for the week. (Well, the UPS store was closed, because apparently, 26 December is ALSO a holiday… God forbid federal workers don’t get a free day off if Christmas lands on a weekend. And Rena seemed to recall that she had wanted to call the UPS store that was holding our package and see if they were open. She also seemed to recall that I had said, quite loudly, “Of COURSE they’re open. UPS isn’t a government organization.” Buying her the Nutcracker Latte at the coffee shop down the road was my way of saying “I’m sorry, don’t hate me.”)

Today, I have 2000-3000 words to write and I think I might be able to make it through. I feel like there’s still a little bit of a block there, but I can see daylight through it, and I’m sure that once I pick up a few of the rocks and shift them around, I’ll be able to find the story thread where I left it and follow it into Chapter Eight and beyond. So before I strap on my industrial-strength thinking cap (complete with ergonomic neck support, environmentally safe padding, and a headlamp capable of seeing into all realms of the Aether where my Muse and her friends are wont to hang out) I’m going to tell you a little bit about what I’m reading. I’m cross-posting over at The Book Date this time, another blog that I recommend you check out some time.

This week’s book is somewhat of a reread. Back when I was in bootcamp, 26 years ago, I found myself with a little bit of time to read. We’d graduated about ten days early because of the Christmas Holidays (our Graduation day should have actually been the day after New Years) but we still had to stay there until our eight weeks were up. (That was an early lesson in Navy organization and the Sacred Rite of Following the Schedule, Even if You Had Doubled Up and Got Everything Done Early. Fortunately, things got a little better after that.) (A little.) (Very Little.) Anyway, a friend of mine had the Tad Williams book The Dragonbone Chair with him, and since I was even more a devotee of epic fantasy fiction than I am now (now, I read other types of fantasy and weird literature) I jumped at it and devoured the book. Not literally, though I might as well have. It was different from a lot of post-Tolkien literature I’d read, in that the author spent a lot of time just exploring and playing in the world and the folklore of the place (much like Tolkien) and the quirky-but-made-to-seem-normal people that inhabited it, rather than just throwing a quest or a dragon or a villain at the Chosen Farmboy, and the introduction of far-north mythology also tugged at my brain and told me that this was something special.

I absolutely loved the book, its characters, and its imagery, and a few months later, during my tech school training and before shipping off to the West Pacific, I picked up the sequel, Stone of Farewell, as soon as it was out in paperback. I never got around to reading it, though, and I’m still not sure why. Perhaps it was the Gulf War getting in the way, or the mix of bipolar and my lack of adjustment to Navy life that kept me from ever cracking its covers. Eventually, I gave the book away to a shipmate who had read the first one, and while I remember staring wistfully at the third book when it came out, and frequently told myself that I needed to revisit Osten Ard someday, I never did, until now, some twenty-six years later. During the few months of researching northern German and Lithuanian and Slavic mythology for my own book, Tad Williams’s book kept showing up as a good example of a modern interpretation. The bittersweet guilt that I kept feeling at never having finished the series became nigh-unbearable. Once I started my project I finally broke down and ordered the first book for my Kindle, and I tell you, I am so happy I did. The things I remember… long passageways, strange yet lovable characters, dangerous magic, and especially the healthy skepticism of the main character, are all here. I’m not flying through it as fast as I did in Boot Camp, but part of the reason for that is that I’m trying to savor it a little, taste it, roll each scene around on my tongue before swallowing. I only have vague memories of the book as well, and often, I only recall something as it’s happening. (Once, I realized that a scene I’d recently thought about, involving Doctor Morgenes and Simon as Simon sets off on his travels, actually came from that book; I’d retained a stark image of the scene but could never recall the book it had come from.)

The lesson here is that it’s never too late to go back to a book you loved, and the sooner you do it, the better you’ll feel. My recommendation is to look for a book you started years ago, and give it another shot. Perhaps you stopped reading because you just couldn’t connect with the plot, or you couldn’t find the sequel when it came out, or your cat ate it. For whatever reason, pick it back up, get it out of the library, do something to get it back in front of your eyeholes, and see if the book speaks to you this time.

How Long Does It Take to Read Popular Books?

This is a neat infographic from Personal Creations. Not much more has to be said about it, though if anyone has comments, please feel free. I personally estimate 50 pages an hour when I’m deciding how long it will take me to read something, though I can skim/ review half again as fast. I think I used to be able to read faster, but I also know I get more enjoyment out of my reading than I used to. I’m not quite as compulsive about it as I used to be, either. Once there was a time where if I were trapped somewhere without a book I would actually start to panic a little. Now, I just sketch down story ideas.

Also, what books/ series would you like to see on here? I’d ask for Infinite Jest (counting the footnotes, and time spent going back and forth to them… by the way, that’s one of the few books I’ve bought in paper and e-book format, and I can definitely recommend the e-book over paper copy, mostly because of its hypertext format but also because you don’t have to read the footnotes in their 8-point type) and Remembrance of Things Past, though I’m not sure either of them really qualify as ‘popular.’

Here it is:

How Long Does It Take to Read Popular Books?


Non-Slacking Saturday

So after a good evening of reading and working on the new story, I decided to hold off on my book reviews until this morning. when I could focus on them a little more. Starting some time last night, a rash started to spread around the left side of my body, starting with the back of my neck and spreading to my face, scalp, and now my upper back. I have no clue what it is. I haven’t been rolling in anything rotten (lately) and while we did find poison ivy in our back yard last week, that was a week ago,  and I’ve never reacted to poison ivy before. (Poison oak is another story entirely…) So, since my plans for today involved going out and hanging out with some friends in the park, I’ve decided to play it safe, slather my body with cortisone, and work on book and site reviews today. Also, writing about itching is the worst thing one can do when one itches. Just putting that out there.

John Green: 18 Books Many People Haven’t Read

It always kind of pisses me off to see an article titled “Five Books You’ve Never Heard Of” or such, because, unless the author has talked to every single person who reads his post, and gone through his or her library, the guy is simply making an assumption based on his arrogance, though thankfully coupled with his desire to educate the poor unwashed masses who haven’t experienced the same imaginary worlds he has and therefore can’t really be blamed for their plebeian tastes. (Cracked is especially bad at this. I enjoy their site from time to time but guys? You’re really not the only people who look up weird things on the Internet or read strange books, okay? Really.) Now that that’s off my chest, Mr John Green does in fact talk about a lot of books that seem to have slipped under the radar. Yes, I’ve read a few, & no, I’m not going to list them in an effort to show how much of a hipster I am.

Oh, okay, I’ll mention one, but only because of what he said about it. I did indeed read (a couple of times, now) Death Comes for the Archbishop. I wasn’t assigned that book in school, but my 10th grade English teacher used to give us a recommended reading list of other books by the authors we read in class, books she said she’d teach if she had us for a few years. (English teachers/ librarians that are reading this:  Please do this. It’s awesome.) That title and the short write-up she gave it definitely caught my eye, and I read it for the first time around the time I turned 16, in between Elric and Black Company books. It’s a quiet, almost slow book, but it’s painfully beautiful, and ever time I read it I like it even more. Yes, My Ántonia is also really good, but I think this might be her masterpiece.

And the downside of reading books no one has heard of that no one ever talks about? I’d say for every completely unknown book or two that I end up thinking is an underground classic is one that I realized, upon getting to the end, that there was a damn good reason it was unheralded. Still, that itself makes finding the true gems that much more special.

Alright, here’s John Green talking about books you may or may not have read but the vast majority of the reading public has, regrettably, yet to discover them, though on the bright side, that means that they get to read them for the first time.

Why Writers Should Read

A poet friend of mine, who is very talented and skilled (those are two separate things, you know) recently posted an ‘Aside’ on her blog The 365 Poetry Project that was about how she didn’t read a lot of poetry. Some of the arguments she made were close to arguments I made about my own writing at one point of my life, so I came up with this response to her.

I’m not going to waste time talking about your writing… you already know what I like, and how much of it I like, and how I’m not afraid to tell you when I don’t think something quite works. And while I don’t think you’re quite as arrogant as you like to think you are (hmm, wonder if that’s its own special kind of arrogance) I do think you have at least the required amount of cockiness that is required to be able to think that total strangers will want to look at the stuff that comes out of your head.

I am going to address one thing in particular, though, something that you mentioned in your post and in other conversations that we’ve had. And while I’m going to keep the ‘back when I was a young writer’ talk to a minimum, I am going to say that two writing mentors I had gave me similar advice when I needed it. Both of these people… a woman who used to feature me reading at her open mics in San Francisco, and a sailor and writer I served with who was some 15 years older than me and who really pushed me from writing in a closed room to writing for the public… heard my arguments that I couldn’t or didn’t want to read a lot of other peoples’ poetry, I’ve since built on their arguments and while I don’t think I read as much as these two or some other readers do, I have managed to widen my spectrum and take in a lot more input.

Because that’s why you should read poetry. At the least, you should read writing, whether on the Internet or in the library or in your own library (or ask me nicely and I’ll lend some out to you… I have a shitload). But because you write poetry, and because you want to write poetry… especially because you want to write poetry, you should read it. Read contemporary poetry in magazines that you want to publish in. Read the classics; perhaps ask other writers which classic writers you could gain the most from reading. Read bad poetry (which you said you did) because that encourages you and makes you realise that your work isn’t all that bad. Read good poetry because that sense of having your soul peeled open and filled with the light of the universe that good poems engender will leave an even greater mark on a poet. It will give you something to strive for, to reach for. You need the bad writers to look at and think “I could do that” but you need the good perhaps even more to make you think “that’s what I want to do.”

Read poetry in the same way that you write, a certain set amount per day. I do this, and while I get criticised by other writers who say that I take the joy out of reading or some such codswallop, I have also read the better part of the Best American Poetry Series, which first came out a few years before you did… not to mention several of the epics by Keats and Browning and Wordsworth, the works of William Carlos William and Thomas Hardy. (Also the complete Remembrance of Things Past by Proust… twice… but that might be as much because I’m a masochist as well.) Currently, my bathroom book is The Collected Poems of Philip Larkin, and well, at the risk of being crude, I will point out the similarities between the time it takes to read a one- to two- page poem, and the time it takes for a good healthy crap. Poetry magazine is great for this as well.

But I read under other conditions as well… in parks, on buses, in my reading chair at home. When I get a new book of poetry, I set out to read five poems a day until it’s finished. Sometimes four, if they’re long, or six if they’re short, but never more. Poetry, if read properly, can be intense. Should be intense. And like really good food or good sex, it’s best to slow down, let your system digest it and process it, and give your brain a break. If I try and plunge straight through a book of poems, I get really tired of it after fifteen minutes or so. If I ration it, I can think about it critically, enjoy it, and take something from it as well, something I can use for my own work. When I started doing this, reading poetry as regularly as I wrote, I began finishing the masters and the contemporary writers. I also began writing better.

I haven’t yet said why you should read poetry. For this, I’m going to dip into the pool of metaphors, the pool of subconscious speech and imagery, the pool where we as writers go to pick out the phrases and images that we want to use for our writing. The actual pool itself is vast and inaccessible, seated at the top of a mountain and containing the wealth of human experience; those of us who try to climb and jump in risk insanity, death, or turning into a basket case. (Your humble corespondent may have climbed a little too close to this pool before.) Most writers and artists have little pools of their own on the slopes of this mountain, and when we are casting about for an idea to write, or we want to add to something we want to write, we reach into the pool and pull out a handful of inspiration. This is the feeling you get when your paper suddenly fills itself of its own accord, when you feel like your pen is going to ignite because you’re writing so fast, or in my case, when my Muse runs up excitedly from the pool into the basement writing studio we keep in my head and shouts “CJ! Look at this! We have to write about this! Now!”

When we first discover that we, as creators, have access to this pool, it’s easy to get lost in the joy of creation. It feel so wonderful, better than any other experiences we’ve had in our young adult lives, to pull these ideas seemingly out of nowhere and pour them on paper. But unfortunately, the water in these pools is cloudy and opaque, We can’t see the bottom until one day we reach in and scrape our knuckles on the rock.

Many writers give up at this point. It’s so easy to be locked in the moment, to think that it’s all gone, that it will never come back, that we had our time and now we just can’t write any more. The world of literature is filled with writers who wrote one or two amazing works of art… Harper Lee, Malcolm Lowry, James Agee, Margaret Mitchell, Arthur Rimbaud… and then stopped, never to write or publish again, or to die frustrated and blocked. Others start drinking or smoking or other drugs… all have the effect of zapping the brain artificially and briefly filling the pool with inspiration, but then their brains are too fried to apply craft to what they pull out.

The trick, the secret, is to walk up the mountain, or around the mountain, where the collected subconscious of Mankind runs down in rivulets, cascades, and sometimes waterfalls. Do this, carrying your cap or a bowl, and dip it in. Then go back to your own pool and empty it. Don’t carry it back to your typewriter or computer or notebook immediately; that’s a good way to write something extra-derivative. Let it mingle with your own ideas, your own subconscious. Let it form new worlds and new ideas. Then pull it out to work with it. This is essential… going to the works of others to recharge your own work. If you don’t, one day you will sit down to write and it will be as useful as trying to look out your elbow.

Of course, the main reason I read is because I love to read, and sometimes I’m pretty sure that I write in order to fuel my reading habits. The method I described up there is, I think, the best way to read poetry, especially long works of poetry. And it will add to your own repertoire. You’ll find a poet whose work speaks to you or enchants you, and a month or a year later, you’ll realise that it’s enriched your own writing. I agree with you about the frustration that can come from reading poetry sometimes, even when you like writing it. This is why I find it essential to dip into these works, not dive into them. I do the same with Victorian novels and Romantic-era writing… part of the reason is because that was how it was meant to be consumed, a couple of chapters or poems at a time every month until the serial is finished. The best wine is drunk a small glass at a time, not by the gallon.

Whatever you do, keep writing. I think reading more of the good poets will help your writing (as it helped my own) but that shouldn’t be a block to writing. You are doing some incredible work at your blog. Sometimes I think of what you were writing a year ago at this time, compare it to what you’re writing now, and I start to fantasize about what you’ll be writing in a year, or ten years. And it also makes me get off my tucchus and write more, myself.