I suppose some people might be interested in what (if anything) a writer likes to read while he or she is in the process of creating a new, long-form literary work of his or her own.
Do I binge on vintage comic books culled from secretive forays to collectibles stores, flea-markets, and online eBay auctions?
Do I crack open a box of bon-bons and dive, without a pang of guilt, into the adventures of distressed damsels desirous of rescue by Harlequin heroes?
Do I gather my powers of pomposity and insist upon reading Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov in the original Russian?
No, no, and no, to all of the above scenarios. (At least, not yet.)
Reading for pleasure when one is actually in the midst of writing a book tends to be a delicate proposition, as I discovered many moons ago.
You don’t necessarily want to “hear” anyone else’s writerly voice in your brain, not while it is of the utmost importance to summon your own voice for the work at hand. I know some writers who avoid casual reading like the plague when they are working, and I can understand the self-prohibition.
In my experience, however, hours of spilling my talent and hammering my wordsmithery onto a blank page leave me in need of some practical diversion.
Running five or six miles is always a go-to for me during a major creative burst. I did just that a few hours ago and thought about my new book and its characters the whole time. These were healthy, energy-replenishing thoughts, however. As opposed to the ones that can leave a guy drained while composing behind a desk.
Whilst running six miles in a forest setting, the mind may indeed cycle and recycle ideas about plot problems and possibilities, but the brain is also busy looking for potholes in the path, wondering if that low, stealthy-sounding crunch behind a thicket could be a mountain lion, or (at my age) just keeping the heart-rate nice and steady. Keeping the breath in rhythm with the footfalls.
It’s great, and I’m thankful for the oxygen, the general hush of creation, and the abundance of sights and gentle sounds that constitute healthful sensory encounters.
But when it’s bedtime, I want to read stuff. And I damned well don’t want to read anything I have written that day. (That’s for tomorrow’s perusal … the next jump-off point, if you will.)
I am at present writing a rather massive new work of fiction, and I am also illustrating said work. Lavishly so.
This, I need the distraction of other works, at least when the sun goes down. Though television has its place, the generally fetid state of contemporary entertainment is far too kinetic, incoherent, and disconnected to afford even a guilty pleasure, at least for me.
Thus, I prowl You Tube for solid old favorites (King Of The Hill is currently floating my boat) and I try to read books that feature literary voices and themes radically different from my own.
To wit, I am currently devouring a couple of classics in the pantheon of world literature, each of which is, in turn, quite different from the other.
A cherished friend and benefactress from Germany recently sent me an English translation of Der Shimmelreiter (or, according to its titular English approximation: The Dykemaster) by Theodor Storm. The little novel has become an instant favorite, weaving a tale about the hardy peoples who dwelled ever at the edge of maritime peril along the lowlands and uplands near Germany’s legendary dykes. The book is casting an undeniable spell, and for that magic I am most grateful.
My other selection is Metamorphoses by Ovid, the ancient Roman poet. This is a hardcover English translation of Ovid’s mythical, satirical classic that I picked-up on-the-cheap ten years ago at a Borders book-store. (Remember when those existed, fellow old-timer?)
How do I know I bought it ten years ago? Because the receipt was still in the book. At all events, Borders used to publish their own, affordable, library-quality editions of oft-forgotten classics. Apparently, I loaded-up on some Kafka and a heaping helping of Camus on that long-ago day of giddy shelf-hopping. They’re all still here, waiting patiently in my library to be reread, dusted, or shown the least bit of affection.
We’ll see how fate treats them, when it comes to tempting a busy writer in need of a bit of nightly amusement.
With another dear friend having sent me tempting new non-fiction books about Vermont hermits and dysfunctional families, I don’t think Kafka stands a chance right now.
Literature. It’s a helluva lot better than whiskey. Even if the latter has been responsible for so very much of the former.
See you around …
Jonathan Kieran is the author of the Rowan Blaize series of epic contemporary fantasy books, as well as the critically acclaimed (Midwestern Book Review) Confessions From The Comments Section: The Secret Lives of Internet Commenters and Other Pop-Culture Zombies. His work has also been featured on The Daily Dot.com and in a plethora of other ‘zines. Click on the book covers to the right if you want to learn more about Jonathan’s titles or spend some of your hard-earned money on his multi-formatted gifts to the human race. Jonathan is currently writing and illustrating a new novel. Drop-in once in awhile for updates; he promises to provide them … once in awhile.