Tuesday, May 8, 2012

resenting all those unread books

I’ve decided to lay off reading fiction for the time being. It’s been quite nice lately, book after book without a break and I don’t know when I’ve last had the luxury of letting myself read this much. Alas, all this reading is interfering with the writing I’m supposed to be doing. I realized yesterday that I’m no longer able to concentrate on either the book I’m reading or the book I’m writing. I’ve been carrying around Tolstoy’s slim novella Hadji Murad for about a week now, and I find that I’m just sort of poking at it, not giving it any real attention at all. Which is a shame, because I think it’s a fine book but it should probably be read in one or two sittings (it’s certainly short enough for that) rather than a few pages here or there. It’s just that I’m distracted by the book I’m writing.

And the book I’m writing isn’t getting the attention it needs, either, because I’m distracted by the books I’m reading. The end result is that I’m being a crappy reader and probably a crappy writer as well. Why am I only able to scribble out a chapter a month? Because I’m reading a lot of novels and I only give the book I’m writing my full attention a few days toward the end of the month. So I’m going to focus on the work and not read any fiction for a while. Hopefully I’ll be able to finish the rough draft of Go Home, Miss America in two months rather than, say, five. And hopefully I’ll be writing better stuff if that’s the one story about which I’m thinking all the time. This is the first novel I’ve tried to write while keeping up an aggressive reading schedule, and sadly it’s just not working, at least not for the writing part of my life.

Part of my reluctance to stop reading even for a few months is my constant fear that I haven’t read enough of the great books of literature to even consider writing something on my own. There are of course more “great books” I want to read than I’ll ever have time for even if I live as long as Methuselah, so the thing to do is just get on with the writing and not wait until I’ve experienced the whole of the Western canon. It’s just, you know, that there’s so much really good stuff out there that I’ve never read, and I know that my own writing would be better if it were informed by/exposed to all of that stuff. But that way lies madness and not much in the way of prose writing. So I’ll stumble along as best as I can, resenting all those unread books and the shortness of life.

But hopefully I’ll crank out the draft before the end of summer and then I can dive back into more reading reading reading while I let the novel stew. I also have to remember that I’ll need time for the editorial process on The Astrologer, and I also want to make revisions to two other novels this year. I shouldn’t forget that I’m planning a series of essays for my publisher about astronomy and astrology, too, and maybe something about the relevance of Shakespeare to modern literature, if I’m cocky enough to write that one. Really, who has time to read with all this writing to do?

Sorry for a very dull "life of the writer" post. It's all I've got. Maybe tomorrow I'll write about violin playing again. We saw a fine concert last Friday and, while I didn't like some of the soloist's stage and performance mannerisms, it was ever so inspiring and now all I want to play is gypsy music. The thing about gypsy music, though, is that it's really very technically difficult. But all that portamento is cool.


  1. Many books do not get written because the potential writer is unable to give up his beloved reading.

    It all likely works out for the best.

    And: Man, do I love gypsy music!

  2. Ooo, gypsy music?! That sounds intriguing...! I live in constant guilt and resentment of the books I haven't read it. Hangin' over my head.

  3. I've never been able to read and write, just for the very same reasons you mention. I can't concentrate on one or the other and then both suffer.

  4. I get into these phases too, where all I do is read or all I do is write. Usually I read many more books immediately after I finish a project. That's where I am now, and I'm surprised at how much I can get done. It's so much faster to read than it is to write!

  5. Tom, today I had one of those "who needs my books when there are already so many great ones" moments. My life would be much easier if I'd give in to the temptation to be a reader and not a writer, but my immense writer's ego continues to overcome that temptation.

    I'm not one of those folks who only likes the "pure" rural Balkan music and turns up his nose at the "verbunkos" virtuoso style that's had the most influence on classical music. I love all of it, from Ravel's "Tzigane" to Pawlo Humeniuk, "King of the Ukranian Fiddle" to the Transylvanian band Muzikas who ran guns to rebels during their tours. For many years there was in Seattle a great Balkan band called "Ensemble Sub Masa." We hired them to play a couple of house parties; the violinist (Count Constantin Parvelescu) once brought me a bottle of nice Romanian mastika. So yeah, gypsy music.

    Michelle, there's always time to read those books (and always time to learn about more books you feel you should read)!

    Anne, this is the first time I've kept up a busy reading habit while drafting a novel. I just didn't want to stop. Plus, I always feel smarter when I'm reading.

    Davin, yes: my reading always seems to snowball when I end a writing project. After finishing the detective novel last year I wanted to "catch up" (as if that's possible) on reading. If I hadn't become so manic about devouring my TBR stack, I'd likely have the first draft of "Go Home, Miss America" done by now. But whatevs, right? Reading is fundamental.