Last year (2019) I read 290 books. That includes a number of individual plays, novellas, graphic novels, and works of poetry, but it still strikes me as rather a lot: almost one work per day. This year I have, so far, read about…ninety books. Not nearly as many. There’s been a pandemic, and we’ve had a baby. And I’ve had a tumultuous year when it came to my own writing, and I just haven’t felt as excited about reading new work as I did last year.
But hopefully that’ll change soon. I find that I can’t write for long without wanting to read again, and conversely I can’t read without wanting to write. They’re very connected. I’m a terrible egotist, the worst sort of writer, in that the moment I start reading a certain sort of thing, I think, “I want to write something like this.” Hence once I started reading poetry, I started writing it. When I started reading literary essays, I started writing them. Often my initial efforts aren’t much good, but there’s no harm in that. Why be precious and pretend that I have something to lose?
If anything, it’s nice to feel like a beginner again. When I was starting out as a fiction writer, I wrote frantically, I had so much to write, so many ideas. They dried up eventually. I got more serious, more self-critical. It’s nice to be bad again. Nice to not be so fully-formed, nice to be able to imitate a little bit.
At the same time, it’s also nice to start reading more broadly and start to develop some ideas of my own. For instance, I’ve been reading a lot of lyric poetry lately, and I came across a poem lately that had such a classic lyric poem ending. God, I should’ve made a note of it, I’m not sure I can find it again. But the poem was mostly an imagist poem, but at the end it suddenly got very grave. The effect was if you were reading a poem that as like. It was like if the Red Wheelbarrow ended by saying, “And death came for us that fall.” It was much more beautiful than that, but so clunky. Such a heavy-handed ringing of a bell.
Anyway, hope you all out there had a happy thanksgiving