Reading Makes You Write

Hello, fellow cyberspace cadets!  How y’all doing?  If you’re anything like me, you probably don’t feel write if you go a few days without writing.  I get incredibly depressed.  Last week I was so busy with commuting, so stressed out about the exigencies of work and marriage, and so uninspired to write, I was tempted to do myself in.  I’m not a morning person, so mornings are a scary time for me.  It’s always a bit of a surprise that I survive until the afternoon, when I generally start to feel better, finally feeling at my best when evening rolls around.  Maybe that’s why it’s hard to get six straight hours of uninterrupted sleep; I just have that vampire-like enthusiasm that guarantees insomnia.

Anyway, innate stinginess makes me reluctant to share the books I love the most with you, since I’m afraid revealing my greatest sources of inspiration might jinx the creative process.  So instead I’ll just tell you what I’ve been reading recently, and give a few tips on what kind of stuff to read if you want a visit from the muse (not that I know what’s popular, having never earned a cent off all of this digitally generated verbiage).

Okay.  During my internet fast about a month ago I read five of Shakespeare’s plays back to back.  I wanted to read more, but I confess I sort of burned out on the bard and had to put him back on the back burner, where he remains today, stewing in his own creative juices.

After that I read a novel recommended to me by my stupid, annoying friend and fellow blogger, Mort Hawsen, with whom I’ve developed a kinship with because we’re both wet blankets.  I guess the old adage that misery loves company is true, which explains the popularity of marriage and shitty bars that serve watered-down, mass-produced, carbonated American piss.  Anyway, I also recommend the book he recommended, The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson.  The author does a decent job creating his own vision of North Korea.

I like to vary genres, usually switching back and forth between fiction and nonfiction, although these days I’m trying to read much more of the latter and much less of the former.  As an old friend of mine and fellow frustrated writer once told me, “Reading nonfiction won’t help you write; it’ll help you rant.”  Hence the existence of this blog.

So I dived into reality by reading a Simpsons comic book (my wife and I don’t have a telly so we can’t watch the show itself here).  The writing in the comics isn’t nearly as funny as the show was in its prime, but I can hear the voices of the characters in my head, and at least it’s got lots of colorful pretty pictures to make me smile like a half-wit.

Onward to Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, which held my attention better than I thought it would, considering it’s over 700 pages long.  In fact, I enjoyed it and felt vindicated by the green sentiments of its protagonist, Walter Berglund, even though his recalcitrant misanthropy also made him enduringly unsympathetic in some ways.  Or maybe I just saw too much of myself in him, and that made me uncomfortable.  Or maybe I just had to go to the bathroom.

For some reason, I sometimes have a hard time figuring out if something’s good or not.  I think because I’m the youngest of four siblings, and I always looked up to my older brothers and sister with the reverence of the less-experienced, at times I don’t trust my own instincts enough and rely too heavily on the influence of critics.

In fact, I read a disdainful review of the Franzen book about a year ago on the Atlantic Monthly’s website by B. R. Myers, author of The Cleanest Race:  How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters, a book I’d read and liked, and hadn’t read any reviews of.  I forwarded the link to a literary friend of mine who often beats me at Scrabble and had most members of my family, including me, on the ropes during a post-prandial game of Balderdash (otherwise known as Dictionary).

I think the reason I glommed onto Myers’ negative take without bothering to read Freedom myself was out of both intellectual and scholastic laziness.  That way I didn’t have to either read the book or come up with my own opinion.  It may also have come from a snobbish tendency to shun what’s popular, an impulse pointed out by the always-observant super-blogger and ambitious young novelist and short story writer Cristian Mihai.

As it turned out of course, I did like Freedom.  The only problem was that, despite what one of the blurbs promised, that the story would have an unforgettable, lasting impact on the reader, it didn’t.  And it didn’t inspire me to write either, which is the main reason I read anything anymore in the first place.

By the way, if you want to write, don’t be like me and get bogged down with politics and current events too much.  It’ll swallow up your time and energy, deplete your creative reserves, and make you feel like shit to boot (although the idea of booting shit–or even re-booting it, for that matter–is unappetizing to say the least).

Onward to Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence, a surprisingly enjoyable and illuminating reading experience.  Right now I’m in the middle of reading two books at once (actually three, or even more than that if you count all the titles I put down over the past few months without picking up again; most of them are non-fiction, which should tell you something):  Michael Lewis’ Boomerang, about how the global economic meltdown transpired in several European countries, and The Cricket in Times Square, by George Selden, the first children’s book I’ve read since I was a child.  It’s actually very good.  It wasn’t my idea to read it though; I have a private student who has a “tiger mom” and she gave me a box of Newbery Honor books as a homework assignment.

So even though I’m a teacher, I still have to do homework.

Might as well write a book called The Never-ending Childhood.

What kinds of things do you like to read?  What fires you up the most?

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