I attribute my renewed enthusiasm for writing with my recent regular reading. This reading kicked off two and half months back with me purposefully buying the complete collection of Hemingway’s short stories. Three or four in I switched to Harry Potter. With kids and a job and competition with TV I’m looking for distraction and entertainment—bread and circuses—not thought provoking literary heft. I hold out that I could handle TPLH and might one day soon. For now though I’m content with a little brain drool.
One through five were rereads. I reread books because I have a poor memory for the details but a great one for the experience. When I reread I’m never surprised or left wondering, but I am returned to the emotional territory of surprise and wonder.
Book six of the seven sits with the Braum’s receipt bookmark well past the halfway point on my side table. With this sixth book—which I was convinced I’d never read—I’m finding unexpected familiarity about every third chapter. I’d thought this might be due to me having seen the movie adaptation and not recalling I’d done that, but yesterday at the theatre I saw the preview for the unreleased sixth movies so its not that. I don’t think it’s magic or clairvoyance or whatever they call it when you mix déjà vu with book reading, but it is uncanny. Since I have no idea where I’m going with this I’ll just drop it.
I would like to get back to the preview for the movie. Except for a single portion of the trailer I haven’t read anything int he book like what I saw on screen. I guess the later half of the book will suddenly turn into a Michael Bay flick. I can’t wait. Does anyone know if the Hemingway shorts use the guns more and the brains less after the first four?
I completed my second reading of Ursula K. Le Guin’s “A Wizard of Earthsea” Saturday night. A young wizard named Ged struggles with the consequences of his early, untutored, foray into magic. I am aware, though uncertain how, this tale is considered groundbreaking for it’s non-white main character. Or maybe it’s just considered a good story and happens to have a non-white character.
The first time I read the story I found it passable but not compelling. Despite being set in an extensive and (we’re told) diverse archipelago the plot clings tightly to the young wizard. Essentially Ged’s story is a quest unencumbered with a motley troupe of characters and nothing unexpected occurs. Sure, Ged overcomes a trial or two, but in the end he whacks the big evil on the head and lives to make book two.
I describe Ged as non-white, because I know Le Guin told me her character possessed dark skin, but I never got a definitive picture of what exactly that meant. I know people who develop a mental image of folks they’ve only met over the phone: blonde, slightly overweight, and jovial. I don’t do that, to me the voice is the person. My style of reading mirrors my phone style. It accounts mostly for plot, dialogue, tempo, and emotion but it doesn’t linger on what color a dragon is, how long a sword might be, or the subtle difference between glowing magefire or gleaming magefire.
In any case, Ged’s color played no part in the story. Maybe that’s the groundbreaking part. I don’t know.
I read the book a second time for three reasons: it wasn’t bad the first time, it was short, and I was convinced that I might come to understand the importance of the book. It still wasn’t bad, it still was the same length, I still don’t comprehend. I feel bad about the last one, but I’m not sure what more I can do.
All this is really preamble for me to tell you that I’m now finally reading that book I bought a couple weeks back: the complete short stories of John Steinbeck.
I went to the bookstore alone last night. Instead of lighting on the computer section first then gravitating inexorably to Science Fiction & Fantasy I figured out where the regular book are kept.
They call this section Fiction. In it the shopkeepers are allowed to mix Clive Cussler with John Steinbeck. Patricia Cornwell with Emily Bronte. And Stephen King with anyone else. Seems like they could easily split this large section into Fiction You Read in School and Fiction You Read at the Beach. They don’t.
Normally I scan the covers looking for dragons or swords or cityscapes or spaceships. Then I glance to the title and author to see if either sounds like a dumb name. In this sense, dumb is a little hard to quantify because some some names are dumb but don’t sound so it the right context. Other names don’t sound dumb right away, but still are. With genre fiction you can just about judge a book by it’s cover. The traditional alphabetizing by the author’s last name isn’t an encumbrance for finding what you like. Not so in the fiction section where Lewis Carrol the author of the first book I selected and Ernest Hemingway, the author of the second, are separated by two aisles of other folks and you struggle to remember what you were after by the time you’ve worked through all the Ds and Es and Fs and Gs.
There existed the off chance I’d buy Atlas Shrugged as well–I didn’t. By the time I got three more aisles over from Hemingway to Rand I’d forgotten I my intentions. The shock of seeing that phonebook like mass of pulp spine-faced next to it’s brother The Fountainhead almost kept me from sliding it out and looking for the price. Nearly thirty dollars for that book made it easy to gently wedge it back into the void. Some other budding hater of industry–or whatever it is Ayn Rand loathes (or does she love something? Is that it?)–can plop down her cash for that one. Me I’m scanning the Gutenberg Project later today. Or maybe Scribd.
So I’m going to ground. Retreating. Getting some lessons from the masters by reading in order to drive up the quality of writing around here. You know, now that four days of writing proves I’m back.
You may still suggest you favorite classic for me to read in the comments below or from yesterday, but I doubt I’ll get to it soon. I need to wrap on A Wizard of Earthsea then dig into all of Papa’s short stories while simultaneously reading Alice in Wonderland to my oldest daughter each day.