Monthly Archives: December 2010

In Defense of Reading: (sigh) again…

I know it has been a while since my last post. Don’t worry. I have been busy, but after the high point of the end of NaNoWriMo, i’ve relapsed into a basic planning stage – biding my time, chewing the cud of the novel, spitting at passersby, that sort of thing. While words have been fewer and much more far between, they have continued and more ideas have been produced.

In fact i have been working so hard on generating ideas, and filling in the great, gaping, desert wide holes in the plot, that i have actually come up with one or two ideas for entirely new stories.

And then i wander into the ‘Why Bother?’ crowd while doing a little research on one of those ideas.

So here i am, starting in on a career – with much trepidation – at the ripe old age of 36. I have virtually no prospects for my fiction at present. I acknowledge that i haven’t the ‘qualifications’ of a writer (whatever those are and believe me i have wondered and pondered and despaired on that score for three decades). I’m stocking up the bookmarks on my browser, i’m getting a little more engaged on events, i’m starting to take it seriously.

And then I run into authors, published professionals no less, lamenting the fate of the written word in public and from every available soap box. It’s enough to get a budding scribe a little down.

So why bother? Why should you even bother to read? I mean you can glean oodles of information in seconds. Just type in whatever you want to know, hit search and at your fingertips are libraries of so called information available for the quick of eye and short of time. Congratulations.

Look. I get it. The world is moving really stupidly fast. You don’t have time to read. You have to wash the kids, brush the food, eat the meeting, drive the plane, dance like a dervish through the chaos of another fruitless day trying to catch up with the world which always seems just beyond your grasp. Why on earth would you have time to settle in with a book? Impossible! There are not enough hours in the day!

It’s really quite simple. Reading will save your life. I’m not talking about skimming, or gleaning the bare facts of something from a printed page, or an email, or a text message (though i would and will maintain that all of those are perfectly valid, though enormously truncated versions of literature). I am actually referring to finding a spot in the sun and curling up with a book. How will this save your life, you might ask?

For exactly the reason that you need to do it. I know. Silly circular argument. But listen closely – when you sit down with a book you are actually saving your life by slowing down the world, you are savoring it in a way that is otherwise not possible in any other way except meditation because reading is a meditation. There. I said it. It’s that simple.

When you read you are saying to the world that my life, chaotic and messy and faster than all hell that it is, is worth being saved. You are saying that i value my life enough to create the time to do it. Of course this can also be done listening to music, gardening, cooking, building a house, provided that you are doing that and only that. Any act, in meditation, is just that salvation you’re not getting from your television, or your Facebook, or your Twitter account, or your stupid job.

But reading is more than this. It is an illustration, a story, a self realization, a recognition, a moment where you actually grant yourself permission to think and think slowly and carefully about things. We don’t read superior literature because it will make us brilliant and easy to talk to – because quite frankly i have read a lot of ‘great literature’ and the best i can say is that people look at me funny when i bring it up in polite conversation. But that’s just the point. Because i read and because i care about the ideas that are transported between the book and myself, there is a much larger and much slower moving world that i have access to that would only become the dizzying morbid blur of nausea inducing motion that the rest of humanity seems intent on.

By the way, that dizzying, morbid, nauseating blur is the handbasket your sitting in – in free fall to where all handbaskets inevitably end up.

I guaranty that you will never learn psychology better than at the hands of Shakespeare, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dickenson. Doctor Phil could spend the rest of his days attempting to explain their insights to you and he would fail as miserably as he always does. You will never learn beauty and love without Rumi, Shelley, The Brontes. Okay, you might. But it will take longer and it will be just a little less colorful. Read and you will slow your life down. Read more and you will find it more manageable. Read even more and you might even start to enjoy it a little, finding little moments of the day reflected in words on a printed page, in a poem, in a glittering paragraph by Wilde or a terse, abrupt word by Hemingway.

Reading isn’t dead, nor is writing for that matter. It is merely changing. I am not a fan of the ebook and i don’t think i ever will be but it might be a boon in the end as people slip it surreptitiously into their busy techno-crammed lives. Writing will and is changing to the little bits of literature, delivered like koans to be read, enjoyed and discarded. A tweet is not literature, but it could be. A Facebook status can be as fine as a haiku or a sonnet and the novel will persist, the short story will evolve, new readers will be created in the strangest places. But for all of these tiny missives, thrown to the wolves of a voracious interconnected readership, don’t forget to take time and reconnect with your own head in some nice long piece of fiction.

The real point of reading is not necessarily to fill your head with all sorts of stuff and be big and smart and superior – though that is a bit of a side effect. The point is just to get in contact with your head at all, which is generally so busy trying to process information like mad that it doesn’t have time to talk to you right now. This leaves you in the unenviable position of being a minor passenger on a train that is completely out of control and speeding by everything of value.

I guess you know where the tracks end up. Same place as the Handbasket.

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Categories: Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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