So many books, so little time

One of the maddening ironies of writing books is that it leaves so little time for reading others’. My bedside is piled with books, but it’s duty reading: books for book research, books for reviews. The ones I pine for are off on a shelf downstairs — Mary Roach

Since I was little, I have loved and enjoyed reading. Reading was never a chore especially when what you were reading was something interesting. Reading only became a chore when you had to read something for school or university and all you could see were words strung together to make a sentence but still couldn’t parse the meaning.

It was also during that time, you figured out what you liked and didn’t like to read. There have been a handful of books I couldn’t finish because they would literally put me to sleep or I would forced myself to read it but nothing stuck in my head.

I remember taking three university literature courses — 20th Century American literature, British literature and Canadian literature. Of the three, I enjoyed American literature the most. British literature was my most befuddling course. Maybe it had something to do with the professor’s delivery of the course materials. Maybe my brain wasn’t wired for the classics at the time. I still don’t think my brain is wired for the British classics. I loved Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (I read that book in junior high) but it isn’t enough to get a solid foothold on understanding and dissecting British literature.

And while I loved my 20th Century American literature course, the one book I couldn’t get into was John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. I’ve mentioned in a previous blog the high degree of distaste I have for that book. Couldn’t get past page 11. That was it. Threw the book away. Still passed the course, though.

So, to cleanse the sour taste of being unable to read something that is considered a classic, I would go off and read something more grounded and slightly feral. That meant reading Michel Foucault and erotica. Not together. You know what I mean. Yes, I know… odd combination. That’s how I roll.

But I was pretty picky about the erotica, too. You get that way after you read enough of them. As in any genre, not all writers are the same. You click with some writers. And the ones you don’t click with… well… you don’t have to like everyone. You just have to like a few. Some stories I favoured more than others because of their ability to hook me into the scene (notice how I didn’t say ‘story’?That’s because I don’t remember any storylines) or there was some sort of shared sensibility I had with author that shone through the writing.

Post-university, I found myself not making enough time to read, just for the share pleasure of reading. I read newspapers and magazines… easily consumable copy that didn’t require more than maybe 20 minutes out of the day. But a 150-page, 200-page or 300-page book? Nah, didn’t make much time for those despite the fact I still had a habit of walking into a bookstore and buying novels that caught my eye, thinking I would read them ‘soon’. I know… pretty funny, eh?

I’m not ashamed to say that some of those books have never had their pages experience late-night maulings from me. I still have them. Not sure when I’m going to maul them. But they’re there when I want them.

However, I’m afraid they have a bit of a wait still because I have some (what I really mean is, a lot of) books that I need to read in the name of research for my writing project. Then there are two separate piles of ‘research’ books for two separate story ideas I’d like to explore after the current writing project. THEN, there is another pile I want to read just for the shear pleasure of reading. That pile is located at my bedside. You don’t want to know where my research piles are located.

It’s all organized chaos. Although something tells me I need to do some culling of the herd. I guess that means some books may never be mauled by me. But they’ll get a chance to be mauled by someone else. And that is always a good thing for a book.

So now, I have piles of books waiting to be ravished and I have a writing project that demands my attention. Throw in life and you’ve got an interesting juggling act. I suppose this is where I apply my time management skills but I think that more for the office than for life. I manage my time but it’s not rigid. Everything is fluid. For some people, that sounds like a horrible idea. For me, I don’t think so. I prioritize. Prioritizing works with fluidity. Rigid adherence to a schedule… not so much.

Can’t really complain, though. I’m surrounded by things that want my attention, and they are things I want to give my attention to. I’ll work my way through the piles of books and still have time for my writing projects. It’s not quite bliss.

But it’s damn close.

Treasure trove of revelations

It usually helps me write by reading – somehow the reading gear in your head turns the writing gear — Steven Wright

Last Monday, my research material for the short-story-turned-novel arrived. I can’t remember if there was ever a time I was this excited to do research. Each book, each item I took out of the cardboard box I deemed a treasure trove of revelations waiting to be discovered.

I can tell you my two main characters were excited, too. They’re reading the research along with me. I don’t notice them until I come across an interesting tidbit that intrigues them and one or both of them immediately enact an idea for me. No warning whatsoever. Just — BOOM. It’s so easy for them to tear me away from whatever I’m doing.

Fortunately, any moment/idea they play out for me lasts roughly a minute. And I take another minute to absorb their idea. Then I give them the side-eye and ask if that’s something they want to explore. They give me one of two responses — shrug and say it wouldn’t hurt to see if the idea has merit to the narrative, or they give me an enthusiastic ‘Hell yes!” They know I have final veto on an idea but we hash it out and make sure we’re all in agreement on any given idea/concept.

Since receiving the research material, I have made it a point to set aside a minimum of a hour a day to go through it. It’s kinda nice to purposefully set aside time to read. The book worm in me had missed it. The subject matter is beyond interesting. I admit I haven’t made time to read for the pure pleasure of it. But this is a start. I’m also thinking that reading non-fiction might be the only way for me to make time to read. There are certain genres of fiction I undoubtedly make time to read. But beyond those genres, I’m hard-pressed to make a concerted commitment to read for pleasure’s sake.

There was a time I would read anything. I was much younger back then, had fewer responsibilities and fewer distractions. Maybe I’m picky. Maybe I just have more interests vying for my attention.

All this research is going to be a boon for the short-story-turned-novel. Already there are little details I want to change, include and/or consider. I am genuinely excited about this. There is much that will influence how the story will evolve. This will give my characters a more rounded portrait of who they are at the beginning of the story and where they will end up at its conclusion. I have a couple of different endings in mind for them. But as I go through all the research material, I believe a new idea or two on ways to end the story may reveal themselves to me.

A treasure trove of revelations. I love it.

Good intentions

I want the reader to feel something is astonishing. Not the ‘what happens,’ but the way everything happens. These long short story fictions do that best, for me — Alice Munro

By now, every book-loving person on the planet knows the newest Nobel Peace Prize winner for Literature is Canada’s Alice Munro. As a Canadian and lapsed bookworm (loved reading as a child and teenager but as an adult, life gets in the way and carving out time to read has been an ongoing challenge), I was tickled to hear the prize went to Munro.

But I have to confess something.

I’ve never read any of her short stories. That’s because I was inclined to read Charles Bukowski, Eugene O’Neill, William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway. American authors by way of my university 20th century American Literature class. Bukowski wasn’t part of the course. I think I discovered him by accident when I was looking for something else in the local bookstore.

I’m pretty sure a Canadian literature course existed when I went to university but for whatever reason, I never took it. I think I’ll blame it on the British literature course I opted to take instead of the CanLit course. I thought the British literature course would be more interesting. Not. Maybe it was the way the professor presented the material but I always seemed to be off the mark when it came to understanding the books I was tasked to read. It became one of the least favourite courses from my university days.

I should have taken the Canadian literature course instead.

While I admit to having never read any of her short story collections, I did purchase her book The Love of a Good Woman when it was published. It was my attempt to discover an author I had never read before. I bought the book with the intention of reading it. I thought it was a very good intention. Not surprisingly, I still haven’t read the book but I’ve pulled it out of the book shelf and it’s sitting on the kitchen counter waiting for me to open its covers and dive right in.

I know I’m not alone when it comes to buying a book with the intention of reading it, only to find it months – or in my case – years later, unintentionally forgotten underneath a pile of everyday life or tucked away on a shelf. I have piles of books I’ve purchased over the years but have never gotten around to reading them. All good intentions.

One of these days I’ll start making a pile of books I have read. That would be nice. I do have a pile of books I started reading but haven’t finished yet. I suppose I should use the unfinished pile to start building the finished pile.

Yeah. That’s sounds like a plan. It’s also another good intention. A good intention that might go by the wayside again.

Maybe not this time. That Alice Munro book sitting on the counter is patiently waiting for me. Waiting for me to go through it one short story at a time.