So, I’ve been inconsistent about posting lately. Most of my writing energies have been directed toward the recent non-fiction seminar I took at WriterHouse. Let me say quickly that WriterHouse is a great organization committed to supporting writers & building a strong community around word-craft. If you live in Virginia, I urge you to check them out.
I thought I’d get back into the swing of blogging by talking about what I’m reading at the moment. Most of the writers I’ve met or listened to at panels have stressed that good reading habits are key to building strong writing. The most recent example I’ve run across is Bill Roorbach’s Writing Life Stories which suggests (strongly) that an aspiring writer should not only have scheduled writing time, but scheduled reading time as well.
Of course my problem isn’t so much finding time to read as finally putting the book down & picking up my pen. Which is probably the reason that I’ve found myself in a mire of books at the moment.
I just finished Joan Didion’s Blue Nights over this past weekend. I was going to review it for my local paper but I decided not to once I finished the book. Blue Nights was the first I’d ever read of Didion’s work & I really didn’t know what to expect. I thought the memoir would give me a sense of who Quintana Roo, Didion’s deceased daughter, was as well as what the relationship between the two of them was like. Instead, the book touched on many aspects surrounding their relationship: Didion’s choice to adopt, her reflections on parenthood and aging, fearful memories of her own faults as a mother. But, I thought the work never really got to the core of what was so special or troubling or lovely about the ties between mother and daughter. Friends tell me that The Year of Magical Thinking is really good, so I’ll give Didion another try.
I also have a copy of Charles J. Shields’ And So It Goes, which I am moving through quickly. My husband is writing a piece on Mr. Shields in anticipation of his book signing at Griffin Bookshop on November 17th so we have a copy to peruse. The prose is brisk even with the noticeable number of footnotes in the text. The section I’ve enjoyed so far is the chapter on Vonnegut’s military service and his stint as a POW during World War II. I found myself comparing this chapter to a similarly insightful section in Kenneth Slawenski’s bio on J.D. Salinger. Comparing the two authors’ movements through the war is interesting to consider & I wonder if the two ever crossed paths.
While the two previous books are “work” reading, I’m reading Iris Murdoch’s The Good Apprentice and P.G. Wodehouse’s Life With Jeeves for fun. I’ll admit that I enjoy reading Brit Lit because Anglo writers often have a deeper perspective of class than many American writers do not. And considering we’re living in an interesting economic time here in America, I thought I’d find some comfort. I love Murdoch’s clear, considered touch with characters who are often preoccupied with matters that seem trivial to their own lives. You can find it easy to laugh at them until Murdoch throws in some insight that makes you realize you are quite similar to the foolish character.
I’m curious to see if Wodehouse takes the same tack with his satires. I’ve been avoiding reading him for years, mainly because I though he was stuffy and boring, a watermark of Anglophilia at it’s most conservative and unimaginative point. I mean, England is the land that gave us the Sex Pistols, the Romantics, Shakespeare, shining examples of social commentary in literature–honestly I could go on and on. What could possible be interesting about a rich dandy and his manservant? Then I read a quote by Wodehouse that talked about two different types of fiction writers: those who try to write “musical comedies without the music” and those who unrelentingly try to capture real life. That started me thinking about Norman Rockwell and how his illustrations were often at odds with the harsh realities he had witnessed. I’m curious to see if Wodehouse is working under the same motivation.
If nothing else, Jeeves has rekindled my hopeless crush on Stephen Fry.
There is plenty more I could go on about because I haven’t even mentioned the blogs that I follow as well. But I’ll end here by saying I read this amazing article in New York Magazine a few weeks ago about David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, Jeffrey Eugenides and Mary Karr growing together as writers. It is a fascinating, frank portrait of the ambitions and failures of young writers, as well as the competition that develops between peers. I would recommend it to anyone who writes & needs a burst of inspiration when they get another rejection notice or just needs a bit of direction.
Well, this post is plenty long enough. I think all that reading must have paid off just a little.