Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Hook

It has always been difficult to be well read, early on because there were scant books and most of those were either in personal libraries or in remote monasteries, in more recent years because an increasing number of books were being published.

Your personal solution to the matter has been to read fiction with the focus of a coyote checking out the hillside for a rabbit or two for it supper, which is to say, Pounce right now and screw the consequences of routine and responsibilities.  Included in your solution is the strategy of not returning to any book you do not have to return to, thus accounting for a number of opened books here and there.  In a studio-like living arrangement with one large room, a generous kitchen, a bathroom with perhaps twice the volume of the early telephone booth, opened books are easy to notice.  The rule of thumb has been that books left open for more than three days go to the library book sale dump box.

Nonfiction is another matter.  You do not have to read a work of nonfiction all the way through unless, of course, you have to because the book will not have it any other way.  Nonfiction books become reference books.  Not that fiction cannot be reference.  Nonfiction is stored somewhere between a Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress System, with you in the middle.

You'd hoped by now to be off the hook with the defensiveness about being well read, as though either being well read or not being  defensive abut your poor score would confer upon you some measure of comfort the way seeing gradual increases in your credit score allows you the fiction of comfort about financial matters.  No such luck.

The state of  being well read is a cultural ideal you picked up in a working class family whose members all assumed you would  go on to a university, which was seen as a kind of trampoline from which you would, after much flexing and tensing of muscles, bound high enough to free you of restraints and limitations associated with what manner of work you might perform and where you might perform it.  This cultural ideal is something similar to a bar code tattooed onto your forehead, pronouncing you, if not intelligent then at least cultured.

Try putting that down on a job application.  Work skills_____?  Er, cultured.  Or, as in one job interview, you surprised yourself by answering the question, Why should we hire you? with the admission that you had good taste.  Oh, really?  Do you?  Well, we certainly don't want it said that the manager of our Los Angeles office doesn't have good taste, do we?

Although this put you in a tight spot, because having good taste is every bit as subjective as being well read, you did get the job, which meant you now got to put your good taste to the practical test of choosing works written by men and women whom you considered to merit publication.

It is heavy with you now that you will neither be able to read enough nor write enough.  Both these activities are central to publication and publishing, both of which activities matter to you.  But so also does discovery matter to you.  The fact of being alive and afflicted with little or no opportunities for discovery seem a horrendous equation, which you do not want to come to pass.  You are willing to nod to, even accept the notions of ignorance and stupidity as tickets to the amusement park of life, where there are more rides than you can possibly indulge.  That's okay, too.  Who ever met someone coming from Disneyland , describing herself as well ridden.

You hope to ride only the rides that lead to some discovery.  The discovery does not have to be happy or even comfortable.  Look at all those you've seen get sick while on rides.

You read and write for discovery, some parts of which may be the discovery that this particular book is not worth reading or that this particular piece or story is not worth writing.  You are a bona fide optimist in the sense that you still think it possible to read something that will illuminate you.  To put it another way, you do not believe you have read all the life-changing works out there, or that your years have carried you beyond the time when a work could change your life.
Same holds for writing.  Who knows what discoveries that could lead to?  Surely not you.

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