This is the first installment of a series of posts I will be posting from readers about what makes a “good read” for them. The insight that we can glean from the people who will potentially be reading our work can be invaluable, so I hope you guys enjoy these as much as I have! Van is a friend of mine who, if you can’t tell, is a highly educated individual who has been trained to add a degree of technicality to his writing through all of the reading he has done for school. He is also a supporter of the Humane Society and loves his pets almost as much as I love mine! While his article may be a bit technical, I urge you to read it in its entirety! It’s AMAZINGLY written and highly informative! Happy writing!
Why/What I Read?
Every now and then, friends and strangers ask me how I can read as much as I do, and sometimes they ask how I can stand reading the dry articles, essays and books by philosophers, theorists and other thinkers that I revel in. The answer is: I have a love for texts. It’s that simple. I love reading, whether it is a children’s book or it is a dense Russian fuckface of a brick-novel. There is something in the way other people describe a world that may or may not surround me, to see what they notice, what they don’t. I look at reading from a very foucaultian perspective. Michel Foucault wrote in the seventies that the only way we can even approximate an understanding of the world and other individuals is through literature. Literature is the overlap between two people’s experience and thus creates a shared reality we accept as the way things are.
But, although I do love reading in general there are certain forms to the expression of writing that suit me better than others. One form that really doesn’t suit me (that I even can be said to despise) is the unannounced time jump. An author acknowledged for her literary brilliance and that everyone is supposed to love and revere is Toni Morrison. Although I am constantly struck by her lush and gorgeous diction, she seems to desire the instilment of confusion in her readers by constantly deciding to jump back and forth in time and not make it clear how the different moments in time a placed in relation to each other. Are we talking 2 months or 30 years? She drives me crazy when she does it and I end up not giving a shit about the characters she so beautifully describes to me.
What I really do love about Morrison’s and others’ form is the use of shorter sections. I hate having to put down a book in the middle of a chapter. So chapters that run at 10-20 pages are awesome because then you don’t have to take that break in the middle. An author who is horrible at this (and many other things) is Ayn Rand. How the hell do you expect me to sit concentrated and read a speech by a character that spans over 80 pages, and then some other context-text around it? It is not often I can take that kind of a reading stretch. As a tip for aspiring novelists and short storyists I would recommend building in even breaks in the work as to give a reading experience more suited for the ADD inherent in our culture today. Think about Roald Dahl. Why do we love Roald Dahl? He manages to construct an entire world, a hero, a villain, and a plot we care about in just a few pages, sometimes just one. His language is so powerful he doesn’t need a lot of it. Then he manages to build this tiny little chapters, for those moments when you may just have 10-20 minutes to escape the moment for another.
Why the bleep you should write?
This is the formulation I am really passionate about, and I can respond less dryly to. The easiest answer to the question I can give you is: Because words change people’s lives. Sociologist Anthony Giddens, although a crackpot of astronomical proportions, has argued several times how our identities, our senses of self, are constructed from narratives, narratives in constant motion and reformulation. Your life is not just one narrative; it is many narratives braided together, constructing the illusion of a whole. But there are always gaps. When we find a new gap we add a narrative, rewrite one, remove one, or whatever we feel necessary in order to build that illusion of a whole. But, the change constructs a new gap to be found, and we restart the process when we discover where it is.
Reading other stories and narratives, whether fictional or non-fiction helps us rewrite our own narratives, change them for the sake of accuracy, mystique, whims, or whatever reason you may have to change it. But, as you write novels and short stories, you are also negotiating your own narratives, trying to make sense of them, or maybe trying to build a friend. Writing is a vital part of life. It helps us deal with life by often being as unpredictable as life tends to be. If you have been writing for a while it has probably happened to you that unplanned characters and events just show up on the page because they simply need to be there. Later on, that character might receive a spin-off, generating another character who gets a spin-off of their own, which also tells stories about characters existing in the first story. This stuff happens because writing is living; it is breathing.
Everyone writes. Every account a person makes is a recollection, a reconstruction. In some ways it doesn’t matter if it is “true” or not, because the moment it is written, its existence is “true.” Whenever you doubt your writing, remember that you might help someone write themselves out of a destructive narrative. Think of a youtube video that went viral about a year ago, many months after first posted. It featured a boy telling a first-person-narrative about abuse, bullying, and self-destructive behavior through written notes. It generated a lot of responses in the form of other videos where people adopted his form to tell him he was not alone in his experience. It also generated responses saying that he was lying because he had posted another video months later where he was happy and in some parts retracted the first video. But the issue is that it doesn’t matter if he “lied.” Even if he “lied” he was telling a “truth,” but through himself rather than through another person.
I have rambled on for long enough. I’m just gonna add one more point to this ludicrous essay: The only writers I thoroughly enjoy reading are the ones who I believe are telling “A TRUTH,” writers like the youtube boy. If they capture a sense of a shared or private reality, I have to see that capture through. Maybe it is my reality, my narrative, or the student I will meet in class in the morning.