I’m trying to read a book a week, but a book a week really puts a book into perspective. I’m spending a whole week on this? I’m only spending a week on this?
Last week I read Dubliners by James Joyce. The problem was it was short stories. I read two. That’s not a book a week. That’s one short story every 3.5 days.
This week I’m reading The Town That Forgot How to Breatheby Kenneth J. Harvey. Since I had never heard of it before I started to read it, it felt like a waste of a week. I will finish this book and still no one will have heard of it? Then I read something – a blog post I got linked to through the New Yorker‘s book blog “Page-Turner.” It was a blog post someone made about things their professor (the writer Max Sebald) had said in class. One thing that stuck out:
“Get off the main thoroughfares; you’ll see nothing there. For example, Kant’s Critique is a yawn but his incidental writings are fascinating.”
This very creepy book I’m reading about a small town in Newfoundland where people literally forget how to breathe is not Kant’s other book, but I get it. I’m reading this book because it’s going to tell me something that not everyone knows. I am also reading it because I’m reading Maritime books, preparing for the moment where I go back and know everything there is to know about the book I’m writing about Cape Breton.
My book club meets tonight. We are always just sitting there itching to go home and read. Why is that books are such an enjoyable thing, but something we just want to get done? Why do we have bookshelves to show off the quantity of what we’ve read, when we could just endlessly borrow books from a library? Why do we have websites where we collect books like Pokemon cards? Why do we spout names of authors and their books like we are all so aware of the classics that we keep lists ready in our head?
I hope that I haven’t misunderstood reading. I really like doing it, I swear I do. But still I make resolutions like I don’t do enough of it, and I join clubs about it like I need support. Books are a big part of my life, but when did I decide that having a lot of books means having a lot of life?
I think it was when I decided that to be a writer I needed to have read everything. I ignored that being a writer had come from being a reader. I ignored that I read before I went to school, that there’s pictures of me as a baby staring fascinated at books. (See my “About” page). I forgot that there are too many books to read. I forgot that it’s more important to read than to think about reading.
It’s often okay not to win contests. I think it’s great.
Once, I didn’t get admitted to the Creative Writing major program at UBC. I imagined myself like Michael Jordan, who someone had to tell me didn’t make the first team he tried out for. Not winning things makes people work harder to win next time, to prove themselves. I thought: I will do this. Unfortunately, upon reading his Wikipedia page, Michael Jordan made the next team he tried out for because he both worked hard and grew four inches.
I’m done growing physically, but my fingers are getting faster at typing and my heart is getting better at handling defeat. I have not won maybe four things now – that means I tried maybe four things now – and I am feeling the motivation.
I didn’t get onto the longlist for the CBC Non Fiction Prize. It was an understandably vast country that defeated me. Still.
I think of each non-win as a rung on a ladder. I step up every time I get some form of defeat or negative critique because these things make me work harder by rethinking things, by sobering my writing up.
Though I look to you like I’m falling, in the reality of my metaphorical ladder, I am climbing. There are only so many rungs to go until I’m so far ahead of the game I’m blowing you all out of the park. You being the whole country, the whole UBC Creative Writing program, and I think I once submitted something to The New Yorker, so the whole world too.
Jennifer Egan’s short story in The New Yorker, “Black Box.” Do you ever get so excited you rip pages out of magazines? And a link to the Twitter feed on which it was serialized (though I do recommend not reading it upside down).
And I and your eyes
Draw round about a ring of gold
And sing their circle of sparks
And I and your eyes
Hold untold tales and conspire
With moon and sun to shake my soul.
And I and your eyes
If I could hold your hillside smile
Your seashore laughter your lips
Could stand alone the pain
Of flesh alone the time and space
And steel alone but I am shaken
It has taken your eyes
To move this stone.
Lauren Elkin is writing this: “a book about women and cities called Flâneuse, which challenges the widely-held idea that the flâneuse has never existed because women have not had the same access to the city as men. Part critical meander, part memoir, Flâneuse charts a path through literature and art revealing women’s sometimes liberating, sometimes fraught relationship to the metropolis.” -laurenelkin.com