“I was thinking, ‘So I’m Emperor, am I? What nonsense! But at least I’ll be able to make people read my books now.”–Robert Graves
When he put those words in the mouth of the unlikely Roman Emperor, Claudius, Graves was giving voice to a sentiment that undoubtedly arises in all of us sooner or later. If only people would read my books, the thought goes, they’d like them. Really! The “people” change–friends you impose on, agents you importune, publishers you beg and, if you’re lucky, readers you entice–but the notion remains: My stuff’s really good. Why is it so hard to get people to read it?
None of my friends or relatives has ever refused to read a manuscript, but I’ve learned to stop asking. They may find a fault here and there, but they’re never going to honestly criticize. A writer is much better off finding a reputable “editor,” hopefully at a reasonable price, who will tell him the truth. As for agents and publishers, we are all familiar with the oft-lamented (by them) demands on their time and resources, and publishing–like law and medicine–has become a business where the bottom line is all that matters. The rejection letter–often enclosed in a thin envelope stamped and addressed by the writer himself years before–is the industry’s equivalent of a death notice. Continue reading →
“If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” — Oscar Wilde
I started writing seriously in 2008. Up to that time, I read a book or two every week. Now I find myself editing the books I read, and I maintain a running commentary (criticism) of the author’s skills, or lack thereof, in my head. As a consequence, reading is not quite the joy it once was, and the books are fewer. However, for some reason the critic in me is not activated when I take an old favorite down from the shelf.
I believe that Wilde thought that a good book could be re-read because the reader, as he or she gained experience in the world, would discover new reasons to like it. Certainly, someone forced to read, say, War and Peace in college, would gain a new appreciation for Tolstoy’s novel if he picked it up again thirty years later. I did. For me, though, it’s more than that. Certain books have become my friends. Continue reading →
In an earlier post, I mentioned how the “teaching” of literature never worked for me. Rather than allow me to read and form my own conclusions, my teachers and professors usually insisted that their interpretations (original or not) were definitive, an attitude reinforced by examinations that might one day impact my economic life at least. As a consequence, I lost interest in almost all reading that wasn’t required for my studies and profession. (One exception that began in law school and continued until the magazine ceased publication was National Lampoon. I still have 30-40 copies in a drawer somewhere.) I believe that another, deadlier damper on the joy of reading is the summer reading list. Continue reading →
I come from a family of readers. When I was a child, my mother, sister and I always carried a book to the table at meal times. My mom would ban the books periodically and insist that we talk to one another, but the books always creeped back. The truth was that we preferred reading to speaking. Continue reading →