Read something uneasy the free & easy way here.
Some real talk: most writing isn’t worth consuming. That includes cereal boxes and New York Times wedding announcements. More real talk: most people urging you to read widely probably have a hard time ranging outside their comfort zones. There’s no doubt that, in the political realm, we need more connection with those we disagree with. But for the most part, “read widely” belongs to a class of expression that’s good to be heard saying (as in: we need “more dialogue” or we need “to have a national conversation about sheet cake”). In my experience, only a minority of writers like to chase their Leslie Jamison with some Conrad Black, or their Yvor Winters with some Roxane Gay. Many can barely metabolize a Stephen Marche tweet without declaring a stomach ache, and Marche is a reasonable guy who can write a good sentence.
The real problem with telling young writers to fan out across genres and forms is that it doesn’t help them find a voice. If anything, it’s antivoice. Learning the craft of writing isn’t about hopping texts like hyperlinks. It’s about devotion and obsession. It’s about lingering too long in some beloved book’s language, about steeping yourself in someone else’s style until your consciousness changes colour. It’s Tolkien phases and Plath crushes. It’s going embarrassingly, unfashionably all in. (And, eventually, all out.)
The call to “read widely” is a failure to make judgments. It disperses our attention across an ever-increasing black hole of mostly undeserving books. Whatever else you do, you should not be reading the many, many new releases of middling poetry and fiction that will be vying for your attention over the next year or so out of some obligation to submit your ear to a variety of voices. Leave that to the editors of Canada’s few newspaper book sections, which often resemble arm’s-length marketing departments for publishers. Leave that to the dubious figure of the “arts journalist.”
“Books can be skimmed. In this sense, only paintings are superior to books.
A film or television show, although it is visual, cannot be taken at a glance, like a painting. Nor can it be skimmed. It is possible to lose concentration and be distracted, but not move ahead to see what comes next, flip backward to understand something better, or pause for a moment to think.
Programs recorded on videocassettes or DVDs do allow the viewer to scroll back and forth, but exploring them isn’t easy…One becomes impatient exploring the files of a computer; it isn’t easy to get a quick idea of the content.
It is easier to find things in books — which is ironic, after Marshall McLuhan’s declaration of the obsolescence of “linear writing.” Nothing requires more “linear reading” than television, tapes, and records. Unlike books (or paintings) they can’t be taken in all at once. They hearken back to the texts of antiquity, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, which had to be rolled from one rod to the other in order to be read.
This new-media disadvantage is evident even in direct-mail advertising. A reader may give a printed pamphlet two seconds of attention before he discards it, but there is less chance that the recipient of an unsolicited CD will load and consider it: that would take more than two seconds. Similarly, even at the height of the paperless era, many people prefer to work with printouts rather than onscreen files. But most ironic of all is the printed instruction booklet that comes with so-called cutting-edge electronic equipment. No book requires electronic instructions explaining how to read it.
Books are portable. The advantage of the book is that all the other media require two steps to be read: one step to transform the mechanical, magnetic, optical, or electronic signal (received or taped) into something that in turn (the second step) is legible by a human being. Whereas the book is directly legible…
…The true comparison, however, isn’t between the many volumes of an encyclopedia and a single disc, but between the encyclopedia and a complete set of electronic equipment that is not solely dedicated to the reading of that disc.” -Gabriel Zaid, So Many Books.
[It’s good to remember that those big gods would be nothing without little gods. They’d have no Olympus without them–just empty thrones. In some ways, I’d prefer Olympus to fall… Such a sad post about the loss of an author’s power–at the risk of the creation. Are you a “good little god” if what you create suffers under your own apathy to let it be abused?]
I’ve been thinking a lot about control. As a writer, you sculpt a world from scratch, populate it with people, with stories, and control them all. From the geography to the folklore, the smallest details to the largest plots. It’s in your hands.
In that sense, as a writer, you become a ‘little god’.
But in publishing–that business side of the art, your control dissolves.
You don’t control whether the book sells.
You don’t control the marketing budget if he does.
You don’t control the publisher’s investment.
You don’t control your place in-house.
You don’t control the sales plan.
You don’t control the cover art.
You don’t control the jacket copy.
You don’t control how the book is portrayed, publicized, given, sold to the world.
You don’t control anything.
Or at least, it can feel that way.
Because, of course, you still control one thing.
The content between…
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