Friday, December 7, 2007

Reading novels while I’m writing

John Updike said, “I want to read only what will help me unpack my own bag.”

That makes sense to me. I feel very touchy about what I read, and I’ve had an uncharacteristic tendency in the last several months of picking up lots of books and not finishing them. All the surfaces in my house are stacked with books I’ve pulled off of shelves, started in hopes of finding coaching or companionship and then abandoned. I’m looking for books that address the same technical problems that I’m having or that give me a sense of how to keep going without fear. One example was Richard Powers’ The Echo Maker, which I got caught up in and finished while I was drafting. It’s in the third person, which I was lad to have a chance to study in action, and I enjoyed looking at how it handled the characterization of a small-city environment, which I also am doing.

Books like that are hard to find—thus all the Paris Review interviews I’ve been reading. Still I need to keep my mind busy between my morning writing sessions. Early in the process I had some luck distracting myself with some totally unrelated history books and biographies, but I’ve been feeling impatient with them lately.

I had a period when I started reading poetry some, which in a way felt more dangerous. You hear some authors talk about how they don’t want to be “influenced” while they’re writing, and poetry it seems to me is more likely to do that anything, to put a certain tempo or stylistic consciousness into my sentences. I’m intrigued by that but cautious. I don’t want to risk any kind of disruption. Perhaps it will come in handy during the revision/editing process.

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