I’ve been reading a lot of book blogs lately, mostly because I’ve been reading more fiction than ever before, so I thought I would start processing some of what I read here, to join in the conversation.
Basically, I started trying to write fiction myself about two years ago. You haven’t see any of it because I am self-aware enough to realize that it is not very good. I’ve decided, however, to trust the creative writing profs I’ve been reading who reassure me that, to some extent, good writing can be learned - same as in any other discipline.
So one of the profs whose book I am reading (David Morley, The Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing), is speaking my language. I have that sort of personality that responds well to an ass-kicking (conservative, religious father, I suppose), and at certain points in the book Morley puts on his boots. He mocks young students who think that they can improve at the craft of writing without being avid readers. Apparently you won’t write good fiction unless you read a lot of it. Same goes for any other genre. I am inclined to believe the man. He includes this quote from Anne Dillard:
Hemingway studied Knut Hamsun and Ivan Turgenev…Ralph Ellison studied Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. Thoreau loved Homer; Eudora Welty loved Chekhov. Faulkner described his debt to Sherwood Anderson and Joyce; E. M. Forster, his debt to Jane Austen and Proust. By contrast, if you ask a twenty-one-year-old poet whose poetry he likes, he might say, unblushing, ‘Nobody’s’ … he has not yet understood that poets like poetry, and novelists like novels; he himself likes only the role, the thought of himself in a hat.
For the last five years or so I have been a fairly voracious consumer of non-fiction, a habit which started with all the lectures I was listening to for my degree work. It was a good way to redeem my long commutes to work. For whatever reason though, I didn’t get much into fiction. I feel like this may have molded me into a strange creature as I am now the only person I know who considers it the height of relaxation to go on a long drive while listening to Nietzsche lectures. Or maybe there are others who just make sure never to mention such things in public.
At any rate, I am starting out on a project to listening to copious amounts of fiction. From the high literary names to the most popular paperback writers, I want to get a broad sample. A friend recently mentioned how gripped he was listening to Stephen King’s The Stand, so I picked it up. I got the extended version though, so it is a total of 52 hours on audiobook. That may be an insane way to start for a guy who knows nothing of Stephen King apart from his movie-adapted stuff (although I do really like his movies, esp. the Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption), but I am already a ways in, and not regretting it. Next time I’ll try to share some thoughts on this one.