February 12, 2013

Reading Paralysis

Not only do I suffer from writing paralysis, but also from reading paralysis - long stretches where I am unable to read anything of substantial length that requires focus and memory.

This past year I wasn't able to make it through novels. I kept short story collections by my bedside but even these were only read every so often.

It's frustrating and somewhat embarrassing as a writer and editor to have trouble engaging in longer manuscripts. It's happened throughout my life, but so has the opposite where I've found myself ravenously reading book after book.

What accompanies these dry spells makes matters worse. When I can't read; I can't write. At least not in any great capacity. I write first drafts like I read chapters, losing concentration quickly.

Recently wondering when and if this drought would break, I met a writer who is a voracious reader and a collector of first editions. I knew he admired Salman Rushdie, so I asked what book he would recommend to a first time reader of his work.

Instead of just offering a Rushdie title, he sent me a beautiful letter that expressed his gratitude and excitement for being asked. Then he went into detail why The Satanic Verses may not be the best place to start, and that most people recommend Midnight's Children, but why he thought it wasn't quite right either. He wrote about Rushdie's craft of story and style, suggested two books, and ended with...
"...try it, and if you don't like it, I always believe life's too short to chug through books you're not enjoying. There are too many others to read..."
His generous response to my simple question not only made an impression, but also gave me the courage to get reading again. He lent me The Ground Beneath Her Feet and I was nervous because I thought, what if I can't get through it.

Well, I did read the book and loved Rushdie's playful use of language as well as his beautiful storytelling narrative. I travelled through decades of rock 'n roll alongside three characters caught in a love triangle, with the Orpheus myth threaded throughout. Highly recommended!

Finishing the book, I felt excited to work on my own fiction and to continue reading. The two are always intertwined. My new friend also inspired me to start a series of blog posts called Ravenous Reader which will ask avid readers to answer questions about their fondness for the written word, book collections, favourite authors, reading rituals, and yes, dry spells.

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