Thursday, April 10, 2014

Libraries

Story's going well. In fact, it's picking up speed. Something about Act II is really clicking, which depresses me because it means when I finish everything, Act I is going to get blown up. Again. Eventually! Everything will come together. Or maybe I'll just start the book with a page which says "skip ahead about eighty pages, please." I hear that's the in-thing with kids these days.

Strange how resistant I am to drafting and redrafting. I used to re-read books all the time as a kid, you'd think this would be a natural outgrowth. But no, doing editing is like pulling my teeth out and replacing them with angry badgers. Not fun.

My brain sets things in stone and pulling myself far enough away from my own work to see what the patterns are takes real sweat. It forces the gray matter to spin patterns it's naturally resistant to. When I write, I set things down, things that are, to me at least, kind of real. When I edit--just blow the hell out of my own writing--it's like I'm unmaking reality. Writers abhor a vacuum. Or at least I do.

Then again, I don't really re-read that much these days. Maybe there's a connection. When I was a kid, I lived way the hell out in the sticks. My nearest neighbor was a mile away. Twenty minutes walking, five or six on the BMX. The nearest town, an old train stop with a gas station, a small topless bar and no more than fifty people living within a quarter mile of the stop sign, was about six miles away: two dusty graveled hours on foot, a half hour or so on bike.

The nearest city with a library worth mentioning was Marquette, which was about forty-five minutes to the north. Sixty if you trusted my dad's reckoning, which you shouldn't because he'd always add the extra fifteen minutes padding to disguise a smoke break from my mom, who wasn't fooled in the least.

I was an avid reader and books were definitely limited in supply. I'd get more of them on birthdays and Christmas and as my allowance allowed. In theory, my parents were very much pro-library and -reading. If they had the funds, they would have built a house of books for me. In practice, it was a long drive to get to the nearest library or book store and we'd only be able to make it to town once a month or so, usually about the length of time it would take for us to empty out our various cabinets, freezers and refrigerators. When you live as far out in the woods as we did, even grocery shopping became a matter of strategy and tactics, like provisioning Napoleon's army or something.

We'd roll into town and it was like going to the fair: fast food! Shopping! People who are not immediate family members! Buildings which are built right next to each other instead of separated by miles of trees and swamp! Buildings with three or even four floors! I'd look forward to it days ahead of time, going over every step in my head, wishing I could live in Marquette like all the rich cool people who I imagined live there.

We'd get to the library, I would spend a couple of happy hours scouring the shelves and then I'd walk out with a pile of books higher than me.

The librarian would smile and ask me if I really was going to read all of those and then I'd look glum: at a reading rate of over a book a day with nothing much better to do out in the howling wilderness but read...the stack would usually last about half as long as the check-out period. Sometimes shorter.

So I re-read books constantly. Some of the better ones, or at least "better" with a twelve-year-old's conception of the word, I wound up reading dozens of times. Some of them were pretty great by anyone's standards: H. P. Lovecraft, Doc Smith, Tolkien. Zelazny and Asimov, C. S. Lewis, Terry Pratchett and Madeleine l'Engle, who you'd think I'd be able to spell more easily after constant re-readings, but apparently cannot. These were the bricks of my upbringing. At one point, I could probably quote any given Doc Smith novel word for word.

Others, I have to wonder about. I read a lot of Dragonlance novels as a kid. I was a little too fond of the ass-end of Heinlein's career. There were lurid pulps which I'm not entirely sure my parents would approve of, including one book about gladiators in ancient Rome which, in my memory, was nothing but stabbings and wall-to-wall fucking.

Sometimes I write something and I wonder which of these books it comes from. Do I get this bit from the good end? Are the bad books hanging out in the rear entrance of my mind smoking and gossiping and waiting for an excuse to screw up whatever I'm writing?

It's weird how technology has changed my consumption of media. I have to wonder sometimes if the modern embarrassment of riches vis-a-vis reading is thinning me out, preventing me from savoring the experience. I've turned reading into a chain-smoking experience. Finish one, light up the next. No retreads!

I guess I can't complain. I read books I'd never in a million years see in the middle of the Upper Peninsula. If I find an author I like I can read as much as they've written as I can bear, without having to pester librarians or scour distant bookstores.

Nostalgia hides any number of sins and flaws. On one hand, I miss a slower-paced time when connections with the greater world sighed past at the rate of once a month. On the other, I think I'd be bored silly living like that as an adult.

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