Thursday, August 17, 2006

What I'm Reading

I'm not reading anything that I like. I find it best to avoid reading anything good at all. I like technical manuals and bad novels, really bad, because I can see the elements of a story at work without being blinded by emotion.

I also like spiritual books on the lives of saints, or books about shamans or healers. Not because they help me write better, but because they help me to sleep. They are simultaneously uplifting and tedious, the perfect combination to send me toddling off into the land of Nod.

I find that if I am reading anything to which I respond emotionally -- that is, anything that is well-crafted enough to induce suspension of disbelief -- I immediately lose the necessary detachment from my own writing. The last novel I read was Hermann Broch's "The Sleepwalkers" and although it was suitably turgid and overdone, the first half of the middle book (it's a trilogy) was an absolute masterpiece. Complete change in style, perspective, and subject matter. Like listening to a rotten album and then suddenly a perfect song comes on and you're riveted.

Broch couldn't sustain the brilliance of that middle section through the rest of the book, but there was a scene (the novel was set in Germany, natch) when a psychotic clerk takes a stern hausfrau on a trip to look at the Lorelei which was so unbelievably brilliant that I found myself laughing out loud and closing the book every few seconds to savor the performance. It was a horrible, droll, pathetic, and completely human scene. When a skilled writer is really hitting on all cylinders like that, there's nothing more compelling.

Of course Broch couldn't sustain that brilliance; nobody could! But I'm telling you; word-for-word, for purely brilliant writing, I'm not sure that anyone can touch Broch in the first 100 pages of that middle book.


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