Used to be, you could look at my bookshelves and get a reasonable cross-section of my interests, from horror to languages to history to fantasy. Up until a few years ago, my books squared with who I was, but no longer. My recent diet in reading is part of the writing problems I’ve had recently.
Part of this is due to last year’s move. For a long time, my books were boxed, behind boxes, or otherwise inaccessible. Many of them are still in boxes, though things are improving in that regard. Our little Cape Cod is charming and quaint, but that comes at a price in terms of the house’s layout, and my office/studio isn’t optimized for bookcases. I plan to custom build in order to take maximum advantage of the space, but other projects are more urgent, and probably will be for at least a year.
Another part has been learning to cope with working in a library. I love my job, but having ready access to a substantial cross-section of the written word can be distracting. If an intellectual whim strikes me—Welsh etymology, exobiology, Kuru, Hans Memling, criticism of Wallace Stegner—satisfaction is either in or just outside my office. How many books have I dipped into and left unfinished as I surfed from whim to whim? Reader, you don’t want to know. I lived in the library as a kid, just like many of you, but eventually most people leave the library, bring the books home, and read them. I’m always standing in the river.
Speaking of surfing and rivers, Exhibit A: the Goddamn WWW. Need I say more?
What to do about all this, if anything, is the question. Whatever the answer, I think it has to involve focusing on joy. Not drudgery, homework, clicking, or snippets, but joy. Joy in story, language, and things dear to my heart. You’d think I would have learned this by now, but perhaps one of these days…