As may be inferred from my lack of posts, I am in a coma. Metaphorically. Well, literally, too, according to the dictionary’s new definition of “literally” (see 2: “virtually”). I feel too drained to even hold a book open these days. I’ve read the first ten pages of Gravity’s Rainbow twice now, and nothing is sticking. I am a mental vegetable. My creativity and motivation are at an all-time low. I suppose the ebb and flow of these things are the nature of life. But not to fear. I am changing.
First, I am going on a diet of pasta, brownies and pizza. After many days filled with iceberg lettuce in lemon juice, I have decided carbs are good for the soul.
Second, I am going to stop trying to read books I’m not in a good state to read, knowing my mental state is constantly in flux. If I can’t read something, it’s just not the right time. I can come back. Once upon a time, I was a bartender. In those days, I could read anything, and I did so with consistent enthusiasm. Nothing was competing with books for my feelings of satisfaction in life (that “career” sure wasn’t), and I was very interested in my own edification. But when you have a job that challenges you, excites you and makes you grow, there’s competition for that edification. Sometimes you’re too tuckered out to come at life with barrels of enthusiasm for twelve hours in a row…especially if you’ve been eating lettuce with lemon juice dressing. I’ve decided it’s okay if I’m going through a period where it’s hard to concentrate, and it’s okay to choose readable, not-as-challenging works. As someone who normally enjoys a challenge, this is hard to accept about myself. But it’s cool.
Third, to reinvigorate the reading life, I have decided to take on a project. I’m going to work through the Pulitzer winners for fiction, starting from 2014’s The Goldfinch and working backwards. I’m always asked to recommend books, but my current list of favorites skew classic and that simply won’t be most peoples’ bag. I know that sounds like sneaky-bragging, but I swear I have no pride in the fact. It’s just circumstance. The cheapest books are the classics, so I’ve been reading them since I was young. Unfamiliar language can be a real hangup, and the language of most pre-1900s books is not unfamiliar to me. So just as a kid who grew up speaking two languages wouldn’t brag about fluency, I wouldn’t brag about being more used to ye olde-style speak. I know most people aren’t used to it, and I know just as well that it makes for hard reading. For instance, the language of Pynchon is flow-y and streaming and often hard to follow, and that’s unfamiliar to me. It’s work. And I, like anyone else (especially those who are in periods of exhaustion) am far less likely to read it if I’m too tired to work.
Furthermore, you should be suspicious of anyone who acts like the classics are superior to modern literature. All books were contemporary once. Some books written in the last 10 years will become classics one day. The interesting thing is finding them in a world teeming with written content. But people are people, whether it’s 2014 or 1714. Some are brilliant writers, some are not. It doesn’t matter what year it is, and be wary of anyone who speaks in definitive terms about the superiority of one era over another and especially of anyone who waxes nostalgic for the good ol’ days of literature.
That’s why I think my Pulitzer adventure will be a great introduction to modern works that will be wonderful common ground for me and others who don’t want reading to be, well, work. There are bound to be books on this list that will be brilliant and told in a way that’s more like our spoken English today than earlier works. I’m looking forward to getting a better understanding of contemporary literature, and I’m looking forward to reading things that neither I nor those that I talk to would consider “work.” And any books on the list I find difficult, well, I’m going to give myself the permission to put them down and move on. Not forever. I’m just willing to wait for a time I’m in a better mindset to tackle them.