Summer Reading Update: Work or Pleasure?

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6 May 2011

Ahhhhh, I am reading again.

It is a terrible feeling when reading – reading books, I mean – gets away from you, for whatever reason. I have read some excellent short stories this semester, and re-read many as well.  Reading for the purpose of leading a class discussion is a particular kind of reading, and a good kind, don’t get me wrong; I dig deeper than I might otherwise, and I learn a great deal from it.  But now I am reading again for influence, for life, for pleasure; wanderingly, hungrily; intellectually and emotionally; reading, as George Saunders put it, to be “undeniably changed.”

Just finished Kostolanyi’s Skylark (devoured, and want to go back and re-read large sections of it), and am just starting LP Hartley’s The Go-Between. Also read a beautiful, sad story called “The Anniversary” by the brilliant Nami Mun in the current issue of Granta.

The Complete Claudine: Claudine at School; Claudine in Paris; Claudine Married; Claudine and Annie   American Woman   The Summer Book   Golden Country: A Novel   Against Interpretation: And Other Essays   Alfred and Guinevere

Some books I will sink into over the summer: Claudine at School by Colette; American Woman by Susan Choi; The Summer Book by Tove Jansson; Golden Country by Jennifer Gilmore; Against Interpretation by Susan Sontag; Dead Souls by Gogol; and Alfred and Guinevere by James Schuyler. (I used to keep a “To Read” section on my “The Reading List” page, here, but it got to be overwhelming, and performance mentality/failure loomed when I saw how long that list grew and how little progress I was making.) I am also making my way through Wolf Hall, via an odd but interesting combination of audio and text.

Jonathan Franzen‘s recent New Yorker essay about individualism and the origins/ evolution of the novel (and, perhaps most controversially, about David Foster Wallace‘s suicide) has me thinking about reading as “pleasure” versus reading as “work.”  The reading and writing of (English) novels en masse coincided, as Franzen notes, with the “dramatic increase in leisure”; but here I am, along with others who have chosen the writer’s vocation, thinking of both as (quite difficult) work.  Somewhere herein lie the roots of why the majority of writers will never make their living off their writing.  We live, it would seem, in a culture where work and pleasure are not “supposed” to overlap.

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