Thinking About Reading: Whys and Wherefores

I was happy to receive my (semi-) weekly update from The New Dork Review of Books this morning.  I’m always happy to get them because the guy who writes them, Greg Zimmerman is a reader who is pretty close to my own tastes… and much smarter about writing his posts than I am.

I always enjoy his posts, but this post from last week is particularly moving.

For me, I hardly remember not having a book in my hand.  I started with The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes, but I don’t remember really loving a novel until I read The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by AVI in fifth grade.

After that, I finally understood what it meant to be taken out of myself and transported to another place by reading.  I wanted to live in an exciting world of exploration, mutiny, and travel on the high-seas!

From there, I discovered Dean Koontz’s time-travel novel Lightning in the bottom of a box of books my mom found at a garage sale.  There were some other books in there… King, Crichton, maybe even a Patterson (which I sincerely hope I burned).  But the Koontz was the only one that stuck with me.  I had read his entire library by the end of that summer, and had graduated to the epic fantasy worlds of Raymond Feist and The Hobbit.

From there… I somehow stumbled onto poetry.  The tightly structured works of Emily Dickinson, John Donne, and Paul Laurence Dunbar spoke to me.  I could rhyme, so I began writing poetry.  Most of it, in retrospect, terrible.  But I still have a few pieces I’m proud of from high school.

After high school, I floated around for a few months at college, depressed.  For the first time in my life, not really reading, or writing.  But I solicited opinions from friends and started reading new things: Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, Ray Bradbury, and others.  Vonnegut was an especially big influence, not only on my reading choices, but also in how I came to view the world as a whole.

John Fante came to me as a random recommendation in an AOL Chat Room.  I’m forever grateful to that young Italian woman (?) who told me to read Ask The Dust.

College also brought me to a full understanding and appreciation for less structured poets like TS Eliot, Charles Bukowski, and William Carlos Williams.

Several courses also introduced me to multicultural authors I would never have read on my own: Toni Morrison, Gloria Naylor, and Salman Rushdie.

I, of course, read the Beats and other experimental writers.  I made my first attempt to read Ulysses and Gravity’s Rainbow.  I may yet finish those books.  I also read Hubert Selby Jr, who still writes better dialogue than just about anyone I’ve read.

Post-college has found me being a bit more open with what I read.  Though I have caught up on some classics (Lolita, Jane Eyre) and even re-read books I hated in high school (To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher In The Rye), I’ve also become a big fan of comics.

I’ve even had a child and try to read with him often.  I hope he’ll some day be able to debate the finer points of TS Eliot’s The Love Story of J Alfred Prufrock with me… but even if we only connect over whatever villain Batman’s locked up recently… I’ll be happy.

That’s all for now.  In the coming days… more comic books!  Sorry, but this time of year sucks for trying to get any novels read… so there’s Batman: Odyssey, Spider-Men, and Matt Fraction’s fantastic Invincible Iron Man to talk about.

Anything you think I should read? Drop me a line.  I’m always looking for new stuff to check out!

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