Sometimes, as a writer, I feel so lost.
That feeling is a type of insecurity borne from trying to speak in one’s true voice while trying to capture the voices of one’s inspirations.
Learning to read, that was a rush like the opening of a door to another land, but once I started to create my own sentences, my own stories, that was the universe opened up. But it was between the ages of eleven and sixteen that I found the books that would, for better or worse, define what appealed to me as a reader and a writer.
Five years of books read with no discernible pattern or goal that shaped, molded, teased and taunted, stretched, delighted, confused, numbed, and ultimately built the foundation of the person in me that I call the Writer.
But what was it about those books? What did I respond so strongly to that I was inspired to imitate their styles or themes?
More importantly, how long has it been since I read them? In some cases, its in the vicinity of forty years ago.
Perhaps its time for a refresher, a reboot of the drive, a chance look back at point A from point B and see what really happened on that journey.
And so, an answer to a question I’d posed for myself over what to read this summer. While I have plenty of new things to read I want to root out some of those old books, the familiar and the obscure, and see what I learn about myself.
I know this is going to have to include the Jerome Beatty kid-from-the-moon Matthew Looney series, and a thorough re-read of Lear’s Complete Book of Nonsense. Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle and Welcome to the Monkey House along with Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles will be in order. For a variety of reasons best saved for another day, I was traumatized by Saroyan’s My Name is Aram back in seventh grade and feel I need to give it a fair chance. And if — and this is a big if — if I can find the EXACT oversized collection of Little Nemo in Slumberland and the right Whole Earth Catalog then i think I’ll have all the proper ur-texts at hand for deciphering who I am now.
No less important are a handful of books that brought me back to life after some very dark times when I forgot who I was and what I wanted. Pinkwater’s Young Adult Novel is certainly due for a reread probably sooner than the others, and I need to touch down with Block’s Weetzie Bat again. And some books I once was impressed by and have now totally forgotten might be due for resurrection: Maguane’s Panama, Auster’s City of Glass trilogy, and perhaps if I’m really finally serious, I’ve been meaning to finish Zola’s Therese Raquin since 1983.
Equally important, but less so for rereading would be the Amphigorey books and the Kliban cat cartoon collections.
I’ll check back in one month from now (or so, vacation and all might make it more like five weeks) and then a month after than, and we’ll see what’s what. I suspect even just a handful of these books will be more than enough to show me the after-image of the lightning that supercharged my writerly stirring all those years ago.