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Returning to Reading
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In the new Orphan Scrivener I talk about what I've mentioned here before, my renewed efforts to read more books. Mary writes about a tornado that barely missed us a few years ago. We also have some dispatches from the writing front. Here's my bit:

Returning to Reading

During the past year I've made an effort to read more books. Those rather long and complex collections of words I grew up with, rather than the short bursts of simple information endlessly available in cyberspace, the endlessly distracting but not very substantial world news, sports scores, political commentary, blogs, Yahoo groups. Words that do little more than temporarily fill and quickly pass through the mind. Intellectual Olestra.

It's embarrassing for a writer to confess that for years he hasn't read many books. It's true though, and my lack of reading predates the Internet. The Internet is only the newest slayer of books in my life. Starting in the early seventies I began increasingly to spend my diminishing spare time on my own creative efforts. When I got to law school I was barely on nodding terms with real reading. Sure, I had to read, but appellate court cases and legal treatises don't have much in common with things written in English.

Job and family responsibilities followed. After days filled with eye-glazing memos and departmental meetings which lasted till the heat death of the universe, or seemed to, I went home to an everlasting Big Bang of incontinent infants and rampaging toddlers. What few spare hours were left I devoted to my own writing which included mini-comics, small press, magazine and newspaper articles, newsletters for the local zoo and orienteering club, programming computer text adventures, and, eventually, co-writing stories and books with Mary. I am a slow writer. I hate to think how many novels I could read in the time it takes me to co-write one short mystery.

Hard as it is to believe, for most of my life I haven't been much of a reader. Less than two decades passed between my hauling stacks of Doctor Seuss back from the library and shoving aside books in order to pound away on my manual Smith Corona instead.

Even so, I suspect all the science fiction and fantasy I absorbed in that short but formative period went a long way toward forming my attitudes. I've never believed the world has to be the way it is. I spent too much of my youth reading about alternatives.

I read other genres, to be sure. As early as high school I went on a Steinbeck spree. As my reading diminished I turned to mysteries. I once had collected from used book stores, thrift stores, and library and yard sales nearly 100 paperbacks by John D. MacDonald. But a couple years ago, I realized that I rarely looked at a book anymore. And suddenly, for the first time in years, I missed reading.

The six books a month I've managed this year wouldn't have kept me going for a week in the old days. And deciding what, exactly, to read has been a problem as well. I have no favorite genre. One week I embark on a study of philosophy with Pragmatism by William James and Will Durant's The Story of Philosophy. Then I'm diverted by some fifties Gold Medal type crime novels and from there lurch into some mysteries by Simenon, Tey, John Dickson Carr. Next I decide to read a few classics I never got around to. Even after Moby Dick, To the Lighthouse, and Appointment at Samarra, there are a lot of all-time great books left. And I haven't neglected my first love, fantasy. William Hope Hodgson's The Nightland is still as awe-inspiring (and in parts as mind-numbing) as it was when I first encountered it, and At the Mountains of Madness is great fun too although Lovecraft's debt to Hodgson shows.

Although genre isn't very important to me, I've noticed I prefer older books. There's something about the style or attitude or who knows what of current books that puts me off, although I sometimes find exceptions such as the remarkable sf/mystery The City and the City by China Mieville. So I tend to stick to things written in the mid-sixties or earlier. I am perfectly comfortable with novels penned back in the dark ages of the nineteen-thirties and my favorite science fiction is from the Golden Age.

Maybe this is because early on I devoured the books that were on the shelves of the local library. Most of those were probably written before I was born but to me they were brand new and they formed my taste.

But enough of this. There's a man dead in his study. The door was locked. There are no footprints in the snow outside the window. The murder's inexplicable. The heck with finding a clever ending for this essay. I've got to get back to my reading.

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