Books eat other books just as surely as hamsters eat their young. A friend of mine who raises pigs once told me a pig has to eat three pounds of feed for every single pound of meat it produces. I’d been trying to remember the last time I read a book for pleasure– just the sheer honey-on-the-tongue pleasure of it—and I couldn’t. Which reminded me of the pigs. You see, it’s not that I don’t read. I do read– a lot. It’s just that my reading is of the necessary sort. It’s research. And if a pound of bacon takes three pounds of pig chow, the ratio for novel writing is much, much larger.
My current projects are historical and speculative. I have shelves– this is not an exaggeration—four and half shelves of books on Victorian England, spiritualism, women doctors, Japanese mythology, World War II pilots, language, manners, and ways of thinking. I have books written in the time period and original language of given topics—even though I don’t know Japanese. I don’t know why. I buy these books in other languages and hope to stumble across someone who can read them, or simply to look at the pictures and pray the rest arrives through osmosis.
There are library books. The libraries here in Los Angeles are good. They have less than a third of what I need. I haunt used bookstores, some of which I drive an hour and a half to get to. I drift into used bookstores when I travel because Providence sometimes moves the Universe to drop the right book (about a certain village in a certain province in 1937!) onto the shelf in front of me in that house-shaped bookstore by the river in a small town in Vermont. You never know. I hunt for tidbits. And sometimes the internet fails to tell you that that giant book you couldn’t find at any of the five library systems you belong to, and that seemed so perfect that you were willing to cough up the cost for a “good” condition copy on Alibris or AbeBooks or Amazon’s Marketplace… only has two or three lines worth your time. (Ah! The agony of this. There’s no way to justify it. It arrives. You dive in. You fade. You shelve it because it’s too obscure to donate to the library or sell to the used bookstore, and too heavy to ship anywhere else.)
Books eat books.
And what happens when you read for story calories? You stop reading for pleasure. At first, it’s fun to read the research. It’s a treasure hunt, after all. A new manuscript can tear through you like a fever and you want to feed it everything. But, after a time, it grows dry. You are no longer reading but skimming, cherry picking. I’ve read more tables of content and indexes than actual prose in recent years.
I miss stories.
So I find myself doing terrible things with my time, like volunteering to be on book selection committees and judging panels. Just so I can read books that aren’t fodder for my work. (Of course, every book is fodder for the work, so that’s just an illusion. In fact, in discussing this post with a friend, I realized I have in fact been reading for pleasure—no less than three books in the last two weeks. But on each page I paused to examine the structure, voice, trying to figure out the recipe instead of enjoying the meal.) And sometimes these volunteer gigs get you some good stuff with real juice. But it’s like eating apples, never knowing when the next one will be mealy or too tart. After a while, you’re over it—no more apples, ever again. But the reading is now an obligation, so you keep going, breaking it up with bits of research reading to keep it lively, like a bit of cheese on the plate.
Well, I’m over it. No More Apples! I want to read something silly! Something for pleasure! I want to read something smart. Something terrible and exciting.
No. Wait. I want someone to read to me.
Read to me like I am their favorite child. Like I am their queen, from a giant book, Rs rolling off the tongue. I want someone to read to me like I am their entire purpose in life– like I am their book, and I am their fever. And I need to be fed.
Books on tape won’t cut it.
I want the real thing.
CREDIT: Book Monster by Sombras Blancas Art & Design
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