I am not a voracious reader, I am picky when it comes to books. Usually I read books if they are highly recommended but I don’t go around reading all kinds of books anytime of the day. When I was in grade school I was encouraged to read books, but when I got hooked into reading (being able to use my school library card and all) my parents would be worried of what I’ve been reading. Even though they didn’t bluntly say “Don’t read that kind of book!” young as I was, I knew back then that there was more in those “You know, you should read the encyclopedia rather than these books” (by these I mean, romance novels and pocketbooks), or my sisters would say, “You should read the classics.” My father would leaf through the pages of the books I borrowed from the library, as if trying to dissect what’s the story’s all about just by flipping the pages. Then he would say, “Tell me about that book after you read it.”
If writers assert that writing often improves with age, I think so does reading. I didn’t appreciate some books I read in the past the way I appreciated them now. Take for instance, that complex novel by Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights. It seems that some books have to “ripen” enough for you, though the fact is that you yourself have to be ready to confront the human truths these books carry in them. I tried reading that Bronte novel in high school, but I never managed to finish it. It was once a horribly boring book with Lockwood narrating about someone else’s story, talking about the terrible weather and his experience when he was being attacked by dogs. It was only in college that I fully appreciated what the novel was all about.
Perhaps in the coming years, I might be able to appreciate James Joyce too, because I don’t feel like I’m not yet ready to read him every time I get a hold of his book.
My favorite books taught me the habit of reading. Now, the reading habit still endures, and more probably so in later years. Of course I have my favorite writers to look up to. Lorrie Moore writes character-driven stories and she can handle so deftly the tone, the characterization, and the attitude that makes all her characters real on page. It’s as if I’ve opened myself into a kind of trance to receive them, as if I’ve known them for a certain period of time, and how I sympathize with these people! Reading Lorrie Moore’s stories help me how to use subtext in dialogue too. In one of her stories entitled What You Want to Do Fine, which is my favorite, she captures the eccentricity of a lover, who is a geek, and the disjunction of conversation that reveals the tension of the story. On the other hand, Adam Haslett’s harrowing stories make me weak, and probably that’s what I like about his stories – they show me the vulnerability of the characters, so natural and poignant, and humanizing them in the least. For high style language and for the rhythm in the prose, I look up to two of the great Russian writers, Leo Tolstoy and Vladimir Nabokov. There is sweetness in their language I feel like eating their words myself.
The poison of the stories and novels of all my favorite writers inspired me to help my stories achieve their own identities without me blending into the picture. It’s so amazing how a single work of literature can live on its own, building things of lasting value, a soul framed to throb on a page, a separate identity.