In late summer, I started reading Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer. I’d read similar books and articles before, and of course, as I writer, I know what it means to read like a writer. It can be exhausting at times because it’s hard to turn off and even pleasure reading becomes a sort of task–how did he get the character across the room so seamlessly? or how did she so smoothly transition between past and present? It breaks the illusion, like watching a movie with the director’s and actors’ commentary on. People usually only watch movies that way once they’ve already enjoyed the movie in its original form. Only afterwards do they go back and discover and analyze th mechanics of certain scenes. But when reading like a writer, there is no “original reading.” It’s all analysis, even when it’s fun.
I finished reading her book this past week–after a long break while reading the previously posted-about Heinrich von Kleist and other distractions–and though none of the points she made were revelatory, her writing about reading like a writer (and the enthusiasm with which she discussed the examples) restored my own enthusiasm and joy in reading like a writer. Her book reminded me about the fun of figuring out an author’s technique as if it were a puzzle and the joy in reading a beautiful sentence and marveling at its glory.
I’ve been doing a lot of marveling while reading Ian McEwan’s Atonement. In fact, it’s almost debilitating not because it’s a lot of work but because it’s intimidating! The language, the images, the sentences, and the varying points of view just keep building and it’s almost too intense. Which is why it has taken me since Christmas break to get through even a third of it. I start reading and reading and reading and then just have to put it down.
This is a very similar sensation to what I often experience when I sit down to write. The act is just too intense. I know that when I start writing, I may not be able to stop. I’ll get swept up and put off all my other responsibilities–the ones ringing on the phone, appearing in my inbox, beeping from the kitchen, and spinning in the laundry room. And so it’s often easier not to write, not to read Atonement because of the terrifying fun of it all.
But I am writing right now. Not only this post but a story which is open in the next window. I keep finding myself pulling myself away from the intensity to take unnecessary breaks. So far, I’ve started a load of laundry, made the bed, watched the last part of Band of Brothers, and wandered aimlessly around the internet only to return to my story. It’s that draw that I try to deny but that I sometimes let win on rainy days like today when I’m alone in the apartment and have no excuse (except grading and course planning) to keep me from it. So back to it I go!