The chicken coop of his boyhood

Progress on my 2014 reading list has been slower than I would like, mostly owing to the fact that I’m devoting a significant portion of time to research for Book Three. However, I am moving along, still mostly sticking to the fantasy stuff. 

This is my 2014 reading list thus far (new books only, no repeats): 

Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Winterdance by Gary Paulsen

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings

Queen of Sorcery by David Eddings

Magician’s Gambit by David Eddings

Castle of Wizardry by David Eddings

Enchanter’s End Game by David Eddings

If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino

If I’m being completely honest, I haven’t yet finished If on a winter’s night a traveler.  I’m wintersnighttravelerincluding it in thus list to hold myself accountable because … big breath … I hate this book so far. I find it tedious and self-indulgent and rambling. And I feel really guilty about this because I love Italo Calvino. I think about Cosmicomics almost every day. Invisible Cities broadened my impression of what is possible for a writer. I think his stories are brave.

So the fact that I’m gritting my teeth, counting down the pages until I’m done with this book makes me feel like a terrible person, like a terrible, unappreciative reader. 

I did find some redemption for the book, however. Last night I was reading a passage in which Ludmilla balks at the notion of going to a publisher’s office. (I hate the name Ludmilla, by the way. It makes me think of a not terribly bright cow. Which is funny, because I actually really like cows, but people as cows disgust me.) Her reasoning, however, so perfectly reflected my own reverence for reading that I feel I’ve been forced to reconsider this book. 

Here is the passage: 

“Why don’t you want to come?”

“On principle.”

“What do you mean?”

“There’s a boundary line: on one side are those who make books, on the other those who read them. . . . Of course, readers are also growing more numerous, but it would seem that those who use books to produce other books are increasing more than those who just like to read books and nothing else.  I know that if I cross that boundary, even as an exception, by change, I risk being mixed up in this advancing tide; that’s why I refuse to set foot inside a publishing house, even for a few minutes.”

And then, a few pages later, there is this moment between the Reader and the publisher, Cavedagna:

“He shakes his head, as if seized by a private thought; he chuckles slightly, and sighs slightly. This thought of his, you, Reader, can perhaps read on his brow. For many years Cavedagna has followed books as they are made, bit by bit, he sees books born and die every day, and yet the true books for him remain others, those of the time when for him they were like messages from other worlds. And so it is with authors: he deals with them every day, he knows their fixations, indecisions, susceptibilities, egocentricities, and yet the true authors remain those who for him were only a name on a jacket, a word that was part of the title, authors who had the same reality as their characters, as the places mentioned in the books, who existed and didn’t exist at the same time, like those characters and those countries. The author was an invisible point from which the books came, a void traveled by ghosts, an underground tunnel that put other worlds in communication with the chicken coop of his boyhood. …

I’ve got this terribly naive habit of regarding books as sacred. It’s not something I do deliberately or consciously. In fact, it’s something I’m a little embarrassed about because I understand that not all books are equal and that, in theory at least, they’re written by fallible human beings–an argument I frequently leverage in conversation with Christians. But what I understand to be factual and rational does not necessarily hold sway over my mind. 

I recently read a blog post from someone who believed books were meant to be interacted with, and by interacted with he meant written in, underlined, dog eared, worn. I shivered with horror as I read this post. It was well written and I’ll not pretend I love books any more than he does, because clearly the person who wrote that post loves books. He was impassioned by his subject. But it undermined my view of books as sacred objects and the people who write them as deities. I’m not saying that with the intention of ingratiating myself with authors; I’m just genuinely freaked out by the idea of authors as real people. It’s one of the things that bothers me most about this whole difficult journey to be an author myself. 

How can I write and publish a book if such endeavors are the sole province of gods and undertaken in a realm not visible or breachable by mere mortals? If I am forced to confront the truth of where books come from–broke dreamers whose parents inundate them with self-help books about careers available to English majors–then I will have to acknowledge that books are not sacred. That anyone can pick them up and mark them with notes and thoughts and song lyrics because why not? And I just can’t accept that. I cast my lot with Ludmilla, as unlikely as that might sound given that she’s a character whose name I loathe in a book I can’t make myself enjoy. But she, at least, understands that there are certain curtains that should remain closed, that squeezing your eyes shut against reality is sometimes the best way to see clearly. 

The great spaghetti god help me, I know some of this sounds like the babbling of a religious zealot and I hate that part of this. I don’t believe in closing your eyes to science or evidence, especially when my own faith–that of the written word–has opened my eyes to so much about the world. I guess what I’m saying is that I need books to matter, to mean more than paper and glue and ink and desperation. And it’s strange to me that a character named Ludmilla understands that when so many people with better names do not. 

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Comments

  1. Italo Calvino said: “I always have a number of projects. I have a list of about twenty books I’d like to write, but then the moment comes when I decide I’m going to write that book.”

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