Thursday, March 30, 2006

Taking time to read and write

I’m glad that I’m a reader. Rather than provide its partakers with instant gratification that seems to be required of much of our 21st century techno-entertainment options, the pleasure of reading transports us back to a time that is more befitting of the rail car, rather than the transcontinental airliner. Rather than wired cyber-reality, with its circuits and microchips tucked away inside the cold, impersonal computer cabinet, time spent with a book smacks of a decadence befitting the luxury of time. In fact, to read means we’re willing to step outside of our self-imposed imprisonment of cell phones, palm pilots and other devices that seductively promise efficiency, but instead, end up enslaving.

Television, the most seductive time-waster, robs many of time that would be better spent with a book. With the average American watching 30 or more hours of television per week, just turning off the tube for half of that time would allow some time to promote the more healthy habit of reading.

As I get older, I find fewer activities give me the adrenaline rush that was common to my teens, or even early 20s. It may have to do with the aging process, but time spent with good books and discovering new authors, is a pleasure that I’ve come to appreciate (and one that seems resistant to the ravages of time). Rather than subscribing to the biblical adage that “there’s nothing new under the sun” (attributed to King Soloman, btw), books and new authors open up fresh springs of thought, ideas and perspective, or help to validate ideas that have formerly occupied shaky footing.

Before my recent vacation trip to Florida, I found myself making a frenetic visit to my local library. My objective was to score some books that would make good travel companions—if nothing else, pass some of the dullness of airport waiting and take the edge of the claustrophobic confines of budget air travel during my three hour flight.

From my amazing and seemingly random exercise in book browsing amongst the stacks, I haphazardly stumbled upon a book of essays by Jonathan Franzen. Knowing little about this author, the book jacket sounded interesting and with my penchant for well-written and entertaining essays, How To Be Alone (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002) was selected with slight trepidation. At this point, I knew little about Franzen, the heralded writer of fiction and about his much-publicized un-invitation by Oprah.

How To Be Alone entertained, informed and proved to be one of those books that is read with a sense of foreboding, knowing that it just isn’t going to be long enough and portending its end sooner than you want it too.

Within the literary community, Franzen is apparently often linked to Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace. In fact, it was my chance association with Franzen’s work that introduced me to Wallace, a dynamic writer, possessing extraordinary talent in his own right. Like my introduction to Franzen, my first go-round with Wallace comes via his collection of essays, Consider The Lobster, which is the title of one of the essays, which finds him at Rockland’s Lobster Festival and writing about it.

With Franzen, his book of essays led me to purchase his fiction tour-de-force, The Corrections, winner of a National Book Award and apparently on many critics’ best of lists in 2001. All I know is that this novel, with its merciless, satirical look at contemporary life, made for a very readable 566 pages.

Foster’s book of essays is proving to be an enticing introduction to this writer’s work, which I anticipate will lead to my eventually reading his novel, Infinite Jest, which generated much acclaim for the then, 33-year-old writer, when released in 1996.

While somewhat dated, I found an interesting interview, conducted by Laurie Miller, for Salon, from 1996. At the time, Foster was teaching at the University of Indiana/Bloomington. In Consider The Lobster, he has an interesting essay about being in Bloomington, on September 11, 2001.

Life without television is a good thing—if nothing else, it provides time to read the type of writers who motivate me to write and improve my own craft.

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