Seems like I don’t read nearly as many novels as I used to. For a writer, this may seem like some secret shame: a decreasing dependency on the written word is like an “actor” slumming on TV. I won’t bitch and moan about how most modern literature bores me to tears, but I will say that I take great refuge — when the modern fails — in the wayfinding chaos of earlier novels like Gravity’s Rainbow, the sort of book that is blue during one reading and neon red during another.
After Harry Potter and the Half-Pint Who-Gives-A-Damn, I’m engaging in a Rowling detox. I can’t read another Philip K. Dick novel. I just can’t. Try as I might to get through Fortress of Solitude, I just can’t get past the feeling that I read this novel and liked it better when Peter Straub wrote it back in the 80s. I bought the maxi-compendium of The Chronicles of Narnia, but I really don’t feel like sinking my teeth into yet another juvenile epic. Between His Dark Materials, those Snicket novels, and Potter, I’m kiddie epic-ed out.
I constantly check for a new jewel from Denis Johnson, the only writer in the last ten years to utterly enslave me with the dark clarity of his ideas, but I suspect, with all his personal demons, he’s pulling a Pynchon or Salinger, leaving the rest of us perpetually famished. Chuck Palahniuk I can no longer digest. Even Ann Beattie — who inspired me to write the only story I ever published, reprinted twice, and won a “Year’s Best” notice for — is writing lazy, shadowy faxes of stories from her glory days in the 80s.
Right now, I’m reading Caldwell & Thomason’s The Rule of Four, which is intriguing in a pulpy sort of way, like Umberto Eco lite. I’m not sure that’s a compliment (God, I miss Eco’s big books). And I’m very excited to have just received in the mail a lovely copy of C.S. Lewis’ grand satire, The Screwtape Letters, which I’ll devour soon.
In the meantime, I return over and over to the grand fantasists of the early 20th C. Lovecraft, Blackwood, Dunsany, in whose Bretonian worlds I find the sort of imagination-stretching magnitude I suppose I expect in every writer. Whether that expectation is fair or not.