All my life, I’ve surrounded myself first with children’s books and then with novels and poetry collections and other things like essays and biographies. I can say I’ve literally consumed books, since I ate part of The Travels of Babar the Elephant when I was three. My shelves are jam-packed with books I love and can’t part with, even the chewed-up Babar.
The only time I’ve gone without reading is during my 28-day rehab after giving up 15 years of sobriety. That was in June 2006. Even then, we were reading the book Alcoholics Anonymous every day.
September before last, I don’t know what happened exactly. I had stopped taking my anti-depressant medication and fell into a deep depression. I started blogging, which was a godsend because I couldn’t care about anything else. I won a regional poetry prize and was writing oodles of (unhappy) poetry. The weather turned cold. By October I was on psych units in two different hospitals (not simultaneously).
When I got back home, I couldn’t read books anymore. In the past year I’ve bought several novels by my favorite authors, but they sit by my desk gathering dust. I open them; I close them. I read a few pages of this one or that one, but I can’t go on. Sometimes my friends try to help by giving me a book they couldn’t put down. But it seems I can put it down without any problem.
I remember the last novel I read, and if it’s the last book I ever do read, it doesn’t say much about my literary perspicacity. Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings, by Christopher Moore, is an entertaining marine-science fantasy about saving the whales and the ocean. It won’t win any Pulitzers, but I’m glad I read it, just like I’m glad I’ve read Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut.
When Mario Vargas Llosa won the Nobel Prize in literature this year, I thought I’d found my breakthrough novelist, the one who was going to rescue me from my sorrows. A novel has saved me from depression before, first in 1984 with mystery writer Ngaio Marsh’s Death and the Dancing Footman, and most recently Louise Erdrich’s magical The Master Butchers Singing Club in 2004. They lifted my spirits out of some kind of angst about living and gave me back my joy.
The news called Vargas Llosa “one of world’s greatest and most adventurous writers” and mentioned some similarity to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, another guy who saved my life once with One Hundred Years of Solitude. I’ve been so insulated, I’d never even heard of Vargas Llosa until the Nobel Prize. So I researched his bibliography and critics and bought two praised novels through the used-book network abebooks.com: Who Killed Palomino Molero? for $4 and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter for $1.
The Palomino novel is thin and seemed approachable. It opens with a detective studying the tortured, castrated, impaled corpse of the boy named Palomino which is hanging in a carob tree. I have no bias against violence in murder mysteries (being a fan of James Lee Burke and Dennis Lehane, creators of violent havoc, and in fact one of Lehane’s novels scared me spitless, which I loved). But for some reason, what has happened to the boy Palomino distressed me a little. Now the book rests facedown on the coffee table in my office, opened to page 14-15. Arrrggg.
The Palomino novel lies on top of a stack of literary journals at least 15 inches high (see photo), and there are two of these towers of Poetry, Ploughshares, Fence, et al, on my coffee table. I’ve read many of them all the way through (skipping the fiction; I don’t do short fiction). (Obviously, I am not doing fiction at all, which is the point of this post.)
I save the journals because there are poems I like in them, and because if I’m in the mood to write a poem but can’t get going, all I have to do is browse through a journal, and POP! goes the weasel muse. I’ve written hundreds of poems in the past few years. Lines of poems race through my head at least once a day. Yesterday it was: “I wanted a thing and I wanted it bad.” I’m trying to compose some rhyming poetry, which I never do, for TFE’s Poetry Bus, and that line had a certain meter to it. I didn’t say that lines of great poems race through my head.
This morning I was brushing my teeth and opening the blinds in my gorgeous sunroom office when I suddenly thought: I wonder if poetry has ruined my ability to read novels? I wonder if poetry has given me a literary form of ADHD?
I think I'll just go gopher hunting, get a little violence in my life. We have one in the garden eating the hollyhocks, the precious little arsehole.
****** Update 8:30 p.m. ******
The comments you've left for me today have been hugely helpful. The biggest bonus is that I'M NOT ALONE. After reading some of the first comments, I wrote my own little fantasy (reprinted here for your ease and edification):
...Is anyone else in blogland experiencing this novel-reading difficulty? What if we've tumbled onto an actual disorder caused by blogging? What would happen then? Would we all have to go into treatment to become novel-readers again? Would there be rehabs? Would one of the pharmaceutical companies develop a pill that costs $20 each and then develop off-label uses for it and create a nationwide need for their drug (like, say, the manufacturer of a drug that rhymes with seroquel-don't-get-me-started-on-that)?
(Beware: I'm about to leap to a highly unscientific conclusion.) The majority of the bloggers responding to this post do indeed experience some perceptible change in their reading habits, i.e., a novel-reading reduction. Is this a blogland-wide trend? Anybody want to throw in their two cents? Any two-bit theories? I'll try to keep track of the, um... (what's the right science-y sounding word here?) DATA TREND here.
On another note, the gopher won today's skirmish and so has lived to tell the tale. He/she/it backfilled the tunnels into which I buried traps, good traps that were not touched by human hands but were baited with a banana. I was disappointed. I had actually been lucky enough to find the intersection of three tunnels! What a gold mine! But I only had two traps. Apparently I picked the wrong two tunnels. Hm. This gopher is smart. But I'm tenacious. Tomorrow is another day.
Gopher: 1 ----- Chris: 0