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Saturday, July 16, 2011

What Should Writers Read

I just started re-reading Percy's The Second Coming, which is the impetus for this post.
It's so fantastically good I'm berating myself for wasting time reading whatever I'd been reading before.  Lord, it's about the meaning (or lack thereof) of life, language, love, money, mental illness versus so-called mental health, and all this in the first thirty pages.  Why would anyone read anything else?
It occurred to me that this is all writers should read, not Walker Percy, neccessarily, although that's not a bad place to start, but that we should read nothing but the BEST THERE IS and if we find ourselves reading something that's like, "well, this is okay, it's good enough," we should put it down at once and pick up some Hemingway or Faulkner.  This sounds like you'd have a limited reading list, but think of what you could gain by simply reading Othello over and over and over again for the rest of your life.
On the other hand - and this only came to me as I was sitting down to write this blog - maybe writers should just read everything and even pay particular attention to the cast-off and throw-away writing that everyone else ignores.  Think what Eliot and Joyce did with advertising copy and the sort of prose found in flashy trashy women's magazines.  As an experiment, I got a tube of toothpaste from the bathroom and found this little haiku-like poem:
With More Whitening Power + More Flavor
Crest
with an extra
ADVANTAGE
FLOURIDE ANTICAVITY TOOTHPASTE
Isn't it obvious reading Percy that he paid close attention to such random pronouncements - even disecting the messages we send each other on tee-shirts and bumper stickers?
I started this blog thinking to exhort writers to read only the best there is, and find myself back at square one, advising them to read all there is; neglect nothing, ignore nothing.  But regularly, as a staple of diet, you should read the sort of thing that makes you gasp and think, "I should never settle for writing anything less than this, this shows me what writing can be."  Salinger says to write "with all your lights on," but it's just as important to read the same way.
Meanwhile, go out and read some Percy.
Right after you've finished re-reading this blog.

1 comment:

  1. Love Percy. Something about his conversion to the Catholic Church led him down pathways most of never consider. His description of the looks and mannerisms of Ms. Cutrer in The Moviegoer has stuck with me through the years.

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