Thursday, July 16, 2015
The Novel Channel
And it's not just that it has to be fiction--short stories don't do it for me. I enjoy their concentrated dosages of story, characterization, and language, but they're ... short. There's something deeply unsatisfying about their inherent brevity. I so much prefer the sustained, long-term commitment of the novel. I need long, drawn-out narrative with meaty plot, with lots of digressions, sprawling metaphors, and compelling characters.
So I have to have a novel going, and once I do, that sets the pace for the rest of my reading. Novels alone don't do it for me. Sometimes I want to read essays, or more often, books about literature, music, or film. It's good to have a book of criticism on hand. Or poetry (though less often). Or my old standby Shakespeare. The Arden Shakespeares are perfect for this: poetry, drama, criticism, history, and textual analysis all in one. Books of reviews are fun. So are comics (which I think of differently than novels, even though both are fiction) (and yes, I realize I am discounting a whole genre of comics that are non-fiction). I always have to have a novel going, but only one novel at a time, whereas I can have several other books of other types going, including short stories and comics.
I can't explain why my brain needs certain kinds of reading at different times. Shakespeare usually works best for me in the morning, with coffee. My novel at lunch. Non-fiction around dinner, and back to the novel at bedtime. Of course sometimes my novel can subsume everything to the point where I read nothing else--this most recently happened to me with the Malazan series. It happens far less often with non-fiction.
Occasionally I will test myself when I finish a novel. I wait and see how long I can go before starting another one. I devote my reading time to the other books I have going. Invariably, within a day or two I get ansty. My brain then can't concentrate on reading anything. I distractedly flit from article to news story to review to essay, and all the words blur into a non-ending stress-inducing stream that does not cohere. Then I start a novel and all clicks into place, and then I make headway even in the most boring and prosaic of reading tasks, and all my other reading flows smoothly and coherently.