This isn’t the kinda post I figure will be of interest to most people, cuz it’s just about reading habits, but here it goes: I just finished reading a big novel by Don Winslow called The Cartel, it’s the middle volume of a trilogy he’s writing about America’s war on drugs, and, like the previous volume (Power of the Dog), it was totally immersive and had over a hundred characters – it’s a fun, educational, propulsive reading experience but it’s also a challenge. You’ve kinda gotta clear all other recreational stuff offa your schedule for the week. If you don’t read the book quickly you won’t be able to keep track of the story.
And I knew it’d be this consuming before I started it, which is why I let the book sit on the changing table for six months, untouched, during which I don’t think I read very much of anything (the changing table: I went to Goodwill and bought a changing table in lieu of a too-expensive bookshelf). I figured I’d have to stop watching movies for a week in order to get through it (half true: I slowed down movie consumption, and the reading took about ten days). And after so many months of throwing an occasional glance toward the cover (“Is now the time?”) I ended up grabbing it impulsively and as I’m boring through it these past few days the timing felt perfect. Like this was the moment in my life where I could’ve used this hugely immersive distraction that, once it’s done, proves so profoundly satisfying as a story, not to mention as a novel and work of history, that I closed the cover on the last page this morning and felt inspired. Wanted to start writing immediately. Tell stories, reveal shit, play with the style so it’s extra fast and funny and risky.
The reason I’m riffing on it, apart from wanting to celebrate the author’s talent and spread word of the book, is because this whole episode of waiting for the “right time” to read it, then picking it up impulsively and finding that the timing was so perfect, I’m thinking about some of the weird mystical aspects of reading.
Steve’s talked about this in respect to visiting The Brattle, a massive used bookstore in Boston. Says that if he starts thinking about a book he hasn’t read in twenty years, but it’s relevant to what he’s reading at the moment, he’ll go to the Brattle every day for two or three days and suddenly, on one of the outdoor sale carts, he’ll find it. Not only that, he’ll find another pertinent title that he’d forgotten about but totally adds to what he needs.
Weird shit. It’s an extension of this habit I have of buying a book in which I have virtually zero interest, I’m just weirdly compelled, and so I buy it, shelve it, and literally five or eight years later will find myself in a situation where I need the book immediately. Think I bought Sexus two or three years before I finally sat and read it – again, at the “right moment” – and it changed my life. Same thing happened with Gravity’s Rainbow and a few others. A collection of Fitzgerald stories. Magic Mountain is there waiting. Same with The Dying Grass and War & Peace.
Guess it’s also one of the reasons I’m not so conversant about writing and reading and what I like and why, how I work and why I work that way, cuz there does seem to be something kinda…intuitive and telepathic about it. Ahdunno. Norman Mailer’s got a really good collection of essays and interviews about writing and filmmaking called The Spooky Art, he released it on his 90th birthday, and the “spooky” part is spot-on.
I like that it doesn’t make sense. Feels like a nobler tradition by merit of its inexplicability, its profundity, its endurance.