Blog from the Beach, Part the Second

Subtitle: How writing has ruined my reading….

bikini beach reader

This is the young lass I searched for in vain. [sigh] The giveaway? My books aren’t available in hard cover. However, several of my readers do like hats. That should count for something!

It didn’t happen overnight. The condition sneaked up on me like a disease, a sort of literary high blood pressure. I had no idea the conversion was under way, but over the course of some amount of time–thirty years, give or take–my ability to read for enjoyment took a monumental hit. Call it readaplegia, which ought to be a real condition if it isn’t already. I’ll even give it a definition: it’s a noun meaning the inability to read for pleasure because the reader is so keen on words and structure that he or she can’t escape the need to either admire or criticize the content.

“Whoa—this is really intense,” I mumble, ignorant of my affliction. “What an astonishing choice of verbs. Damn. I really wish I’d thought of that. I should probably make a note of it so I can steal it later. What’re the chances that ______ [name of actually talented writer] will ever read my stuff?”

fat guy

Here’s a guy who literally devoured my book. Seriously! Cover and all. He washed it down with a six-pack of Corona Light. Cheap sleaze bag couldn’t even pony up for REAL brew.

[Full disclosure: I often employ the word “stuff” when referring to my own work. Some folks don’t react well to “shit,” especially mine.]

I can easily remember a time, mostly prior to discovering The Once and Future King as a college student, when I could read for pure pleasure. I gobbled novels the way I imagine Rosanne Barr destroys bonbons. Okay, maybe not quite like that, ’cause it takes a little more effort to zip through a 500-page tome like Watership Down or Zombie Cheerleaders from Mars (another fave which most people think was only a movie. Pflibbbbbt! Illiterati).

zzz-zombie-cheerleaders

Sorry! I couldn’t find the cover for the sequel, so this will have to do.

The disease has progressed slowly, as I mentioned. I didn’t recognize it at all when working on my journalism degree, though I suspect my professors may have suffered from it. God knows they had to wade through a Congressional Library’s worth of monstrously awful “news” items and “features.” Poor bastards.

I have no idea how long ago my affliction began to manifest itself, and even today I can recall a time or two when what I read actually transported me to some fictional time and place. It’s the sort of journey I desperately want to provide for my own readers. But the process requires that I constantly scratch the itch my disease has unleashed. It’s a vicious, bloody circle, and there’s no escape. Kinda like the traffic rings in Boston and parts of civilized Wales—God help you if you get stuck on an inside lane!

One reads; one reacts. The normal reader gets a scene of profound relevance. Something moving has happened; they smile, or frown, or weep. On the other hand, I get that the author has misused a semi-colon, or that the passage drips with adjectives, or that the rhythm sucks, or the whole thing would work better as a series of shorter, punchier clauses with a kind of staccato punctuation, as if T.S. Elliot were doing an action scene. Think: e e cummings in [gasp!] upper and lower case, with punctuation.

HieroglyphicsI hope you can imagine how annoying this is. The temptation to correct spelling and grammar would make a sixth grade language arts instructor shudder. [And who the hell decided that Language Arts was a better way to say “Writing?” I’m guessing it wasn’t a writer.]

Anyway, that’s my rant for the week. I love writing. I used to love reading. I’ve done this to myself; I have no one else to blame. And even with all that said, I will still read, because I know there are writers out there, somewhere—geez, there’s gotta be!–who can still transport me to a fictional time and place.

I just hope that once I get there, I’ll ignore the urge to figure out how the hell they did it.

–Josh

About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
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7 Responses to Blog from the Beach, Part the Second

  1. Poor you! I’d hate it if I could no longer read for enjoyment. I’ve been writing novels for over twenty years, but am still swept away by a good story. It’s only if a novel is failing to engage me that I start to try to figure out why and my readerplegia kicks in.

    • joshlangston says:

      You’re fortunate, indeed, Nicole. I’ve found some relief in an odd place, however. I’ve read a good bit of non-fiction, which seems to make me appreciate the fiction more. Still, I love knowing why the good stuff works (and why, for me, a lot of the old stuff doesn’t anymore).

  2. I feel your pain, dude. I also like your writing very much.

    “I know there are writers out there, somewhere—geez, there’s gotta be!–who can still transport me to a fictional time and place. I just hope that once I get there, I’ll ignore the urge to figure out how the hell they did it.”

    This is where my disease is focused nowadays. I’m always analyzing the transport mechanism in hopes of writing a good story.

  3. Debbie Liss Patton says:

    If I follow your analogy does that mean that once you have been an instructor, you can never be a student? Or A direcrtor can never be a student? I hope that is not true!

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