Lament from the Lake (Encore)

Subtitle: How writing has ruined my reading….

We’ve spent an idyllic weekend at a lake resort with our grandkids, and we’ve had a wonderful time. I even brought a book along to read. Sad to say, I didn’t get far. You’ll soon find out why. There was a brief sighting that stirred my artist’s soul—I thought I’d seen a young lady entranced by one of my books. Alas, the thought was fleeting.

bikini beach reader

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

My reading problem didn’t evolve overnight or as the result of my proximity to a body of water. 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.

[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 slobs.

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’ll bet 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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10 Responses to Lament from the Lake (Encore)

  1. Betty Smith says:

    Love the ancient grammar police. I do sometimes find myself catching errors in a novel I am reading, but I am not as afflicted as you. Course you do have to wade through my stuff. Love ya.

  2. Doris Reidy says:

    Josh, get this book: Falling, by T.J. Newman. It’s a story about an airline pilot who has the choice of either crashing the passenger plane he’s flying, or seeing his family killed on Facetime. Let me know if you are rewriting it as you read.

    • joshlangston says:

      I think there’s a movie version due out soon, if it’s not already available. I did, however, read some of it on the ‘Zon. It opens with a dream sequence. As if that were something new and different. Oy.

  3. Hey Josh,Hope all is well? Will you be doing Elm n will u be doing it on zoom?Im sure things are different now…Looking foward to getting back to writing…Thanks,LiliaHave a Blessed day,Lilia

    • joshlangston says:

      I’m planning to offer a memoir-writing class at ELM this fall. My plan is to do it on Monday mornings via Zoom. I’m still waiting for confirmation from Kelly.

  4. Barry Womack says:

    Just recently bought five books from Barnes & Noble. All were bought for research purposes and none are fiction. Nor will any be read from cover to cover. Does this budge my readometer off zero?

    • joshlangston says:

      Not a smidge, unfortunately. Reading for enjoyment should still be a goal, but I fear the titles you’ve chosen won’t move the needle. Sucks, doesn’t it?

  5. Bob Williamson says:

    This is hilarious. Thx for transporting me from my boring wait for my eye doctor to something I actually enjoy.

    Scantily clad women!

    Only kidding. Nice job Josh.

    • joshlangston says:

      I’m sorry, but… “scantily clad women?” Dang. I must’ve missed something! (The problem is, I can’t get the visual of the scantily clad guy outta my head. [Bleah!])

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