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Wendigo Mountain

January 22nd, 2008

Journal Info

Clint Harris


January 22nd, 2008

Lately I have been vexed with a combination of things.  Most of which has to do with time, or running out of it.  I've hit my thirties, I've got two kids, a household to keep up, and a full-time job.  Even though I majored in English in college, I never felt like I read enough.  I've read all sorts of things, but compared to a lot of you, I'm pretty much behind by about four decades in what is current.  I have come to the realization that I will never catch up.  I may never read but maybe 2% of what is out there. 

Maybe part of this is being busy with everything else in life.  I also blame television and my Blockbuster subscription, which allows me to rent more movies than I should possibly be able to watch.  But somehow I do.  I occupy more of my time with dinking around on the internet, and once in awhile I get some writing done.

Anyway, it got me to thinking about how I've been torn between a lot of these projects lately.  Watching movies is time I get to spend with my wife after a long day.  Between kids and dogs and other work, we really don't have a chance to sit and read together, not that we ever have.  So, I can't give that up too often.  Then there's the drudge.  The cooking, the cleaning, the letting the dogs out, the shouting at the dogs when they bark at the neighbor dogs.  Running to the store, taking care of sick kids, etc. etc. etc.  So, to boil it down, my reading time suffers.  Even at work, I'm tempted to forfeit my breaks to just surf the internet, look at pictures of lol cats for fifteen minutes, or type a blog entry.  Reading suffers some more.

I don't bother to subscribe to magazines.  If I read them it's because I checked them out at the library or saw an interesting cover at the store.  For books, I don't find many that can wrest my mind away from writing or sleeping once everyone else has gone to bed.  I have an ever-growing stack of things to read, and a dwindling list of things I have finished reading.  Then there are stories from friends and writer's group folks to read and critique.

I have been reading the George R.R. Martin "Ice and Fire" books.  I'm halfway through the second.   Very well-written and entrancing.  If I hadn't checked them out at the library, they would have been worth the hardcover price.  A doorstop book that I get sucked into is a rarity.  I haven't had this much fun reading a book like this since I was into reading Robert Jordan.  It's great to read something like this.  The length of the book really lets the author stretch their legs and you are with them for the duration.  The last series (plural) I tried to read were Stephen Kings "Dark Tower" books, which got cluttered with Kingspeak and eventually lost me with their absurdities.  Yeah, it's funny the first seven thousand times Blaine the Train is Insane rhymes, but by Wizard in Glass, I was bored with the books.  The Gunslinger was the best of the lot.  It told a story, it didn't repeat itself.  Even the Drawing of the Three got irritating because of the killer teddy bears and the goddamn "dod-a-chock" lobsters on the beach. 

I tried the Harry Potter books, since I've heard so much great stuff about them, and really Jo Rowling's is the Cinderella story.  Girl from nowhere.  Playin' the Masters.  Can she do it?  I guess she did it, but the Sorcerer's Stone was so much like the movie, I decided I would just watch the movies.

The other thing I've been reading is short story collections.  I've mentioned Steven Utley's collection "The Beasts of Love" in another entry, and I've been reading Ellen Datlow and Terry Windings "Coyote Road" as well.  Sometimes it's a nice break from the Martin tome, and I can read a short story in two breaks.  I can usually read a Jon Snow or Arrya chapter in one break, but I don't always want to stop.  At least with short stories, I can finish reading and be satisfied.  There is character growth, plot progression, damn fine writing, and just enough to slake my thirst for a good story.  And if there's time, I can start another one. With those two titles, just about everything I've read has been excellent, and has contributed to increasing the size of my to-read-more list.

It's like eating at a restaurant with a buffet.  Short stories are on the buffet and novels are menu entree items.  Sometimes you want to sit down and dive into a plate of lamb vindaloo, and sometimes you want to try the pakora, or aloo gombi or something else I haven't tried instead.  Short stories let you sample some of the best of what an author has to offer.  Often if I enjoy the short story, I'll look for a novel by the same author.  It's variety and just filling enough to let you feel accomplished as a reader.  Plus for me, I don't feel guilty returning a book of short stories to the library if I haven't read every single one.  With novels, I feel like a failure if I don't read through to the end.  It's like realizing your steak isn't cooked right, and rather than take it home, you leave it at the table for the bussers.  Not something I like doing, so usually a novel doesn't get ten pages with me.  A short story usually isn't that long, so even if I don't like it, I don't feel like I've wasted my time (or money).  I just start up a new one.

I'm going to treat my reading time like the restaurant experience I guess.  Stick with writers (like cooks) who can deliver, and avoid the ones that don't.  In the meantime, short stories are an excellent way of getting your palate set for a bigger entree. Or realizing that the cook doesn't use the freshest ingredients.  Nothing worse than half-baked plots and overdone characters.  Then there's that weird haute cuisine shit you see in the New Yorker.  Bleh!

The danger of this is sometimes you discover that you enjoy one aspect of a writer's work  but can't stand their novels.  In that case, the library is like the sample tray at the grocery store.  If it tastes like cheese, it probably is.
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