I get the creeps lately if asked what i read. I usually answer with white lies, because i am too tired of explaining myself. As a writer, i am expected to read a lot – and rightly so. There is no special education for writers – forget about commercial workshops of creative writing, hardly anyone learned to write there.
Writers are not expected to have an exquisite formal education either, many of the best ones didn’t have any – yet they are expected to have interesting lives and to read manically.
That was the problem with women who wrote earlier – hardly anyone was interested in reading accounts of endless hours spent embroidering or gardening – or, per that matter, of any other activity a literate lady was allowed to engage in at the time.
Fast forward couple of centuries – and you are allowed to write on just about anything. With Lolita, in mid 20th century, Vladimir Nabokov broke the only remaining taboo theme in American Literature – the pedophilia. (Of course, many saw it as a metaphor of The Old Continent incorporated in deviant Humbert seducing the innocent USA – aka Lolita.)
But now that everything is permitted, what are you going to read? And why?
I wish i could un-do the corruption done to me by hundreds of the crappy books i read as a teenager. Some of those were classics – but no matter how well written those were, the ideas behind them are stupid from contemporary point of view… think of endless Victorian pseudo-moralization for example, what harm it has done to women’s awareness and, subsequently, to their rights.
I am flabbergasted by the compulsory reading in Montenegrin schools, the folk poems nationalists take so much pride in are deviant from the point of view of contemporary, liberated women – yet those are thought without any updates on progress achieved since the dark ages.
Apropos, in a country as small as ours, there are over 100 publishing houses, only four of them not being vanity publishers. Montenegrin population of 650.000 – not known to be among the avid readers – gets ten books published every single day. Most of it is crap – here, and worldwide too.
By crap i don’t mean chick lit – to the contrary, i enjoyed Lauren Weisberger’s ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ and ‘Everyone worth knowing’ – and many others of a kind.
I enjoy well written self-help books too, cook books and whatnot.
For work i have to read a lot, i was a member of managing board of local writer’s guild for years and as of currently i am its secretary general, that by default includes plenty of reading; last year i was the president of Montenegrin jury for European Union Prize for Literature, which added significantly to my usual reading.
For my own writing, i do scholarly researches worthy of a PhD thesis. I firmly believe that had someone invested the time to honor my work by reading it – they do deserve to get something in exchange.
The best praise i ever got – was by a great American poetess Tess Gallagher, who was love of Raymond Carver’s life and is his widow; she was the guest of honor at a literature festival here, that’s how we met… Now i must say that through my work with the State Protocol and, besides, being on perpetual globe-trotting of my own, i had met some of the richest and most influential individuals in the world – heads of states, legendary rock stars, folks from Forbes lists… it’s cool meeting people like that, not that wealth and fame are contagious, but because those people are usually quite extraordinary and it’s a privilege to spend some time in their vicinity, or at least that’s how i see it. But, all of those encounters put together don’t mean to me a half of what meeting Tess Gallalgher meant and none of it is even close to the impact her presence had on me. I had the honor of spending couple of hours for two consecutive days with this amazing lady – and it’s an experience deserving a memoir of its own.
Among all the things i learned from grand Tess in these two days – a sentence she said stayed forever with me and had marked me as a writer; apropos my story “Teshuva” published within first anthology of contemporary Montenegrin literature in English, Tess said: “I’ve never learned so much from a short story.”
(Actually that’s how we met, she had asked our great actress Varja Djukic to introduce her to the author of that story.)
That’s why i push myself over the physical and intellectual limits, that’s the motive behind manic researching behind my own writing.
I want you to get something in return for the time you choose to devote to my humble contribution, that pretty much sums it up.
And i insist on reciprocity here – if i am reading your stuff, i want to learn from it – or at least, get entertained. Or, ideally – both.
That’s why it’s tough for me to choose a novel. Currently, i am thoroughly enjoying Jose Saramago’s “Death with Interruptions”, he is one of my favorite writers and i read all of his books translated into our language – most of his opus that is. His work is genius, no other (as of current grammar use) adjective could describe it justly.
I read books that accompany Tarot decks – some of them are downright masterpieces, like those authored by Robert Place and Karen Mahony of Magic Realist Press.
I read Tarot itself and i am religiously following numerous Tarot blogs (see my blog roll.)
During last year or so i read several Lon Milo DuQuette’s books, him being my favorite occult author.
Not to forget the Yiddishkeit /keeping up with the Kabbalists and at least couple of hours a week i invest into yet another subject requiring a life-long commitment-the Yi Jing studies… and there is not time left for anything penned that’s less than excellent.
I started abandoning books – a practice unthinkable to me before, i had posted on my disappointment with Tea Obreht’s debute novel, “The Tiger’s Wife” , and i am giving up on Philip Roth’s “Nemesis” as well. I read the latter in English, so i can’t blame the usual suspect – the translator. I don’t like it. Besides being a priori suspicious when it comes to overly prolific writers – they smack of commercialism to me – i don’t find a trace of traditional Jewish values in this novel, albeit the narrative relies heavily on Judaic folklore. A good guy is surrounded by two-dimensional characters and worn down by unlucky circumstances in overly-simplified sentences… I read half of it during long rides in Moscow’s tube, but – as i had mentioned earlier- for better or for worse, there is no tube in Montenegro, so i’ll give it a pass.
As usual, this essay was inspired by a conversation with a friend, this time – with Kristina Manly, one of the very few brave souls who admit to share my hatred for Leo Tolstoy’s “Ana Karenina” and who were proud to abandon reading it.
As usually, prior to writing an essay, i did a Tarot reading to gain more insight, this time i combined Robert M. Place’s Alchemical and Vampire decks.
The Alchemical, among else, hit me with Grim Reaper and the Vampire – with The Wheel of Fortune (Fate), former indicating profound transformation which we undergo in the process of reading and the latter, in my opinion, the effects and actual changes an actual discourse can cause to the course of our destinies.
Queen of Stakes depicts Bram Stoker’s mother – Charlotte – strong and passionate, a social reformer and a feminist; the Court itself denotes someone who is both inspired and inspiring others…
My own mother has recommended me Saramago’s novel and passed me the book, while she’s currently reading Rachel Pollack’s follow-up to the classic “78 Degrees of Wisdom” – her “Tarot wisdom:Spiritual Teachings and Deeper Meanings”, in Russian translation.
with Tess Gallagher in Montenegro – photo from personal archives 2010
Copyright@2012 L.R.S., All Rights Reserved
Picture of the Tarot Reading setting copyright notice: The Vampire Tarot (2009) and The Alchemical Tarot (1995) decks @Robert M. Place, All Rights Reserved