I’m in something of a reading slump these days. I have been reading, but nothing fascinates me, or stops me in my tracks. I haven’t come across sentences that use words in new ways, or ideas that help me make sense of the world. I am looking for inspiration and instead I encounter the mundane. Since reading is my chosen form of escape from the world, I’m getting a little antsy.
This has happened to me before. A while back, I completely swore off fiction, because none of it grabbed me. I soothed myself with non-fiction for about a year. I learned a lot about the world and even about the mechanics of telling a story, but the use of language as art was missing. Search as I might, I couldn’t find words used in magical ways.
With non-fiction, we readers can stay at arm’s length from any emotional involvement, any real feeling. We may be angered or amazed, but we know these things happened to other people and in other times, not to us. Memoir may dig a little deeper, but we can still choose not to learn from it. With fiction, though, there is no choice. It burrows in there and makes us uncomfortable or at least involved – it hooks us in the gut and doesn’t let go. Its effect is not intellectual, but something deeper and more primal.
I can blame other writers for leaving me wanting for inspiration, but that’s wrong. As Proust said,
Every reader, as he reads, is actually the reader of himself. The writer’s work is only a kind of optical instrument he provides the reader so he can discern what he might never have seen in himself without this book. The reader’s recognition in himself of what the book says is the proof of the book’s truth.
When I can’t be reeled in, it’s not about words or craft, it’s about me.
When the world is in turmoil, words lose their power to uplift me. I am thrown back on my heels, my intuition and intellect disconnected. I can no longer recognize myself in the words I read; I skate along on the surface, a cynical, distracted reader, absorbing nothing. When the latest terrible thing – the Paris massacre – is about words and pictures, the splicing effect is even greater. Communicating, making ourselves known, is our most fundamental of freedoms, bestowed at birth. When it is threatened, violently, it is a universal human tragedy.
But to stop reading, to stop seeing, to stop creating would be a victory for the dark side. To find my way back to my center, I’ll need to return to basic things. First, music, to soothe. Then personal connection, to heal. Finally, words, to remember joy.