i wouldn't have admitted it then, but when i dubbed this blog my 'other life', i had been rather obviously acknowledging what reading was for me back then: escape. while the aesthetic i frequently vocalized elsewhere never directly condemned reading as escapism, i had always consciously struggled to make more of my reading than there really was to it.
when i first decided i was probably a writer, it was because i kept finding myself dissatisfied with what i thought was all there was to read. Neil Gaiman's stories weren't as ubiquitous then as they are now, Michael Moorcock was near mythical, legendary in his abscence in our bookstores in spite of all i'd hear about Elric and all the other incarnations of the Eternal Champion; i hadn't yet even heard of either Mervyn Peake or M. John Harrison. and i'd grown tired of Tolkien and Lewis, the legion of clones they raised in their collective wake, no matter how brilliant i knew the originals were--and still are, for all that they are dead and constantly being reanimated and plundered.
like many of the decisions i've made in my life, the impulse behind the one that 'made' me a writer was at heart one of rebellion. a refusal to simply accept what i was being served.
to put it less dramatically, being dissatisfied with the great bulk of fiction i was being presented with at the time, i wanted to write things of my own, things i knew *i* would *want* to read.
as Banzai Cat once put it, i spent too much time wishing for a certain kind of fiction.
occasionally, i *would* get my wish. hence Peake in my library; hence Harrison, hence Mieville, hence VanderMeer, and Moorcock and Moore. hence even Eco, hence Ondaatje and Greene, hence Thomson and Durrell. hence James Salter, hence Jose Eduardo Agualusa, hence Anais Nin. but even then, i suppose, it's been true all along: that aesthetic, deliberately constructed though i thought it was, went deeper after all. reading wasn't all escape for me.
it was research.
it isn't that i was directly stealing ideas, though in some ways, it really *is* as bad as that. when i created, for instance, St Etienne-vaux-Grumm and Ruttage, sister cities to Troll's Vespertine from Troll's Doll--and Vespertine as well--i wasn't just re-inventing New Crobuzon, or Ambergris, or Gormenghast, or Viriconium. rather, from those cities--those writers, i should say, i.e., Mieville, VanderMeer, Peake and Harrison, respectively--i learned how i might craft my own fiction of place, structured and individualized on the most familiar landscape for a functioning autist: my own closeted imagination.
i am not, therefore, your conventional bibliophile. i cannot simply be told a story. i must be able to take more away from it than that; i must also in some way learn how to tell it the way you did, without necessarily making me a mere mimic--that must mean i must also somehow see myself in it. else there must be something in it i can twist, defile, corrupt, make my own. is it ideas i'm after? is it style? i'm not too sure, but i believe it's something subtler than that, more subliminal. in some ways, to the reader and writer who are fortunate enough to be 'purer at heart', more sinister.
blame it on growing up with Choose Your Own Adventure, if you like.
i am not, however, completely unaware that this in itself is a kind of escapism; the artist's desire for expression is in some ways another way of showing a failure to cope with--to confront and to ultimately accept--external reality. yes, of this i'm all too aware.
nevertheless, this, i've come to realize, particularly with my more recent choices, is why i read: i read for research. which is probably why it's a good thing i finished the first draft of spukhafte ferwirkungen, Sehnsucht, vom Geist der Schwere (pretentious title, ennit?) before i found Alison MacLeod's The Wave Theory of Angels, before I found Janna Levin's A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines.
it is, however, also quite probably a good thing that i found them when i did. what an embarrassment it would have been if i'd actually tried to get the shitty thing published, the state it's in!
i knew there was a lot yet to be done with the thing, but now i have a more solid idea of what i need to do, and what i've gotten myself into. sigh.
more on Ms MacLeod's and Ms Levin's books later. when i get my head around talking about them. rest assured, i *am* reading them, and though i make no promises, i *do* plan on attempting to semi-real-time review them--though it's a bit late for Wave Theory.
yup. it would appear that this other life is just about set for a revivification.