I’m reading Raymond Carver. On the john. I have a couple of his cheap paperbacks in there, flimsy and well-read, pages yellowed over time. Some have gotten wet. I’ve even found hairs. Well they’re in the bathroom for chrissakes!
Tell me you haven’t done some of your best reading yourself while comfortably propped up in there.
Anyway, I love him and have for years. Back during more impressionable days you could say I was “floored”, as I hope other people are, when they first begin their own lifelong love affair with something akin to great literature.
Whatever it is.
But I’ve read him since forever. I remember all sorts of conflict and moral dilemma when nine of his short stories were made into the composite film, Short Cuts (you may know it). In hindsight twenty years later, that’s just a blip on the landscape. And who’s to say what is or isn’t artistic compromise? But the reason I bring him up is I’ve sucked down his extended collection of stories in many different restrooms in many different places during many stages in my life, all alone, and with this same set of books. I’ve never read him “online” nor made comments about his writing on some blog, nor read any comments he made on his writing to anyone anywhere either. I don’t know much about what other people think of him.
Carver doesn’t care.
Well he’s dead. And that’s not really my angle, virtual reality or one’s social media identity or how today’s zeitgeist impacts creativity and literature. That’s too ambitious a subject for a lowbrow like me and besides, I can’t be bothered. Nor would I have even a passing interest in discussing the rise and fall of the book, that blather. Why keep talking about that? Or how books transition to screen, that for another day. It’s more about the transcendent and subjective experience of reading. See, just because I read Raymond Carver in the can and mostly enjoy him, doesn’t mean I always understand or “get” him. Or that I always like his writing. And I’m talking years. This morning I read some Carver dialogue and was like “what in the hell are you people TALKING about?” Yeh, now I’m on to something.
Isn’t that how it ought to be?
I’ve always been an avid reader and for me the best reading isn’t something that has to instantly resonate or that I even have to fully comprehend. The best reading takes me away from all that. I have my hodgepodge list of be-all-end-all favorite authors (Thoreau, Dostoyevsky, Capote, Tolstoy, Hemmingway) and always return to them. Why? Because time after time my intellect is challenged- I never feel like a piece of chopped liver. They reliably fill me with wonder and mystery and unpredictably engage my imagination.
For better or worse.
And it’s my little secret. My best reading are those writers who leave me scratching my head: about what I’ve read, about their intent and about myself. I don’t need to comment, although I do, under my voice or to the cat. Sometimes I even lash out and throw the book in the shower! But it’s the writing that personally engages me, not the writer. I’m glad not to be taken into consideration. Let them do their thing, uninhibited and unaffected by any inkling of audience. Isn’t it better that way? To me that’s what’s purest, no matter whether good or what’s “best”. And my own writing needs to come from that place. I’m here to “put out”, and I don’t write for the internet. Neither did Raymond Carver. So if you’re reading this now you can do with it what you will. You can even cuss me out, I don’t mind.
Just make sure to flush!