Saturday, August 19, 2017


I must read and write again -- that's the long and and short of it. 

The other stuff, the diet & exercise, the languages, the frugality & investment, keeping up with the political news & carefully fashioning political opinions, maintaining a social media presence -- all these were all meant to be ancillary to a literary life, a life of reading things that are beautiful and dangerous, and writing as close to the truth as I can. But I've let tending the scaffolding replace tending the building.

No. The real reading and writing have to be there, or all the rest is useless.

Last night I pulled The Mezentian Gate off the shelf, and had a good look at its cover, which, as a teenager, I thought was the last word in hauntingly beautiful art. Now I find it extravagant and crudely colored, vague where it should be precise, and precise where it should be vague -- much like Eddison's book. But that's not the point. The point is that at the time, Eddison bowled me over and took me somewhere else, and so did this cover artist. (Barbara Remington, I find: the same as made the Tolkien paperback covers that so entranced my teenage self. And so exasperated Tolkien: "what is the thing in the foreground with pink bulbs?" he demanded. Very rightly. What the hell is it?)

It's good to become aware that the extraordinary literary and artistic experiences I had were, in my mature view, experiences of stuff that was second-rate. It's not the quality of the stuff that matters, in the end; it's the quality of the experience. At fourteen Eddison was as steep a mountain as I could climb.

But anyway -- I have not done much climbing lately, though I have much better equipment and a lot of experience. So it's time to climb again. Read things that require all my attention, and write in answer to them. Even if it all turns out to be second-rate. If I'm here for anything, if I've trained all my life for anything, this is it: so I had better do it.


tatz said...

On that note: I'd recommend Gina Berriault's Women in Their Beds, if you can find a copy. Or something of Jim Shepard's; I'm fond of You Think That's Bad, myself.

Dale said...

Thank you! I'll look for them.

tatz said...

Oh, and have you read Esther Hillesum's An Interrupted Life & Letters from Westerbork? The first half is a selection from diaries she kept during the early 1940s; the second is what it says on the tin. It's often a difficult read, but one that's deeply relevant to the project of trying to be a real adult under current conditions.

(Yes, I probably could make book recommendations all day, if you wanted. One of the benefits/downsides of a literary education, as you know. I'll stop now.)

Dale said...

:-) Thank you! No, I haven't! You know, my reading sort of tails off with the accession of Edward VII.

Jeff said...

I don't know if this helps, but today I returned home after a week in the mountains to discover a package from France with a copy of your Opening the World inside. I've been reading your blog for three or four years now, and I wish it hadn't taken me so long to order your book, which looks intelligent and engaging and beautiful.

Those early literary encounters make for wonderful memories, don't they? Readers who are willing to challenge themselves as they grow more sophisticated are sometimes successful in chasing some shadow of that same feeling later in life. (About writing, though, I have nothing wise to say!)

Dale said...

Oh, thanks for telling me! It does help.

(If you don't have wise things to say about writing, then who the hell does?)