Friday, April 28, 2017

More to See

I came upon this article by way of 3QuarksDaily. One paragraph caught my eye:

I had written some short stories but they were not any good. I didn’t know how to go on with writing. The trouble with the stories was their lack of shape and their earnestness. I read stories in The New Yorker and Esquire and tried to imitate them. This imitation was a discouraging thing. My stories seemed like theirs, but somehow they could be distinguished from the genuine, or so I was convinced. Of course, in some cases they were just imitations of imitations, and no one is looking for that.

Good and bad I suppose. If you happen to be near a library that holds archived issues, you should find that good writing at the New Yorker and Esquire go way back (some of my favorite pieces, all the way back to the 1960's, from the old New Yorkers were from Talk of The Town, because they gave so much shape to the world around you as you passed through it).

Bad in that, if New Yorker and Esquire are the only two publications (or only two sorts of publications) you are trying to imitate to become a better writer (granted the author did not actually say "only"), it might suggest that that's kind of what you limit yourself to seeing as the two sole examples of exemplary writing.

There's an easy fix to this sort of thing, I think: diversity of content. If you are reading a bunch of different things you consider great writing from a bunch of different sources you consider great publications, you are constantly exposing yourself to all forms and styles and approaches in great writing. Also, there's less of a need to imitate any particular style because you are not necessarily wedded to one particular type as acceptable enough. This kind of intimate detachment may also give a young wordsmith a stronger sense of ownership in regards to what they write.

In this way, I guess there's an advantage of having grown up a minority and enthusiastic reader. My reading interest started with the Hardy Boys mostly. But as a pre-teen and early teen looking for things that reflected me really had its limits. The magazine rack had Black Men's magazine, which was more like one extended photo shoot, not exactly a bastion of great writing. And, at the big chain book stores, even the African-American fiction and non-fiction sections at the time seemed more catered to women's interests (in the fiction section), formulaic genre (fiction), and academic treatments (non-fiction). But I did find my combination of diversity of thought/experience and reflection of men that looked like me in biographies. This brought on the habit of not ever being wedded to any particular publisher or magazine or writer, because I was so accustomed to having to work to find what I wanted. Exploration was required from the get go.

And I think that habit carried on as I got into reading a wider variety of publications. I will binge on the New Yorker for months at a time at any point (I actually didn't even really start reading the publication until my mid twenties). But I generally have a tendency to rotate the publications that I read. This is how I found The Sun, Callaloo, The Literary Review (the US publication, ), Raritan, Gettysburg Review (mostly fairly well known as far as lit mags go), and a multitude of other lesser-known literary publications, along with the multitude of glossies that seemed to last for a few years before disappearing from the stands for good. It's why I love those small specialty stores in Manhattan who solely carry hundreds of magazines titles from all over the world, (I haven't seen stores like this in any other cities in the U.S. myself, but I can think of at least three that are walking distance from Penn Station, and more outside of that area), as well as the local bookstores or community centers with titles I'm less familiar with. It's in experiencing all of them, more or less at once, that I came to think of all of them as equally valid.

I honestly get bored with too much of the same. Diversity is part of the joy of reading for me. Of any art or experience really.