This Reading Life, by Corey Mesler: Chapter One
So, my name is Corey and I am a reader of fiction. Let’s get that straight. I don’t read as much nonfiction as I would like, or, I should say, I don’t read a lot of nonfiction because I don’t like it that much. History: pfft. Psychology: right. Current events: gimme a break, seriously, gimme a break. I can barely make it through the newspaper. And, when I do venture into books limning something close to real life, it’s usually a biography of a fiction writer. Get it? For instance now I am reading Vonnegut’s letters. So. Here in Column One of what I hope will be a series, if The LampLighter likes it, and you, the readers, want it, I state my prejudice up front. Fiction. And even within that constrained group mostly the subgroup, literary novels. I know I would be a better person if I wasn’t so rigid. But, you know, it’s like being a vegetarian: I appreciate that vegetarians are more ethical (or is it moral?) than I am, but, dang, I sure do love a good hamburger sometimes. Does this metaphor work? Still with me? Good.
In publishing, it has not been easy to miss, that in recent years, nonfiction, especially the memoir, has taken over. I don’t have figures, because I don’t like figures, but, with the exceptions of behemoths like Mr. Grisham and Mr. King and Mr. Patterson, it seems as if what publishers want to see (and spend their ill-gotten lucre for) are memoirs, especially if you have suffered (a) childhood abuse, (b) addiction, (c) stardom with its riches and attending torments (how hard it is at the top!), (d) alien abduction (or indoctrination into a church that was begun by some American conjurer with too much epinephrine in his system, which is sorta the same thing), (e) false imprisonment, or (f) demonic possession. Oh, and you can also get a book contract if you hate someone prominent, like the President of the United States, or L. Ron Hubbard.
So, lemme tell you some of the recent works of fiction I have enjoyed so you can gauge whether you want to listen to me or not: Edward St. Aubyn’s powerful Patrick Melrose novels, Robert Littell’s Young Philby, Cary Holladay’s Horse People, James Salter’s All That Is, Steve Stern’s The Book of Mischief, Kevin Wilson’s The Family Fang, and Declan Burke’s Absolute Zero Cool. I also read a lot of poetry so I can perceive how many people write it better than I do. Favorites include : Charles Simic, Mark Strand, Sylvia Plath, Gregory Orr, James Tate, W. S. Merwin, Kay Ryan, Frank O’Hara and John Berryman. We can talk about poetry. We can even talk about classics, as long as you accept that I think Ulysses is the greatest novel ever written but will not be caught out in public by questions asking me to explain it (the intellectual equivalent of the atomic wedgie).
I have also enjoyed some recent nonfiction books: Sylvie Simmon’s definitive biography of Leonard Cohen, I’m Your Man, The John Lennon Letters, and Ed Sanders’ Fug You: An Informal History of the Peace Eye Bookstore, the F*** You Press, the Fugs, and Counterculture in the Lower East Side.
What I propose to do then, here in what I hope will be a monthly column, is talk about books a bit, what I like, what you like, what I should like and don’t (Nelson Algren, for instance), what I like that I shouldn’t (Ken Follett, for instance), why my reading habits are worse than yours, what it’s like to read as a writer, what it’s like to write as a reader, and why I think books should be made out of paper and glue rather than quarks and black holes. So, I would like this to be a conversation about books and reading and would welcome comments and counter-arguments and constructive (or even deconstructive, though I not only don’t really understand Jacques Derrida or Ferdinand de Saussure, I can’t pronounce their names) criticism and … I’ve run out of c’s … sass and backtalk, and recipes for flan. Send them here (but be nice, or leave) email@example.com.
Thanks for letting me into your homes.
Corey Mesler is the owner of Burke’s Book Store in Cooper-Young.