I’ve been so busy writing over the past thirty years that it’s challenging for me to find time for reading as much as I want to. I do read every night as a kind of reward for making it through another day of this political cesspool I feel I’ve been swimming in the past few years. So I would guess I probably read far more than the average person – it’s just not as much as I would like to be reading. I know that I cannot possibly live long enough to read all that I want. When I look at the stack of books I want to read, I am reminded that I will simply die too soon.
Reading can allow my mind to escape from the tangle of thoughts that emerge each day as I consume news about politics, war, hunger, the economy. It can help me unwind after I have conversations with fellow creatives about the state of our world and how we would repair it if only the powers that be – and society in general – would give us creative beings some power, too. Creative people are good at developing ideal worlds. Creatives are also good at making disturbing worlds. I have no rules for what kinds of literary worlds should be created as long as it’s well-written. I’m a fan of anyone who can skillfully make something out of nothing. With my own fiction, I tend to assemble worlds by pulling together snapshots of this one. It’s not necessarily pretty. My fiction writing tends to be a socio-political commentary on the way things are and doesn’t provide me the escapism I crave.
Lately, my nightly reading usually involves books about physics or how our political world could be better. Both are relevant to the kind of fiction I write, and it’s enjoyable to me in the way that curling up with any book is enjoyable, but it doesn’t allow me to let go of my grip on life. For fear that I could accidentally become a Fox and Friends watching creature living in a state of denial, I am afraid to participate in too much escapism right now while our culture is in such a mess. However, I always have available a special stack of books that I allow myself to pick from when I’m sick. On that pile I make sure I have some of the classics that I should have read in school but didn’t because I was too busy “living.” Luckily, I get sick relatively frequently because I have a connective tissue autoimmune disease. When I’m sick, I allow myself to forget the state of world and my desire to repair it, and I escape into some literary genius’ world.
I have a sketch of William Faulkner hanging in my laundry room that my daughter did in high school many years ago. Every time I look at it, I am reminded that I want to read As I Lay Dying, but don’t know if I should because of accusations that he is politically incorrect by today’s standards. Today, as I lay dying with some strange illness, I am reading As I Lay Dying. I am able to separate people from their art, and I believe that Faulkner was truly gifted at writing. Long after his own death, the sentences he has strung together have effortlessly outlined for me the nature of humanity and have pulled me into an impoverished rural southern world where his characters are forced to cope with death. It’s not a desirable subject, but his writing is allowing me to spend the day thinking about something other than the absurd Donald Trump Follies—which are way beyond politically incorrect. If the dead body of William Faulkner was running for the presidency against Donald Trump in 2020, it’s absolutely clear to me who I should vote for. I honestly believe that William Faulkner’s skeletal remains could do a less harmful job of running my country than a living Donald Trump. See, as soon as I put a novel down, my mind jumps back into political commentator mode, which is why escapism is such a healthy thing for me.
I am only on page 84 of As I Lay Dying, but I had to put my book down and document my current inspired state. On page 84 I read the single most powerful sentence I have ever encountered in literary fiction: My mother is a fish. It’s possible that my excitement over this sentence is due to my fever processing words for me, but right now I am blown away by the pure genius behind this line. I feel that those who have also read As I Lay Dying might understand my enthusiasm about this sentence. If not, that’s fine, because Faulkner’s selection of those five words has inspired me to write a poem—and to compose this essay you are reading right now, where I am about to encourage you to make time in your own day to pick up a work by a literary genius and escape this mad world of reality Donald Trump has composed for us Americans to satisfy the needs of his questionable ego.
Yeah, I’d much rather think about poor dead people in a world from a 100 years ago than what the SAT scores are of the man in charge of the world I live in today. I’m going back to Dying, now.
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