I’m not Actually Very Well-Read, and I Hate Myself For It

I remember the day my mom told me a family friend of ours was opening up a used bookstore in our hometown.

“It’s called Shabby Pages. It’s going to sell mainly used books, and right now they’re only accepting donations, but I think later on you’ll be able to trade in for store credit.”

This information made seventh-grade Eric pretty happy. Not only could I stop begging my mom to make the 25 minute drive to Barnes and Noble, but I could also get books for hella cheap. At the same time, though, I was a little iffy on the whole thing because I had this aversion to buying used books, specifically paperbacks. If I didn’t put the creases in the spine, the book was no good. I was the only one who could damage my shit.

A couple weeks passed and we visited the store. It wasn’t too big, probably less than a quarter of the size of a typical chain store, but the walls were lined with books. Since the store was just starting out, the owner got her hands on pretty much whatever she could and sold it. As I walked around the store, I saw so many unfamiliar names that I was disappointed. Where was D.J. MacHale (my favorite author at the time, who wrote the ever-so-wonderful Pendragon series)? Dan Gutman? Eoin Colfer? Of course, the reason I didn’t know any names is because up until that point in my life I had been reading YA. That changed before I walked out of the store.

As I was looking, I stooped to one of the lowest shelves in the store because the spine of a book caught my eye. It had a picture of a doorknob on it, and on that doorknob was the number 1408. I knew there was a movie with the same name that I’d wanted to see at one point or another, so I was immediately interested in the book. As my eyes made their way up the spine, I saw a name and my heart sank. The author’s name was Stephen King, and the book was titled Everything’s Eventual. 

Up until that point in my life, I hadn’t even tried to read a Stephen King book because one time when I was nine or ten, I saw one at Walmart, asked my mom if I could have it, and she said no, because that man wrote bad stuff.  I dropped the topic until I saw that book inside Shabby Pages. 

I’m going to spare you most of the details because this anecdote has gone much further than I planned it to, but just know this: I walked out of the store with that book under my arm, plus Alex Haley’s Roots. I’ve been reading “grown-up” fiction ever since.

I devoured Everything’s Eventual. My family went camping a few days after I got the book, and I finished it on that camping trip. The next thing I did was seek out more Stephen King stories. I bought thirteen of his books at a flea market for dirt cheap and kept reading what was my first real exposure to the big people’s world of literature.

It remained my only exposure into that world for the longest time. I read book after book, story after story. I was on a Stephen King-only diet for years. I didn’t mean for this to happen, but I was so in love with his work that it just kinda did. I don’t think I read another author until I was a sophomore in high school.

That was the start of my problem.

You see, when you’re a writer, you feel a certain obligation to learn from the people who did it before you. And not just anybody, but mainly those dead guys and gals who we still find ourselves discussing in classrooms today. Steinbeck. Jane Austen. Edgar Allen Poe. You get the picture. It even happens with the new stuff that comes out and is critically acclaimed        —The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao, The Corrections, White Teeth. You feel the need to be caught up on all of it. To be able to jump into any conversation. To immerse yourself in as many Worlds as you possibly can.

Well, I, for the most part, have done the exact opposite of that. I’ve spent most of my reading life reading genre fiction, and while I can’t say I’m mad about it, I still do have some regrets. It’d be one thing if I’d read a bunch of “genre-authors,” but I’ve largely been limited to about three. I wouldn’t say I’m angry for enjoying what I enjoy, but sometimes I wish I would’ve expanded my horizons sooner.

On that note, let’s delve into my recent experiences with what we call “literary fiction.” Aside from the books that everyone reads in high school, I haven’t had much. I just looked over my goodreads account, and I found like three books that I was not forced to read that could be classified as literary. If you count what I was forced to read, the list swells to about ten. Keep in mind that this list contains pretty much anything I can remember reading during the last five or so years of my life.

When I was in college last year, I had to read NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names. It was a finalist for some important award at some point, and she was coming to Butler to speak, so my professor thought it’d be a good book to stick on the curriculum. I read it. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t good. It had such a heavy political agenda that I wanted to throw up. It was realistic. Cool. But I can’t say I enjoyed the damn thing.

It’s simple. I find an author I like, and stick to him or her. I don’t change it up until I get sick of said person or have read every single thing he or she ever wrote. I know it’s wrong. I know I’m missing out on some brilliant and life-changing stuff. But I think I’ve got a plan to fix this.

Whenever I go book shopping now, I make sure to buy at least one book from an author I’ve never read. It could be genre fiction, it could be literary— hell, it doesn’t even have to BE fiction. (I’m quite partial to baseball books.) Regardless, that name will stare at me every time I head to my bookshelf, and I know I’ll eventually be guilted into reading it. I’m going to compile a list of classics that are next up on my “to-read” pile, and I’ll share that with you soon. If anybody has some can’t-miss recommendations, be sure to let me know in the comments. 

I just wanna throw this out there: if that post was hard to follow, it’s because I wrote it over the span of a few months and just now forced myself to push out the ending. Let me give you the TL;DR version: I have basically read the same authors over and over for the last few years, and I know I need to change it up. I am sick of not being able to speak on certain novels because I haven’t had the exposure. I’ve got a plan to fix this, and hopefully within the next few years I’ll be content with the scope of what I’ve read. Blah, blah, blah.

UPDATE: My first short story, which you can buy on Amazon here, did roughly 40 copies in the five days that I made it free. The majority of readers I’ve spoken with seemed to like it, so I hope you will, too. I’m working on some other stories to put out in the future.

Well, that’s really it for now. I felt really bad for not posting in a long time, and this is the fruits of my labor. I’ll come back (hopefully) soon with something more intelligent and thought-provoking than this in the near future.

Chiao, home dawgs.

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