Adjusting the Lens

I have been like a woman surveying her closet, seeing that she has come to an age, stage, style, or attitude toward life when it feels like she has nothing to wear. She begins to edit, pulling out that old pair of capri pants (what on earth was she thinking?) or this tailored striped cotton shirt that requires ironing (good grief, who does that anymore?), and she pulls and pulls until she has flung everything out onto the bed.

Then she examines the empty space, dusts, vacuums, polishes and considers: what covers my body adequately and fits my lifestyle? What pleases me?

I am doing that with books and authors right now. It has (at last) dawned on me that I may be able to read every cereal box that comes along, but I can't read every author or book that floats in front of my place along life's virtual river.

Now that the writing has become more important to me than the reading, I realize suddenly that time is short and there is too much to learn not to edit the brainfood I am consuming. I thought of this today, when reading a friend's question to me about Annie Dillard. "Have you read Annie Dillard?" 

"Yes," I thought. "Of course I have. " After all, Annie Dillard is the "It" woman for literary nonfiction.

But when I pulled The Annie Dillard Reader from the shelf, I realized that is the only Annie Dillard book I have, besides her craft book, The Writing Life. When I started thumbing through it, I could see certain passages that I had underlined, but realized soon enough that when I read it before, I was not ready to apply any of the lessons to my own writing.

And so, I find that I have read excerpts, but I have not really read Annie Dillard. Only Annie Dillard will be Annie Dillard. But I want to live in her neighborhood, where I can walk by and see the light in her window. She is Central Park and I am a jogger!

Same goes for other writers whose light can inform, inspire and teach me along my rather recently chosen path.

Look Homeward, Angel may go back to the stacks, unread for now. I'll still read novels, and even a little fluffy mind candy along, but my primary focus will be short stories and literary nonfiction.

These are my coffee and peanut butter sandwich thoughts on a Sunday morning. . . how about you? Where are you in your reading and/or writing life?

7 thoughts on “Adjusting the Lens

  1. I tried Annie Dillard – Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Maybe I wasn’t in the mood, maybe I’m a philistine, but I could only take so much lying in the grass and watching bugs. Well, take the “maybe” out of the philistine comment.
    Reading Updike’s The Widows of Eastwick. Enjoying it well enough, though I don’t think it’s as carefully crafted as other of his works. Some marvelous observations on aging, which circles back to your closet inventory and the practical and philosophical thoughts it engendered in you.

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  2. I’m reading Losing Mum and Pup by Christopher Buckley, William Buckley’s son. My next read will be SixtyFive Roses, at least I think it’s 65!

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  3. Wading through a convoluted John Connolly mystery, “The Reapers.” The muse keeps interrupting and I am losing all but the basic plot. Next up is “Sun Dog Days” by my friend Slim Randles.
    In the waiting room:
    The Half-Known World–on Writing Fiction, Robert Boswell
    Fish Camp, Nancy Lord, Alaska’s writer laureate
    The Bounty, Caroline Alexander
    Klondike Newsman, “Stroller” White
    The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
    Coronado, Dennis Lehane short stories
    Catastrophe, Dick Morris
    and a cast of hundreds in the wings….

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  4. PS: I started the closet/drawer thing the other night, ridding myself of encumbrances. Now, clothing lies stacked on the cedar chest, dresser, floor, guestroom bed–all waiting to be bagged and taken to the women’s crisis center.
    How is it you and I so often thing alike?

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  5. Oh, how could I have forgotten the one I just finished? “When the Laughing Stopped,” John Evangelist Walsh. Interesting story of the Will Rogers/Wiley Post crash in Alaska that killed both men.

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  6. I recently have started reading books from writers I have met online. I’m currently reading a western, “A Man Called Outlaw” by K.M. Weiland. I think it’s the first western I’ve read in 30 years, and am enjoying it. I read her blog which is filled with writing tips. A recent one which became one of my favorite books is “Return Policy” by Michael Snyder. His humor and mine are very similar so I guess that’s why I like him. You mentioned short stories, Mr. Snyder gave me this advice, start writing short stories and perfect your style. Whoops, I’m rambling, I’ll quit.

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