After a two-year hiatus from reading fiction, I’ve picked it up again.
While in grad school, I immersed myself in the writing of great nonfiction authors: Agee, McPhee, Kidder, etc. You name ’em, I at least tried to read ’em. I was undeterred from nonfiction even during holiday breaks, alternating between narrative journalism and memoir in an effort to learn as much as I possibly could while I had immediate access to nonfiction experts (my professors).
To be honest, I didn’t even know how much I missed my cozy novels. I was even a little reluctant to read fiction again. After all, it had been so long, and I tend to treat books – and by extension, genres – like friends. How in the world would we get reacquainted after so much time had gone by? Would it be awkward? Would I lose interest?
Perhaps, I thought, it might lessen the shock to begin with historical fiction, or a smattering of short stories.
But no. As soon as I read the first page of Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children, fiction and I were back in good graces. Reading about make-believe characters in a make-believe world reminded me of the delicious escape books can provide. It tucked in the driven, learning-oriented side of my brain, giving it permission to take some much-needed rest.
For once, I wasn’t analyzing the book’s structure as I read, or its author’s interviewing techniques. I was reading for pure enjoyment, having returned to a playground that allowed me to grasp for the monkey bars or clamber across the jungle gym instead of spending all my time building things – or fighting – in the sand box.
Not that we nonfiction writers can’t learn a lot from our fiction sisters. Claire Messud’s descriptions of her characters are priceless. She rounds them out with impressive zeal, making them tangible – describing them more tangibly, even, than many accomplished nonfiction writers portray their real-life subjects. She notes one character’s “resemblance to a baby seal,” and another’s “Nabokovian brow.” Brilliant.
Messud also captures every detail of her characters’ surroundings, knowing – in an almost eerie show of authorial intuition – just what we readers need to see, noting, for example, “a long, plump, pillowed sofa stretched the length of one wall,” at a dinner party. Better yet, she writes that “upon it four women were disposed like odalisques in a harem.”
In celebration of my return to a multi-genred life, I’ve set up a “Bookshelf” here on my blog, where all you lovely people can see what I’ve been reading, and where you, too, can recommend great books from your own libraries.
Happy reading …