Friday, 26 March 2010

Reading habits, writing non-habit

For a while I have been suffering from literary constipation - nothing coming out. I am thinking of changing my blog's subtitle 'To create the habit of writing, irregardless of quality' to something that more clearly reflects the realities of my writing habits. It seems I am stuck between two bad ways of thinking. One has been previously described by Henry Miller - the desire to write literature. That is, to write something of the quality of the writing of authors I admire. The second is to write accurately - to write non-fiction that has been researched to the level of good journalism. Both reflect a failure to write because I don't think I am good enough (in terms of either quality or accuracy). In short - I lack faith, I am fearful of criticism, I lack motivation. Objectively I recognize both these bad habits, and that they should not stop me from posting blog entries. Just reading other blogs is enough to see that there are many who disregard such concerns with abandon. Unfortunately, I am not currently among them.

Constipation can occur because nothing for a long time is going in, or despite something going in, nothing is coming out. My affliction is definitely the latter. So much goes in. I am given a mild boost in the knowledge that my head churns, gurgles, even seethes with sentences, metaphors, starting paragraphs etc… Now and then are short explosions where a few paragraphs are expelled - written down and saved but never published. Literary flatulence.

Just over a year ago (12 March 2009) I posted a list of books I had read whilst in Vietnam. For the sake of my own memory, I thought I should update the list to include those I have read since then. I have missed many out - having been returned to their rightful owners or just forgotten for the moment. I also also spent a lot more time this year reading online news, blogs and marginalia of the web - which has cut into my 'real' reading time more than I would have wanted. Still, I feel blessed to have had the time to read so many good (and a few awful) books. These are listed in no particular order:

The Pornographer's Poem - Michael Turner
Hospital - Toby Litt
In Defence of Food - Michael Pollan
Good Germs, Bad Germs - Jessica Snyder Sachs
The Botany of Desire - Michael Pollan
Omnivore's Dilemma - Michael Pollan
Tropic of Cancer (reread) - Henry Miller
A Pale View of Hills - Kazuo Ishiguro
A Personal Matter - Kenaburo Oe
The Silent Cry - Kenazburo Oe
First Abolish the Customer - Bob Ellis
Common Wealth - Economics for a Crowded Planet - Jeffrey D. Sachs
The End of Poverty - Jeffrey D. Sachs
Economics Explained - Robert Heilbroner & Lester Thurow
Naked Lunch (reread) - William S Burroughs
Footsteps - Pramoedya Anata Toer
House of Glass - Pramoedya Anata Toer
The Great War for Civilisation - Robert Fisk
Middle East Illusions - Noam Chomsky
Rogue State - William Blum
Perfect Spy - Pham Xuan An
Bias - Bernard Goldberg
The Political Mind - George Lakoff
Lipstick Jihad - Azadeh Moaveni
Requiem for the Sudan - J. Millard Burr and Robert O. Collins
What is the What - Dave Eggers
America Town - Mark L. Gillen
Ghost Wars - Steve Coll
The Road of Lost Innocence - Somaly Mam
The Fugitive - Pramoedya Anata Toer
All That is Gone - Pramoedya Anata Toer
The Wisdom of Whores - Elizabeth Pisani
The Great White Shark Hunt (reread) - Hunter S. Thompson
Pathologies of Power - Paul Farmer
Where the Ashes Are - Nguyen Qui Duc
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Jonathan Safran Foer

Currently Reading:
The Hidden Connections - Fritjof Capra
The Giants - J.M.G Le Cleszio
The Slap - Chirstos Tsiolkas
Philosophical Investigations (rereading) - Ludwig Wittgenstein


Alaa said...

The honesty is refreshing, and in a way comforting. Knowing someone else suffers from the same affliction helps the sufferer relinquish the title of disease and accept the mantle of being human. May sound cliched but I can assure you that your words have spoken to me like those of Kierkegaard.

I hope the blog serves as an enema.

I've recently taken solace from Hemingway, perhaps he can help you too:

"Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know." So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut the scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.

Alex said...

hi scrathindog, just came across your blog. love the lists of books - please keep them coming. in regard to tokyo (and books) have you read anything by kafu nagai? one of my guides when i lived in tokyo a few years back. good luck with your block. i've one as well - been with me for seven, eight, maybe nine years. i'm thinking of changing my title from aspiring writer to something else now, too. cheers. alex

Scratchindog said...

@Alaa - thanks for the comment. I should get my hands on a Hemingway book to read that clean crisp line again. If for no other reason than to read it again.

@Alex - will keep an eye out for Kafu Nagai. Looks like some of his stuff could be a fun read. Very few English (let alone English translations of Japanese) titles around in town - I rely mostly on passing through capitals with good bookshops or friends with good bookshelves. But will keep my eye out for his work. Thanks!

Deepwarren said...

Nice post. I've been reading many things that i wouldn't be able to share without blushing. Although i really due the latest Fred Vargas novel, and am finishing off 'Wetlands', which you would probably enjoy. Although you might not think it - writing is like drawing or painting or playing music, or any number of a realm of things, even maybe running. It's just easier not to do it.

And i think you've sooo got the knack for it. You just need to get over the thinking bout not doing. And yes, I'm prepared to wear pot-kettle comments :)

Sheila said...

Hey RW, don't let the fear of writing seize you. I totally relate to what you say and when I get a chance will email you some thoughts about all of that. I did a writing course for a month just before I left Sydney and that helped me come to terms with my impossible perfectionism when it comes to writing. I aspire to 'literary fiction' and 'creative non-fiction' and my lofty goals have been crippling me for years. But I'm chipping away at the fear by taking baby steps. The number one thing is to get into the habit of writing, which is where a blog is useful. But if you'd prefer not to let the world see your writing, you just need to "write junk" every day. Also, see if this helps you - Ultimately, it's all about having the discipline to write - but this is cultivated, rather than something one is born with!