Eyes On The Road

Jonathan Evison is unusual in that one of his first introductions to reading (at age seven, no less) was Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions. He lived to tell about it, and wouldn’t have had it any other way. Most writers I interview, however, report a different trajectory that usually begins with comic books or Nancy Drew. I loved comic books when I was eleven. I had a collection. This was the same year I read The Hardy Boys – my first experience of not being able to put a book down.  All of six years later I read The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and Lolita, and my writing and reading habits were changed for good.

I bring this up because I recently read one of Jason Pinter’s blogs in The Huffington Post about the age-old conflict between the literati and basically everybody else in publishing. Academics like Yale’s Harold Bloom have a habit of decrying the end of civilization whenever they glance at the bestseller list. Likewise, I will point out, commercial fiction writers periodically write essays saying, “Hey. Everyone is reading us. Would it kill you to review a romance or suspense novel from time to time?”

To which I always think, get your eyes off other people’s papers. Writers can moan about not getting reviewed, and academics can harrumph about popular fiction – and for what? Everyone, no matter what they write or read, is on precisely the same journey: following the scent – sometimes elusive, sometimes quite strong – of whatever interests them most. No one belongs between you and what interests you most. No one deserves to comment on the value of what interests you most. I love writing and language and stories, but I do not care how bad something is; it doesn’t affect me and what I write and read one lick, unless the so-called bad writing is what I’m reading or writing, in which I can put it down or cross it out.

Besides, in this hunt for what interests us most, we are bound to be led from one thing to another. Sometimes we find a happy place and stay there; sometimes we read nothing but romance or suspense or 19th century navel histories. And sometimes comic books lead us to T. S. Eliot. Your eyes belong on the road ahead. And when you find something that truly makes you happy – tell the world about it. Not everyone will be interested, but the expression of joy always reminds us that the hunt remains worth it.

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