Because of my work on this magazine, I read a lot of books I might not have picked up otherwise. Sometimes this is a good thing, as when I discover a writer I love which to me is always a bit like making a new friend – but sometimes the reading can be tough sledding. I am not one of those readers who can read just anything and be content, and if a book does not fall within my pretty narrow taste, I have been known to get grumpy.
I have to admit that I used to blame my grumpiness on the writers. If they had bothered to write something that amused me things might have gone smoothly. But I began noticing a pattern that led me to wonder if the writers weren’t the problem at all.
I believed at first that If a book didn’t interest me, then there had a to be an empirical reason this was so. And I, as a writer and an Informed Reader, could sniff it out. The problem was the dialogue, or the problem was the pacing, or the characters. Or something. It didn’t matter, because whatever problem I had, the result was always the same: The next time I sat down to write, when I reread the previous day’s work, whatever flaws I perceived with that other writer, I now perceived in my own writing.
It happened without fail, and reminded me of that old biblical maxim about judging. There is nothing crueler than perceiving yourself as the object of your own derision. And of course the first time it happens you chalk it up to coincidence, and the second time you tell yourself to get a grip, but by the third go around you understand it’s time to reevaluate.
My tastes are my tastes and I have no particular interest in changing them, and I will always have my ideas about what does and does not constitute effective writing, but none of that is the point. Robert Henri said that all art is the trace of a magnificent struggle, and it is, for all life is a magnificent struggle. When you judge another writer’s misstep you are judging life itself, which means you are actually judging yourself. When I find the generosity to let another writer write however they must write, I return to my desk more generous toward myself, which is good, because generosity is the only stance possible if I wish to give anything back to the world.