Thursday, April 05, 2012

Continuing the thread: my reading life

This week, I received a copy of “In Pursuit of Spenser,” a just-released collection of essays written by crime writers about the late Robert B. Parker, the man and his works. That book, coupled with the posts of Rick, Barbara, and Aline, has me thinking a lot about my reading life, past and present, and my introduction to the mystery genre.

“In Pursuit of Spenser” begins with a touching essay by Ace Atkins, who is now writing the Spenser novels on behalf of Parker’s estate. Previously I have used this venue to state my feelings about having the series continue posthumously, so you know that just doesn’t feel right to me. However, Atkins writes of discovering Spenser at a crucial time in his life, citing the character as nearly a father figure, and I respect his appreciation for Parker’s good work.

In fact, my back-story is similar to Atkins’s, and Parker’s influence on me came much in the same manner. A dyslexic, reading never came easy to me. My mother, upon my fourth-grade teacher telling her to “face it, some kids are just slow,” vehemently countered by feeding me a steady stream of reading materials she thought I would be willing to battle through—hockey magazines, sports books, and then, when I was in high school, Spenser novels. I learned how to write newspaper articles (journalism was my night job during college and my career before grad school) by reading “The Hockey News” cover to cover each week and later to write fiction by listening to Parker’s books on audiocassettes. “What a great way to study voice,” a fellow writer once said. I never saw it that way. I just loved the books and listened to several more than 10 times. Considering each unabridged audiobook takes between 10 and 15 hours to listen to (abridged audio books are, after all, worthless), for a guy whose books are written 90% by ear, this was great training. After all, Parker, it has been said, wrote better dialogue than anyone this side of Hemingway.

So where does all this leave me? As a writer who has been greatly impacted by this genre and one author, the late Parker, in particular. Although only 42, I have been at this game to have seen many different sides of the book industry, and I routinely come back to these words written by another author for whom I have tremendous respect: “You write it a day at a time,” wrote James Lee Burke for the New York Times’ Writers on Writing series, “and let God be the measure of its worth. You let the score take care of itself; and most important, you never lose faith in your vision. A real writer is driven both by obsession and a secret vanity, namely that he has a perfect vision of the truth, in the same way that the camera lens can close perfectly on a piece of the external world. If the writer does not convey that vision to someone else, his talent turns to a self-consuming bitterness.”

Will my works still be read 100 years in the future? I’m chuckling as I write that question because I teach “Hamlet,” so I know I’m not even playing for second place. Perhaps someone (maybe a relative somewhere in the future) might pick up a copy at our family camp. Yet that scenario and the questions that ensure from its consideration, it seems to me, speak more to a discussion of reading mediums (hardcover versus e-book) than it is in one of literary merit.

So I focus one why I write—because I love the process—and I am grateful to the authors, like the late Mr. Parker, who led to my passion.


Charlotte Hinger said...

John, this post was wonderful. Somehow we associate talent and success with talented people whose abilities come through no effort whatsoever. This is the most inspirational thing on writing I've come across in a long time. said...
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