Tuesday, May 31, 2011

So Many Books, So Little Time

I believe Thomas Jefferson said that. Whoever said it described my world to a tee. I am addicted to books. I love to buy them, to own them, to read them. I buy them new. I buy them used. My house is littered with books.

Hence, the problem for me is to decide what book to read at any given time. When book group makes a pick, then my choice is easy -- I read that book as soon as I get my hands on it. But I read quickly, and I need something else to fill the weeks in between book group picks. So I head to the shelves in my library (or in the spare bedroom, or in my office) and say, "Hm, what should I read next."

This year, I decided to go on a rotation of books -- mainstream fiction, non-fiction, and literature. But again, that leaves the whole "what the heck should I pick?" question. I can take days to decide, and then sometimes I'll end up just pulling something off the shelf because I want a quick read while I make my "real" decision.

So I decided to try something new. I wrote down two lists: one of literature I want to read or re-read this year. The other was of non-fiction I want to read. I thought about making a fiction list, but that will likely come from book group stuff and the mind candy novels I'll pull out to rest my brain. I cut up the lists into small pieces of paper and tossed them into different otherwise unused coffee mugs. This is going to be the way I choose books if I don't really know what I want to read.

I'm finishing a Bill Bryson memoir now and next up is literature. I reached into the mug. I shuffled the papers, and what do I pull out? My old standby, my very favorite book ever written.

Last weekend, I read a novel that I randomly pulled off the shelf because I wanted to read some mind candy and I had never read it before, and it ended up being a book that spoke to me at a very deep, intense level. Now I pull out one of my comfort books, a novel I return to every couple of years because it is like an old friend I need to revisit. I almost put the slip of paper back in the mug to pull another one because I kind of wanted to read something I haven't. But that's not how this game is going to work, so I put the slip of paper down and pulled the book off the shelf.

And you know, based on everything that has happened around here recently, this is the perfect time to visit with that old friend.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Writing for Fun

Some years ago, I was at a party and was introduced to a friend's then boyfriend. He was the son of a relatively famous musician. The guy wanted to think of himself as a musician, too, but he made his living as a writer. That's why I was introduced to the guy. Even though I wasn't in a job where I was writing full time, I had just begun to pick up some freelance work, and I spent a lot of my time working on my crappy fiction.

So, when I met this guy, it was very obvious writing was NOT what he wanted to talk about (something I totally get now), but when he heard I made some money writing, he seemed to relax a little. I think he even gave me his card because he said he sometimes needed freelancers. But then I asked him what kind of writing he did for fun.

"Didn't you hear me?" he sneered. "I write for a job. There is nothing fun about it. You should know that. I play music for fun. Writing is work." At that he rolled his eyes at me, and I had a few choice thoughts about his arrogance as I walked away from him. At the time I thought how could anybody claim to be a writer and not have writing they do for fun?

Now that I'm writing full time, I think about this guy every so often, and I came to this conclusion about him. First, he was jealous of his dad's success and thought it was due to him by birthright. Second, he wasn't a writer. He was a guy who wrote for a living because he could follow the formula and put the words in all the right places.

I thought about him the other day, after I read a book by Elizabeth Berg, called Home Safe. Had I not been a fan of Berg's, I would have hoped it was a book about baseball, but I knew it would be about a woman searching for the meaning of her life. Which it was. What I didn't know the woman would be a writer, searching for her desire to write again after her husband's death. As I read the book -- in one afternoon because I couldn't put it down -- it made me want to write. It made me miss writing.

Which is kind of funny because I write almost every single day. Six days a week, I have to write a short assignment and send it off to an editor. And then there are the longer articles I do regularly. So how on earth can I miss writing?

I miss fun writing. I miss doing the free writing exercises I did with a friend, some that turned into essays that got published. I miss writing essays, where I could just let my brain wander until it found the right story to tell. Mostly I miss writing crappy fiction, where I create characters and their dilemmas, taking up my life frustrations with pretend people. I don't worry about anyone reading my fiction because it is really really bad. But I love writing it. It makes me happy, really truly happy. And fulfilled in ways my writing job doesn't and never will.

So I gave myself a goal for this summer. On Friday afternoons, whenever I possibly can, I am going to free my afternoon to write for fun. Because as I read that book, I was reminded, I am a writer, someone who happens to also write for a living.