I have to watch what I read, for two reasons. The first is that I tend to adopt the writing style of whoever I’m reading. It’s just like “You are what you eat,” only it’s “You write what you read.”
My mother first brought this to my attention when I was about twelve and she found one of my half-written stories lying about.
“You’re writing a Harlequin Romance!” she said, horrified. I didn’t believe it, until she produced the first and only Harlequin Romance I’d ever read, and outlined the similarities. Even then I wasn’t convinced until she pointed out that my protagonist and the Harlequin’s protagonist shared the same first name.
The other reason I try to read good books is because I force myself to finish books I’ve started, even if I don’t like them. I rarely abandon a book. I think this might be Mrs. Stevenson’s fault. She was the librarian at Fitzroy Centennial Public School, where I went from the middle of grade five till the end of grade eight. The library wasn’t an actual room – it was a bunch of book carts that were stored in a locked room and wheeled out into the hallway once a week.
Mrs. Stevenson was hostile toward children, and mistrusted their motives. She was also stingy with books. I took out the maximum number of allowed books each week. I think it was four. Mrs. Stevenson challenged me, accusing me of taking out more than I needed, more than I would actually read. I wasn’t sure what she was insinuating, maybe that I was being greedy.
But she was right, I didn’t necessarily read all the books I took out of the library. I wanted extras in case I didn’t like them all. I wanted to make sure I had something good to read. But she made me feel guilty about it, so I started forcing myself to finish all the books.
This morning I finished reading a book I hated. Notes of a Dirty Old Man, by Charles Bukowski. It’s a compilation of columns he wrote for an underground newspaper in the 60s. They gave him license to write whatever he wanted. I’d read some of Bukowski’s short stories when I was much younger, and I remembered him being raw and raunchy and disturbing, but also fascinating and occasionally poignant (in a raunchy and disturbing way, of course).
Notes of a Dirty Old Man, though, was just disturbing and gross and depressing. Bukowski’s a vulgar misogynist. He hated everybody, including himself, but he hated women most of all. Reading this book felt like poking at a maggot-infested corpse.
Now I need to take a very long shower and read something uplifting. Any suggestions?