Friday, October 10, 2008

My Much Missed Literary Life

At some point in the past fifteen years or so I have went from being a voracious reader to someone who maybe reads one or two books a year. I suppose the process has been a slow one but it feels sudden. I must say that I miss the reader in me who has gradually disappeared over the years and I have been trying to wake him back up.

where the wild things are Pictures, Images and Photos

I was lucky enough to have parents who knew the value of reading growing up and some of my best memories involve my mom reading me everything from Where the Wild Things Are to Curious George to, my favorite, The Fire Cat. It was in these slim children’s volumes that my love for books first came into bloom. Reading should have been in blood, after all my father and grandfather were both writers, and luckily my parents recognized and embraced my appetite.

While I was never a Comic book fanatic some of my earliest reading came in any number of issues of Creepy and Eerie that I could get my little hands on. These helped form my fascination with the fantastic that continues to thrive to this day.

eerie Pictures, Images and Photos

I began seriously reading on my own pretty early in my life, which helped a lot as I was moved around constantly so I never had time to really make connections with kids my age. I remember before I began finding the writers I really loved tht my tastes were all over there place in forming…so everything from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to the Little House on the Prairie came into my view pretty well before my teen years.

pet sematary Pictures, Images and Photos

It was around Junior High that my tastes really begin to form and I had a handful of writers that I read constantly. Chief among these were Stephen King, who I still consider one of our great storytellers, and I zipped through his entire canon in those two years of Junior High. I also became entranced by the plays of Sam Shepherd and the work of Poe, who is probably the person I would name these days as still my favorite American writer.

Tennessee Williams Pictures, Images and Photos

My real love though early on was Tennessee Williams, whose life fascinated me just as much as his Southern Gothic tales of obsession and heartbreak. I immersed myself fully in his works throughout my early high school experience and one of my best memories was visiting Key West, and seeing where he wrote so many of his greatest and most enduring works.

I also discovered the world of fellow Kentuckian Richard Hell in high school, and his work continues to have a monumental effect on me. I will write more on Richard, and how much he has meant to me, in detail at a later date so I will leave that for now.

Jim Carroll Pictures, Images and Photos

College brought along poetry and the works of Verlaine, Rimbaud, Dorothy Parker, Patti Smith and Jim Carroll were rarely out of my hands. Lydia Lunch and Exene Cervenka also played a huge role in my development and I of course had my Bukowski period. All of them just burned with me and a highlight of my early college career was meeting Jim Carroll at a reading he gave at the University of Kentucky in Lexington Ky. in the mid nineties.

My time at UK also brought me in contact with the great James Baker Hall, one of the nation’s great poets and his classes, friendship and books were all like wonderful gifts that came to me in my early twenties. I’ll never forget my time with him, and am still grateful for his support.

Sadly, I began to lose my literary drive in my late twenties due to a variety of factors, most of them all just coming back to the effects life can have on a person. My eyesight got worse and worse each year, and I went from having to occasionally wear glasses to the annoying full time script I have now. Reading, which had once been the most joyful escape, became in a very real way just very exhausting and at times painful.

Most of my reading now comes in the form of non-fiction…mostly film and music related books (Derek Hill's great recent work being the one I am currently working on), with Tim Lucas’ majestic and monumental Mario Bava biography being the first book in quite a while that reminded me of how much I loved the printed word in the first place. Mostly though, I find myself re-reading books now with titles ranging from Elmore Leonard’s Out of Sight to any number of works by William Peter Blatty occupying my time again and again.
It takes me awhile to get through a book and my attention span has become such that I usually have a few going at once with always a couple I don’t finish. It’s a sad state of affairs for a guy who once considered himself a truly great reader. Of course, it is my own fault and I hope to one day return to the page and perhaps rediscover some of the dreams of my youth I have lost along the way.

I hope the reader in me wakes up again eventually. I hate that I have become one of those guys who just doesn’t read much. It’s never been what I have wanted to be…I am hoping one of these nights a line from Poe’s William Wilson or snatch from an Patti Smith poem might enter my mind while dreaming and I will set off on my literary journey again…but until then I am more than a little vacant.


J.D. said...

Well said, Jeremy. I know exactly how you feel. I started reading at a very young age, with comic books and then quickly moved onto S.E. Hinton's novels (I must've read THE OUTSIDERS and RUMBLE FISH a zillion times) and never looked back.

I think the problem now is that there is so much out there that catches our attention -- the internet, movies, music, etc. Fortunately, I can read on my daily commute every day but even that is hard with people talking loudly, cell phones going off and just the general white noise of being on buses, trains, etc. but I find myself reading more non-fiction than fiction, altho, recently I've been getting back into classic crime fiction by Chandler, Cain, et al.

I really enjoyed what you had to say -- very thoughtful and from the heart.

Steve Langton said...

I used to be a pretty prolific reader. Now, I read maybe 2 or 3 books per year, max. Theses days, any spare time I get that can be devoted to reading seems taken up by issues of Watchdog, Sight & Sound and other movie-related publications. It's all about spare time I guess, and these days there just doesn't seem enough hours in the day.Hope you do get back into reading. I always found that to really enjoy a book, you need to visit it daily and that can often be uphill when you have lots of other things going on.

Ibetolis said...

Timely post Jeremy.

I've been battling with a similar problem as of late, I was a prolific reader, I'd eat the book if I could.

It's only been the past year or so that it's all gone wrong. I have all these great books to read, gathering dust on the shelf; Murakami, Carey, Burroughs, Mitchell, Woolf...they're all staring at me, wondering where the hell I've gone.

I can't explain it, J.D seems to have an idea, having a plethora of other 'crap' to fill our days doesn't help. Again there's a similarity with what you've written, I'm consuming tons of non-fiction (film books, news, history etc) but put a great work of fiction in front of me, I'll be lucky to get past the first paragraph. It's disapointing and confusing for someone who read so much.

Does any one think this is just an age thing? I've hit 32 and I'm wondering it anyone is of similar age.

Lovely post Jeremey, funny that you mention Poe, I bought a collection of his work in the hope it will shake me awake. Here's hoping. Let us know if you ever get out of the slump.

Keith said...

That was a really fascinating post. I'm sorry you don't read that much anymore. I'm one of the only readers in my family. My dad helped get me into reading when I was a kid. My mom's never been much of a reader. My dad mostly read war books and magazines like Soldier of Fortune. I started reading those things myself because I wanted to have something in common with my dad. Through the years I read everybody from Stephen King to Jackie Collins. I became a voracious reader of fiction and non-fiction. I love reading history non-fiction. My favorite writer of all time is Hemingway. I read pretty much all of the classics from ancient Greece to Victorian England, plus anything in between. I don't read much horror these days. I generally tend to read fiction along the lines of Tom Clancy, etc. I've also been reading a lot of the men's action/adventure paperbacks of the 60's and 70's.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks guys,
This has been bugging me and I appreciate the comments. I hope I can find the reader in me again eventually...

J.D. said...


"...Does any one think this is just an age thing? I've hit 32 and I'm wondering it anyone is of similar age."

You may be onto something. I'm 35 and I find myself reading less fiction books. Maybe a good starting point is trying to read collections of short stories. The power went out in my place this weekend for four hours and I found myself reading "The Night Flier" story in Stephen King's NIGHTMARES & DREAMSCAPES book. It felt good to visit King's world again. I loved the film version and the story was even better. I found it funny that it took a power outage to get me to pick a book again.

Dave S said...

other than 'creepy', 'eerie', and 'vampirella', i wasn't a giant comic book fan myself. but i did love those warren publications (including the seminal 'famous monsters'). just last week, i picked up volume 1 of 'the creepy archives' which comes complete with those great ads from the back of the mag. volumes 2 and 3 are on their way, with volume 1 of 'the eerie archives' coming out soon. essential.

Justine said...

Very well said Jeremy.
I am a big reader too.
I love stories and reading, but I seem to have the same problem. I am always reading more than one book at a time. I'm sure I have at least 10 books stacked up on my bedroom table half read. I love stories so much usually I can't decide whether I want to read or watch a movie. I've felt bad lately because I haven't given as much attention to just sitting down and reading as I would like.
Today there is so much choice, that I think it can get in the way of just sticking with one thing.