Skip to main content

On reading more and Tweeting less

Because everyone likes pictures of cute
babies doing cute stuff.
There’s a political blogger who I read regularly called Jonathan Bernstein. He frequently writes posts entitled ‘Read Stuff. You Should.’ Most of the time he’s directing people to read stuff on other websites. But the phrase came to mind recently when I thought about a change in my own reading habits at the beginning of this year. Or should I say, a renewal of my reading habits.


As 2011 began, I decided to start using Twitter regularly. But I also started to regret the fact that I seemed to be reading less, and in particular reading less fiction. So I decided that I would start reading more stuff, as a counterbalance to the crack-addictive pull of social media, but also because, as Bernstein says, You Should.

A couple of things have helped me get started on fulfilling this new resolution. One: my wife Patty was briefly in the hospital over Christmas, so I had hours and hours to wait around, which I filled by reading a collection of stories by Joyce Carol Oates.

Two: Patty is gearing up for the publication of her collection of short stories, for which I’ve helped her set up her website/blog. In order to help spread the word about the collection and generate interest, she’s very cleverly started posting long contributions from writers to whom she has asked the question: “Why the short story?” A long list of titles and names of authors has come out of that, and has led me to read for the first time work by Gerard Woodward and Vanessa Gebbie, to name only two.

Three: I am co-teaching two specialty classes in the Fiction Writing department at Columbia College Chicago. My contribution comes from the visual arts world (drawing in one class, film in the other), but in each class the students are required to read a few pieces of short fiction beforehand. I thought it might be a good idea to read those, too, so I’ve recently been reading pieces that I might not otherwise have come to on my own—for example, stories by Bharati Mukherjee, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Haruki Murakami, Isabel Allende, Tadeusz Borowski, Jamaica Kincaid.

It’s not that I stopped reading altogether in the last few years. But it’s mainly been non-fiction – art books, politics, history – none of it necessarily a waste of time, but I felt I needed to redress the balance.

And the thing about fiction, when you start to re-read it, is that it’s far more truthful about the world than a recitation or interpretation of the facts.
 

 Subscribe to Praeterita in a reader

Popular posts from this blog

On my 300th blog post

Crikey!

It's my 300th blog post. And I seem to remember that in my 200th blog post I said that I would start quoting from John Ruskin's "Praeterita", after which this blog was named. Well, better late then never, so quotation number 2 is below.

First, though, some thoughts on this blog and blogging in general. I started Praeterita at the end of last year after reading a book by an art-marketing guru called Alyson Stansfield that recommended it as a means for artists to publicise their work better. But from the start I thought it would be more interesting to talk in a discursive way about my wider interest in art, and artists, and the history of art. After a desultory beginning where I only posted once a week, my blogging habit has now grown to the point where I am posting sometimes twice a day, and more than 45 times per month (helped enormously by the Blogger feature that lets you save blog posts with a post-dated timestamp, so that you can put posts in the bank to …

My worst open studio

Most open studios are notable for nothing really happening. You sit there waiting for people to come into your studio, eat all your nibbles and guzzle the free drink, and then leave after a cursory glance at your work. Usually, the worst thing that happens is that you get stuck in a boring conversation with a dull person,

But there was one time a few years ago when I got into one of these conversations, and quite quickly the person I was talking to started to make homophobic remarks about another artist in the building. After a few minutes, I decided I'd had enough and asked him to leave. He seemed genuinely surprised that I had any objection to what he was saying, which in retrospect makes me even angrier if he thought he had a sympathetic ear.

He asked me why, and I told him I didn't like people talking that way, and I said: "This conversation ended 30 seconds ago." So he left.

So, nothing dramatic like Jackson Pollock getting drunk in a fancy New York apartment a…

Van Gogh on Degas

From a letter dated July 31, 1888:
“Why do you say Degas can’t get it up properly? Degas lives like some petty lawyer and doesn’t like women, knowing very well that if he did like them and bedded them frequently, he’d go to seed and be in no position to paint any longer. The very reason why Degas’s painting is virile and impersonal is that he has resigned himself to being nothing more than a petty lawyer with a horror of kicking over the traces. He observes human animals who are stronger than him screwing and f—ing away and he paints them so well for the very reason that he isn’t all that keen on it himself.”
Subscribe to Praeterita in a reader