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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.

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