Naked as a nightclub in daylight

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"The difference between Chinese medicine and Western medicine is the dissection versus the observation of the thing in motion. The difference between reading a story and studying a story is the difference between living the story and killing the story and looking at its guts.
"School! We sat in English class and we dissected the stories that I'd escaped into, laid open their abdomens and tagged their organs, covered their genitals with polite, sterile drapes, recorded dutiful notes en masse that told us what the story was about, but never what the story was. Stories are propaganda, virii that slide past your critical immune system and insert themselves discreetly into your emotions. Kill them and cut them open and they're as naked as a nightclub in daylight."
From Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow
When Maggie O'Farrell spoke at Fringe by the Sea, she talked about her love of poetry, and mentioned how glad she was that she had studied English literature and not creative writing at university. In order to be able to write a novel, she said, it was important to know how to take one apart, examine it, and then carefully put it all back together again.

Naturally, having studied neither literature nor writing but rather something significantly less poetic, I was a little dismayed by her advice. Oh well, too late to go back and change it now. I had the option to study English, or music, or even creative writing. I applied for and was accepted onto courses in all of these subjects at reputable institutions. But by that stage, after thirteen solid years of education, I just wanted to be able to read a book and not be constantly bothered by wondering what the meaning was, what the author was really trying to say. For years, I had been too busy analysing writing to do something as pedestrian as enjoying it. So I chose instead a subject where the words I was analysing were so dreadfully dull that there was no chance anyone could ever actually enjoy them anyway, and in fact the process of analysis at least served as a distraction from the relentless monotony of the text.

Somehow, though, as the years go on, it's easy to forget that there was a reason behind my decisions. It's easy to feel guilty for reading carelessly, for fun, with no thought to the higher aim or purpose of the writer. And it's oh so easy to add "Not having an English literature degree" to the list of Reasons Why I Could Never Be A Writer.

But last night, when I read the words above, I was struck anew by the simple truth that there is nothing wrong with reading, or writing for that matter, purely for pleasure. In fact, you know what? I think that may be kind of the point.

(Yes, I did just use the words "genitals" and "naked" in the same post. Twice. Bring it on, spammers and weirdos. Bring it on.)

Excerpt from the second page (boom!) of Eastern Standard Tribe by Cory Doctorow, which made its way to me via the excellent Book Crossing project. Image from Day and Night, a series of photographs of Berlin nightclubs by day, on Finding Berlin.

7 boats moored

  1. Please write a book. That is all x

  2. Seconding Esme's request!

  3. My exact reasons for studying science but loving reading novels and poetry. You are not alone, you're just a well rounded person.

  4. I got a degree in Literature, and I think it makes reading that much more enjoyable because you after awhile, like with anything you practice it just starts to come easily. You pick up all of the nuances of what the author is doing while you're reading the book, and it enriches the experience.

    That being said, there is no reason for that to hinder you from writing a book. Not everything is some kind of lofty work of literature. I always imagined you as a sort of Scottish/female/straight David Sedaris. Have you ever read his stuff? It's brilliant & so funny & super enjoyable.

    write a book! go on and do it!

  5. Kirsty - you already are a writer.


  6. I just only recently started reading for fun. Seriously. I was under the impression that if you're a "reader," you had to learn something every time you read. So I never read anything new that was fun - I read serious books and I re-read all of my favorites from my pre-teen and teenage years.

    But reading crap books is far more fun than reading *learning* books, ya know?

  7. Truer words haven't been read all month. Thanks for reminding me of this.