Alan in Exile

Last week I left you with this: “It was to be the last book I would read for three years.” And you did indeed read that correctly—for three years, the time it took me to write Spank, I did not pick up a novel by another author.

I’m sure you’re asking “why?” and with good reason. It may sound ludicrous for someone who makes his living through the written word to give up reading fiction for pleasure. But as I explained to a friend recently who questioned my sanity, I had a very good justification for my self-imposed exile from books.

When I’m writing I simply do not want to be influenced by another writer’s style—whether consciously or unconsciously. I also don’t want to be intimidated by the genius of others. When reading Hemmingway, or Paul Theroux, or Don De Lillo it’s far too easy to be dismissive of your own work.

Over the years I’ve made a point of keeping a list of all the great novels I’ve read. Under each title, I included a brief excerpt. I went through the list the other day, and as I read gem after literary gem, I’m certain I made the right decision.

How could you not marvel at this excerpt fromAnnie Proulx’s Accordian Crimes? 

“Near the window was the cat’s chair, and out in the grass inspecting the new trough stood the cat himself. Immense, squarish and orange, resembling a suitcase, his tail a broken strap. The storm clouds darkened the grass and he moved toward the back door.”

Or admire the cadence of this beautiful sentence from Monica Ali’s Brick Lane?

“And the mynah birds called from the trees, and the goats fretted by, and the big, sad water buffaloes passed like a funeral.”

Or cherish the imagery invoked in this description of nightfall in The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith?

“The sun was not going down. It was simply leaving, evaporating, one of those days that fades to white before the night comes.”

But while I work on the outline of my next novel, it’s time to get back to reading. What’s on your list of great books that I have missed during my absence?

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