Tuesday, December 06, 2005

What I Am, and Will Be, Reading

The legions of Secret Thread readers might notice that the little 'What We're Reading' indicator on the right seems stuck on David McCullough's 'John Adams' for Mutt Ploughman. Actually, I finished that book, and read 'The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake' as indicated in my Thanksgiving post below. Now, I am reading another longer novel, but I don't want to post on here what it is, because it is directly tied to a gift I am going to be giving Duke for Christmas. When I finish this book, I plan to round out 2005 with 'The Plague' and 'Martin Chuzzlewit'.

For at least the first three months of 2006, I decided I am going to embark on a 'reading experiment' unlike anything I have tried before. I am going to spend the first quarter of the year doing what I guess I am going to call 'research reading' in preparation for a writing project I plan to attempt. I am going to be reading books exclusively about one subject only: The Great Depression that occurred in the United States in the 1930s. I have two books in my possession that I will probably be starting out with: 'Hard Times' by Studs Terkel, an oral history of the Great Depression that was a visionary gift choice by Duke for me a few years back; 'The Great Depression', an out-of-print paperback that is a collection of newspaper columns from around the country that appeared in newspapers cataloguing the Depression (should be fascinating). I have already read Steinbeck's depression-era masterpiece 'The Grapes of Wrath' twice, but I may re-read his earlier novel 'In Dubious Battle' and possibly seek out his articles that were published in a book called 'The Harvest Gypsies' about that time. Another book I'd like to take on in this time period is James Agee's 'Now Let Us Praise Famous Men'.

Why am I doing this? To me, having free reign to choose what books I want to read and mix up the genres, forms and authors continually is important. This 'experiment' upsets that to some degree. Normally I can't stand reading about the same stuff over and over, just as I dislike reading two books in a row by the same writer in most cases. BUT, I am someone who enjoys writing as well as reading, and I have some literary aspirations that have not been realized yet. For at least six years, and perhaps more, I have had a fascination with the Depression and what it gave rise to in this country, and have also entertained increasingly over the years the idea that I might some day attempt to write about that time period myself. Many times I have envisioned attempting to write stories or a novel that fictionalizes the life of my grandfather, Floyd Arlington Lovell, who was an oil distributor raising six children during the Depression in rural, dust-bitten Indiana. Furthermore, the Depression was the defining influence on my own father's early life, as he was born right into it in August of 1930 and grew up relatively poor during the toughest years of economic hardship this country has ever known. These things shaped his character, and have always been totally foreign to me, but equally interesting. I have long imagined possibly writing about this, but have always dismissed it as over-ambitious, too much for me to handle.

Well, I'm 35 and I'm not going to be a star writer. I have two children that are here and growing fast and I have about half a life, maybe a little less in the books. I'm not being morbid: what I'm saying is, there is no time like the present, and if I think I can write, than I should damn well aim high and try to write a story that appeals to me and I think that people would read. So I want to try to see if I can begin to formulate ideas for a Depression-era novel. I've written stories and long fiction manuscripts. I have never written a novel that 'works', let alone attempted to publish one. But this material, this era in history, has its hooks in me, and I am at the very least going to try to learn as much as I can about it and see if the ideas and creative impulses that have stirred in me in the past can be fanned into life.

I think I can write a novel, I think I can learn about the Depression, I think I am able to enter into this material with enough passion and drive to try to make it into something unique. I think all of this enough to make a hard curve in my regular reading regimen and start doing serious reading for a serious artistic endeavor. Stay tuned for later reports in 2006 about the gestation of my ideas and the books that are helping me along.

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