Too Cultivated For My Own Good

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2021-08-26 12:00:00 No comments

One thing I've hated about myself, more lately than before, is how damn picky I've become when it comes to my tastes in fiction. I gave it some thought, and realized that I've long had this issue where I've favored individual authors or specific books over topics/subject matter or genres. Often to a fault.

For instance, I read just about anything by the Strugatsky Brothers, or Stanisław Lem, or good ol' Phil Dick, or Patricia Highsmith, or Hubert Selby, Jr., or Dostoevsky, or Ted Lewis, or Chester Himes, or Sōseki Natsume, or Sembene Ousmane, or Machado de Assis, or Shusaku Endo, or Boris Vian, or ... you get the idea. But many of the fields you find them in, inasmuch as literature can be so subdivided (a mistake in itself if you ask me), I'm less than wild about. I end up seeking what for me is the apex of expression within a given literary region (again: assuming you can make regions out of literature), and then I move on.

It's hard for me to read just to fill my head with something because it's there. A lot of books, especially fiction, seem like they're brought into existence -- or at least marketed -- to function like this. They may not be badly written, and the impulses behind them may be sincere, but the sheer number of books out there to begin with, and the overall brevity and limitation of human life, makes me inclined to look for the stuff that's going to be most worth my time. And by "most worth my time" I don't mean best on someone else's stack ranking, or something that won a bunch of book awards (more a sign of an effective publicity campaign than anything else), but something that grabs me on a level I don't always have words for.

Experience taught me I don't get such things from books chiefly designed to fit on a pre-designated space on a shelf. Maverick experiences aren't readily marketable anyway. Or the few that are tend to escape their boxes and curry notice from readers in other ways. Small wonder many of my favorite books are one-offs: Zamyatin's WE, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's The Leopard, Karin Boye's Kallocain, the list goes on. And the authors behind them are no less one-offs themselves, highly singular personalities.

But on the whole, I need to stop being over-aggressive with the budgeting of my time. I need to do more of what I do with movies: put them in and see what happens. I can always bail 100 pages in if nothing's happening.

Tags: fiction reading