Archive for the ‘fiction’ Category

I Read, Therefore I Am

Posted: August 30, 2013 in fiction
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BookPileinLibrary     There’s something about fiction.  I like to write it.  I love to read it.  Being completely lost in a fascinating story while absorbing sleek new ideas, historical facts and mind-stretching philosophies is probably my favorite way to relax and shed the stress of everyday life.  I can read anywhere from 50 to 75 novels in a year and I know there are a lot of people who would suggest I spend more time perusing the “truth” of op-ed pages, biographies and blogs, but I prefer a swim in the sea of theory and possibility to slowly digesting someone’s idea of the absolute.  Want to teach me something?  Tell me a story.

Of course, I have about 9,000 favorite writers.  There’s Thrity Umrigar, Toni MorrisonGabriel Garcia Marquez, Philip Roth, Amy Tan, Wally Lamb, Ann Patchett, Augusten Burroughs, Ellen Hart.  From each i have learned something that has stayed with me, resonated, buzzed inside my brain, changed my outlook or opinion, lifted me spiritually or just plain made me feel smarter than I was before I slid that particular author’s work off the shelf.

From Rachel Kushner I have learned that every life involves risk, that taking chances is sometimes all that makes it worthwhile.  She is a gritty writer who makes me want to flee the suburbs, distribute subversive literature in New York City’s meatpacking district and take long walks at night on rain-soaked, cobblestone streets with Spanish-speaking grandfathers who desire me but know they will never have me.

Having read Ruth Ozeki, I have come to understand that the only perfect response to a threat or an insult is to bow deeply and say thank you.  How blissfully Zen.  Imagine if we all did this.  Arguments would end before they began.  Potential combatants would bend at the waist and stand up no longer at odds.  Entire wars could be avoided.  An optimistic stretch, I know.  Still, Ruth gives me hope.

Thank you Barbara Kingsolver.  Thank you Khaled Hosseini.  Thank you Octavia E. Butler.  Thank you Orhan Pamuk.

When I open a book by Paulo Coelho I am always inspired by his brilliance.  I am blown away by his ability to get right to the very core of what it means to be human.  Imagine, if you will, that orgasms are pathways to God, that physical pleasure brings us closer not just to each other but to the meaning of and purpose for everything.

From Alexander McCall Smith I have learned about ethics and the beauty of simplicity.  From John Irving I have learned to be true to myself, to embrace my tomboy heart and to try not to judge anyone who doesn’t seem to belong, who takes a different path than mine or who might appear, to conventional society, to be downright freaky.

Thank you Jhumpa Lahiri.  Thank you Da Chen.  Thank you Alice Walker.  Thank you Junot Diaz.  Thank you Douglas Adams.  Thank you Sue Monk Kidd.

In so many Scarlett Thomas novels, I have found the mathematics and physics perfectly accessible, beautifully available to explain and expand the possibilities open to us as the citizens of Earth, the Milky Way, the Universe.

Upon originally reading V.S. Naipaul, I believed he was a genius, or close to it.  Then I heard what he said about women writers being inferior to men, due simply to their anatomy.  That’s when I learned that even brilliant writers can be assholes.  It was something interesting to learn and I learned it, the hard way.

Suddenly, this summer, on television and in the movies, there are Millers everywhere.  I am proud of my last name and happy to have handed it down to my children.  It is a good Scottish and English name and though the Italian half of me claims no ancestors to this country before the turn of the 20th century, the Miller half of me has a family tree ripe with well-known names like Daniel Boone and William Clark.  Having grown up in the 60’s and 70’s it was natural for my sisters and me to be taught that these men were heroic figures.  But Louise Erdrich has forced me to think differently.  My earliest Scottish ancestor to emigrate came not to this country but to this continent in 1692.  I know I have ancestors who fought in the Revolution and on both sides of the War Between the States but what I don’t know for sure is how many of those Millers who came before me were slave-owners or land-robbers.  Reading Louise Erdrich has reinforced my belief that a serious apology is due to a serious amount of people.  I can’t change what has already happened.  But I can admit that it was not just wrong but unfathomably disgusting.  I won’t be going back to Europe to live any time soon.  But I can, having read Louise Erdrich, promise to try to ensure that my descendants don’t take after my ancestors.