Monday, February 23, 2015

At Length and With Studied Obscurity

One of the book's I'm planning on reading over the next few days is a novel by Knut Hamsun called Hunger. This post is not so much about that book, but just wanted to comment on an excerpt taken from an book review about it:

Humsun's writing is clear, spare, honest, intimate and punishing. He has a story to tell and he actually wants to tell it, which sets him apart from many very successful modern writers, who seem to have little to say but wish to impress by saying it at length and with a studied obscurity.

I want to focus on this one passage: those who seem to have little to say but wish to impress by saying it at length and with a studied obscurity. That's something I've encountered a lot lately, so much so that it's been turning me off reading, and it's become a daily struggle to find something that is actually worth reading.

Okay, when I'm reading a book what I'm looking for is not frivolous entertainment, I'm not looking to forget about my problems or to escape into some fantasy world, into some literary version of a film, as just a way to pass the time. No, I'm not really reading for entertainment per se, that's secondary, I'm more so reading for knowledge and insight. Whether I'm reading fiction or non-fiction I'm looking for a combination of information and inspiration. Not all information is technical or academic, or found only in non-fiction, but also concerns the realm of feelings and social relationships, as well as unspoken cultural attitudes and beliefs. Books, especially fictional stories, can provide a wealth of insight into human psychology and sociology without necessarily using textbook jargon. In this way, a novel can potentially be very enlightening. But it can also be full of a lot of crap, a lot of nothing, like the literary equivalent of a soap opera or a sit com. Just because it's well written, doesn't make the information worth reading. That's something you got to determine yourself, based on what it is you're looking for.

I'm not looking to read a 1,000 page novel that realistically creates an alternate world. I don't need a high resolution picture of the scenery painted in words. I don't need to see what the people actually look like. Or to smell the flowers. Or to hear the birds. I'm more about the ideas and the feelings underlying the ideas. Give me information and inspiration in 300 pages or less. Give me something that really matters. Something that moves me, that makes me feel wow, this book changed my life, my whole way of thinking, that made me feel like until I read this I had been asleep, but now I am awake and I'm going to do something great!

So, I'm planning on reading Hunger. Which may or may not meet this criteria, but we shall soon see. It's the story of a starving artist writer, who can't get work, who is descending deeper and deeper into depression. Yeah, I keep being drawn to the dark stuff. I guess I feel like I can kind of relate, even though I'm not technically a writer and I'm not starving, but I have issues with employment, of finding something I like and keeping it, because after a few months, and especially after the first year, despite committing myself to working hard and excelling at my job, meaning that I am not a slacker, and have a low tolerance for slackers, but even so after awhile, which has been the case for every job I've ever had, I start to feel like I'm suffering the deepest torments of hell, that I feel trapped and I cannot take this anymore, and ask myself is this it, is this really what my life has come to, I have to do this for the rest of my life when I hate everything about it, the people, the place, what I'm doing there, and yet I need the money, it's easy to keep going back, for the job security, but then I realize that my life is meaningless there, that this job is destroying my soul. And then I quit, and feel the best I ever felt in my life, for awhile, a free and independent spirit, my time finally my own, but then the money runs out and I have to grovel all over again for another job that I hate, and the cycle starts all over again, I settle in, get good at what I do, establish a niche, until I feel yet another itch for freedom, for something better, but that something better either doesn't come or doesn't last.

So I can relate to the stories of the alienated outsider and the starving artist struggling to survive, because that is what I am inside, starving for a meaningful outlet that would give me the freedom for my creative spirit to soar.

I'm also planning on reading the novels by John Fante. I'm reading Fante because Bukowski recommended him as being his main influence. Now, for the record, let me share my thoughts about Charles Bukowski. I like the way he writes, but I don't like what he writes about, which is basically getting drunk and getting laid. End of story. It's fluff. No substance. He's got a nice style, but the content is worthless. It's a fast, effortless read, that goes down smooth and easy, but in the end you've found that you've gained absolutely nothing from it.

I'm planning on reading Fante because I hear that his writing style is similar to Bukowski, but I'm hoping the content is better. We'll see. If not, I'll be looking for something else.

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