Reading and Writing


Roberto Bolaño once said (in all of the introductions I read, they keep repeating this) he was “much happier reading than writing.” I sometimes feel the same way, or maybe I almost always feel the same way. Borges said he was prouder of the books he’d read than the ones he’d written, and yes, I feel that way too. (I’ve read this before, and there it is again in the Bolaño book I just put down.) Both statements by both men are, no doubt, lies: lies of the kind that you can say without realizing they are lies, lies you can identify with without too much effort even if they aren’t true. Or statements which are sincerely expressed but aren’t always true, which is the same thing as a lie.

It’s probably easier for me to identify with the two statements because I haven’t written anything. Or because most of what I have written (which could fill many volumes) isn’t published: if I deleted everything on my computer, burned all my files, trashed my gmail account, it would be as if I’d never written anything, but in a different way than if I destroyed and erased my many books.

Similar, because even if the loss is so great that it makes you weep (as the writer Anna Banti wanted to after her home, complete with a near-complete novel, was destroyed in a 1944 bombing), you can never lose the physical act, the practice, the training, of reading and writing. You can lose your fortitude, your edge, your perseverance, your confidence, but never your skill. You never lose it entirely. But lost writing is private and lost reading is public: because the books you read exist in the cultural commons, they are never really lost. Whereas lost writing never existed in the first place.

With all this in mind, it’s easy to imagine how one could be happier or prouder reading than writing; inevitably, the writer’s own work must always remain private to her, can never become public, truly public, and thus never offer the relief that reading does, as Borges and Bolaño must have known, its refuge from the fear of wasted effort.

Orangeville Sucks


The mayor says he can do better
But it stinks in here, really stinks
And the revolver cradled in his arms has fired its last blank
Really fired it
In a shipping container by the highway
I saw this couple
Now they talk incessantly
And wear leather
And I’m bored
And one of the two sold me the sweater I’m wearing now
And she checks her iPhone
And I wonder how the other can be so haughty
I swear, his haughtiness
It’s like a cloud of gnats
Rising out of an iPhone
But I already have an iPhone
I folded it into a blossom
And floated it down the river
To the mayor
The mayor, who shot it with his revolver
Shot it twenty or thirty times
Shot it until he ran out of bullets
Really shot it
Until it sailed out of sight
Winking in the distance like a broken bottle
In the moonlight
Or a silver fork in the desert
A fork or a can of Chef Boyardee


If procrastination is sign that a writer believes in his or her immortality, and writing a sign that one has accepted their imminent death, then trolling a bookstore looking for things to read, when you have better things to do, more to read at home (more than you ever could), and better ways to spend your money, is obviously an attempt to purchase immortality (imperfect analogy).

Every book I add to my library is an attempt to delay death. I purchase not only the book itself but the time to read it. Each added spine I will never crack is an expertise I imagine I will hone. There’s nothing sadder, almost, than realizing that a book you’ve been holding on to, that has survived countless purges and bouts of mania unscathed, will never be read. And nothing, paradoxically, more liberating.

Because the unread book also exudes a subtle pressure, larger the longer you have had the book and the more you think you ought to read it. It is a silent parent, admonishing and correcting and pointing out, with every year you don’t touch it, the limits of your mortality, that you really don’t have the time you once thought you had. Certain books cut you a little deeper, such as Derrida’s On Grammatology, or anything by Lacan or Frye, their message something like you aren’t the academic, intellectual, human being, you thought you were.

Well, fuck that. If my library is any indication, I have expanded beyond my means. What am I going to do? I live in a haunted house, haunted not by dead relatives but by my own good intentions. My unfocussed intentions. Time to take out the machete and cut some of these weeds back.