Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Posts Tagged ‘Charles Schulz

Quote of the Day

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Cartooning is a fairly sort of a proposition. You have to be fairly intelligent—if you were really intelligent, you’d be doing something else. You have to draw fairly well—if you drew really well, you’d be a painter. You have to write fairly well—if you wrote really well, you’d be writing books. It’s great for a fairly person like me.

Charles Schulz, quoted in the Los Angeles Times

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December 26, 2017 at 7:30 am

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Ask the dust

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Pig-Pen, Part 1

Over the last few days, I’ve watched A Charlie Brown Christmas repeatedly with my daughter. I don’t think I’d seen it in its entirety for at least twenty years, and I was relieved to find that it held up even better than I had hoped. It’s odder and more prickly, in its way, than the Peanuts specials I remember best—I especially like Lucy’s explanation that Christmas is “run by a big eastern syndicate”—and it benefits in particular from being deeply rooted in the original strips. My favorite line, for instance, comes straight from a strip first published on November 27, 1959. In the special, Frieda complains that Pig-Pen’s dust is taking the curl out of her hair, prompting Charlie Brown to respond:

Don’t think of it as dust. Think of it as maybe the soil of some great past civilization. Maybe the soil of ancient Babylon. It staggers the imagination. He may be carrying soil that was trod upon by Solomon, or even Nebuchadnezzar.

This is a great line, obviously, but my favorite part comes at the end: “Or even Nebuchadnezzar. The idea that Charlie Brown would be especially impressed by the thought of Nebuchadnezzar is delightful, and it’s the kind of thing that would have occurred only to a singular man working alone at his desk.

Recently, I’ve become preoccupied with the problem of how to preserve this kind of idiosyncratic voice in the face of all the larger pressures that threaten to eliminate it. In part, it’s because I’ve been watching a lot of children’s entertainment, which is when those tensions start to feel especially stark. It isn’t unreasonable to suppose that someone who devotes his or her life to writing stories for kids might be fundamentally odd in a way that feels more comfortable with children than adults: when you think of Lewis Carroll, Beatrix Potter, Dr. Seuss, Charles Schulz, and Maurice Sendak, among others, you’re left with a sense of aliens trying to navigate their way through the grownup world. But if you’re in charge of the company—or the big eastern syndicate—that packages and distributes that content, you’re working under very different incentives. You’re wary of giving offense or warping tiny minds in a way that would arouse the ire of their parents; you know that the risks of any artistic experiment far outweigh the potential benefits; and you’re painfully aware that you’re likely to offend somebody, no matter what you do. Hence the insipid caution of so many books, movies, and television shows aimed at kids six and younger. Occasionally, individual and corporate goals will align, as in the early days of Sesame Street, but more often, the companies that worry most about what kids want to see are the most likely to come up with something that doesn’t interest anyone.

Pig Pen, Part 2

And the solution, oddly enough, seems to be to ignore the kids altogether. Disney and his early cohort of animators didn’t use focus groups to figure out what children wanted to watch: they were trying to amuse themselves. Similarly, Chuck Jones and the rest of the team at Warner Bros. were making the cartoons that they wanted to see. A Charlie Brown Christmas was all but made by hand, and many of its elements—the jazz score, the lack of a laugh track, the gospel message from Linus—were included in in the face of indifference or active opposition. Instead of writing down to kids or aiming at a target audience, these artists devoted themselves to art forms, like the animated cartoon or comic strip, to which children are naturally drawn. They thought as cartoonists or animators or puppeteers until they began to intuitively make good choices based on what the medium itself could accomplish. And once they learned to think in those terms, they didn’t need to worry about what the kids would like: anything that fully realizes the possibilities of an animated short or a four-panel strip will engage younger minds, no matter what stories you tell. The real enemies of art, here as elsewhere, aren’t the network notes themselves, but notes coming from people who have no stake or interest in the kinds of stories being told. An animator allowed to think as an animator can’t help but come up with something that will fascinate a four-year-old. It’s when those tricks of the craft are diluted by views imposed from the outside that you end up with something condescending and dull.

In the end, every medium has its own logic, and in some cases, that logic naturally approximates that of a child. (I’m not saying this to minimize the difficulty or sophistication of the efforts involved—only to say that their power is derived from a fundamental affinity to how we see the world at a younger age.) Usually, these are the media that are the most accessible to creative children in the first place: it isn’t hard to get started with cartooning or puppetry, and kids are often interested in them because the materials are readily available. You could even say that this is why they’ve retained the emotional charge of something remembered from childhood: the artists who make their mark with puppets or cartoon characters are drawing on skills that they began to develop at an early age, while novelists, by contrast, are building on something that they acquired later on. There’s plenty of good juvenile fiction out there, but its logic is more adolescent, in every sense of the word. And the best artists of them all, like Schulz, are the ones who make the spectrum of feeling from childhood to adulthood feel like a seamless whole. Charlie Brown and Linus don’t talk like any real six-year-olds would, but if they’re uncannily convincing as children, even to readers of the same age, it’s because Schulz understands how kids talk among themselves, and how their conversations can seem as urgent or complicated as anything adults can say. That honesty clings to them like dust. And as Pig-Pen says: “Sort of makes you want to treat me with more respect, doesn’t it?”

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December 11, 2015 at 9:18 am

The peanut gallery

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Snoopy Come Home

I first heard about The Peanuts Movie on October 9, 2012, when The A.V. Club reported that it was under development at Fox. At the time, my wife and I were expecting our first child, and it wouldn’t have been long afterward that I looked at the projected release date, did the math, and wondered if this might be the first movie I’d take my daughter to see in the theater. Three years later, that’s exactly how it worked out. I took Beatrix to a noon matinee last Thursday, and although I chose two seats in the back in case I had to beat a hasty retreat, she did great. At times, she got a little squirmy, and I ended up delivering a whispered plot commentary into her ear for much of the movie. She spent most of the last half on my lap. But aside from one moment when she wanted to get up from her seat to dance with the characters onscreen, she was perfect—laughing at all the right moments, even clapping at the end. (In retrospect, the choice of material couldn’t have been better: she complained that the Ice Age short that played before the feature was “too loud,” and I have a feeling that she would have reacted much the same way to anything but the sedate style that The Peanuts Movie captures so beautifully.) Best of all, when it was over and I asked what her favorite part was, she said: “When Charlie Brown was sad.” To which I could only think to myself: “That’s my girl!”

When The Peanuts Movie was first announced, many observers—including me—expressed reservations over whether it would be able to capture the feel of the strip and the original animated specials, and worried in particular that it would degenerate into a series of pop culture references. These concerns, while justified, conveniently ignored the fact that Charles Schulz himself was hardly averse to a trendy gag or two: Lucy once gave Schroeder a pair of Elton John glasses, and the Peanuts special that I watched the most growing up was It’s Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown. More to the point, the strip itself seems so timeless precisely because it reflected its own time so acutely. Its shift in tone from the fifties to the sixties feels like an expression of deeper cultural anxieties, and it was touched by current events to an extent that can be hard to appreciate now. (Snoopy’s dogfights with the Red Baron, which took place exclusively from 1965 to 1972, coincide to an eerie extent with American involvement in Vietnam.) The Peanuts Movie makes the smart, conservative choice by avoiding contemporary references as much as possible: like the first season of Fargo, its primary order of business is to establish its bona fides to anxious fans. But I’d like to think that the inevitable sequels will be a bit more adventurous, just as the later features that Schulz himself wrote began to venture into weirder, more idiosyncratic territory.

The Complete Peanuts (1969-1970)

That’s hard, of course, when a movie is being conceived in the absence of its creator’s uniquely personal vision. The Peanuts Movie sometimes plays as if it had been written according to the model that Nicholas Meyer used when cracking The Wrath of Khan: “Let’s make a list of things we like.” (It doesn’t go quite as far as the musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, which adapts the original strips almost word by word, but it quotes from its sources to just the right extent.) The result is an anthology, gracefully assembled, of the best moments from the strip and specials, particularly A Charlie Brown Christmas, but it lacks the prickly specificity that characterized Schulz at his best. Yet I don’t want to undervalue its real achievements. Visually and tonally, it pulls off the immensely difficult technical trick of translating the strip’s spirit into a modern idiom, and the constraints that this imposed result in one of the prettiest, most graphically inventive animated movies I’ve seen in a long time. It never feels rushed or frantic, and its use of child actors, with their slight flatness of affect, is still appealing. Best of all, it respects the strip’s air of sadness—although there’s nothing like “It Changes” from Snoopy Come Home, which might be the bleakest sequence in any children’s movie. And while its happy ending might seem out of tune with Schulz’s underlying pessimism, it’s not so different from the conclusion that he might have given us if ill health and other distractions hadn’t intervened. This is a man, after all, who shied away from easy satisfactions in the strip, but who also wrote the script for It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown.

And I’d like to think that it will play the same incalculable role in my daughter’s inner life that it did in mine. I’ve written at length about the strip before, but it wasn’t until I saw Snoopy at his typewriter on the big screen that I realized—or remembered—how struck I was by that image as a child, and how the impulse it awakened is responsible for where I am today. (One of my first attempts at writing consisted of a careful transcript of one of Snoopy’s stories, which I can still write from memory: “It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed. Suddenly, a pirate ship appeared on the horizon!” At which point Snoopy smugly notes: “This twist in plot will baffle my readers.”) I would have loved this movie as a kid, and scenes like the one in which Snoopy, in his imagination, sneaks back across the front lines after his plane is downed are as much fun to dream about as always. Afterward, my daughter seemed most interested in imagining herself as the little red-haired girl, but if she’s anything like her father, she’ll come to recognize herself more in Charlie Brown and Snoopy, which represent the two halves of their creator’s personality: the neurotic and the fantasist, the solitary introvert and the imaginative writer for whom everything is possible. The Peanuts Movie may not ignite those feelings on its own, but as a gateway toward the rest of the Schulz canon, it’s close to perfection. As I once wrote about The Complete Peanuts collections, which I said would be among the first books my children would ever read: “I can’t imagine giving them a greater gift.”

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November 16, 2015 at 9:35 am

The four-panel rule

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Good writing is hard work, part 2

Recently, I’ve taken to reading the comics page of the Chicago Tribune with my daughter, who likes to look at the pictures while the paper is spread across our living room floor. It’s the first time I’ve taken a serious look at daily comic strips in about a decade, and I’ve come to an unfortunate conclusion: comics these days are pretty bad. It’s possible, of course, that I’ve simply aged out of the medium, or that comic strips are best appreciated when consumed in big anthologies—as I first encountered everything from Peanuts to The Far Side to Bloom County—than when experienced one day at a time. Yet I don’t think it’s irrelevant that it’s been years since a newspaper comic strip entered the wider cultural consciousness. You could say that the comics are tethered to the dying industry of print journalism, and are doomed to go down with the rest of the ship; or that it’s hard for younger cartoonists to break into syndication, which is dominated by aging warhorses like Hagar the Horrible; or that most of the real talent has migrated online, where a strip like xkcd can pursue its obsessions into odd corners without worrying about editorial interference.

All of these factors no doubt play a role, but I suspect that there’s also a subtler process at work. When I glance over the comics page today, the handful of strips that still hold up, from Dustin to Sherman’s Lagoon to For Better or For Worse, have one thing in common: they all operate within a grid of four fixed panels. Most of the others, by contrast, freely change format within the strip’s skinny rectangle of real estate, going from four panels to three or even one as the gag requires. And while there are exceptions to the rule—Patrick McDonnell’s Mutts remains consistently superb while rearranging its layout as it sees fit—I can’t help but think that the discipline that four panels impose can have a positive impact on a strip’s quality. In the old days, the four-panel format was mandated by editorial standards; now it appears to be purely voluntary. Cartoonists have more freedom now than ever before, but the outcome, to put it mildly, hasn’t been an explosion of creativity. And while it might seem silly to lavish so much attention on the aesthetics of the comics page, there’s a real lesson to be learned here about the importance of constraints and the loss that occurs when they’re taken away.

Good writing is hard work, part 3

There have always been good reasons for newspapers to prefer four panels, as well as what might seem like superficially justifiable reasons for cartoonists to fight back. Four panels allow a strip to be easily rearranged into a square grid, rather than a long rectangle, which gives editors more flexibility in laying out the page. (For much the same reason, most Sunday strips are adhere to a strict layout, with throwaway panels at the top and panel breaks occurring at strategic points that allow the strip to fill half, a third, or a quarter of a page, depending on the arrangement.) Cartoonists, of course, resist such restrictions, which theoretically limit the kinds of stories and gags they can do. In practice, you’ll often see lazier strips stretching what should have been a single-panel joke over four panels or more in order to accommodate the layout. But for a serious cartoonist, being compelled to work within a standard format has the opposite effect: it forces you to think a little more about the gag you’re writing, rejecting the obvious approach in favor of one that gets the same point across in a slightly different way. You can’t go with your first idea; you need to look for a second. And that extra level of work and reflection often shows.

A quick look at the history of some of our greatest strips seems to bear this out. Charles Schulz’s Peanuts remains the medium’s crowning achievement, but there’s no question that it suffered a dip in quality in its later years—a decline that coincides almost exactly with its shift, in February 1988, from four panels to three. (Later, Schulz routinely indulged in gag strips that used only one panel, leading to some of the strip’s weakest moments.) Bill Watterson waged a brave fight to free Calvin and Hobbes from the rigidity of the Sunday comics format, but when you compare the later spreads, in which Watterson was free to fill half a page however he liked, to the more constrained earlier installments, it’s hard to avoid the impression that the writing suffered a bit even as the artwork became increasingly spectacular. Something similar occurred when Berkeley Breathed moved from Bloom County to Outland and Opus, which never quite recaptured the original strip’s urgency. Which isn’t to say that the majority of comic strips of the past, whatever their era or format, weren’t bland and predictable. But if modern comics have settled into a kind of sloppy mediocrity, it may only be because the old constraints, even as they enforced a formula, pushed the very best artists into something more.

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October 8, 2014 at 9:27 am

The inheritance of loss

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Philip Seymour Hoffman

Note: Every Friday, The A.V. Club, my favorite pop cultural site on the Internet, throws out a question to its staff members for discussion, and I’ve decided that I want to join in on the fun. This week’s question: “What celebrity death will make you cry?”

A few days ago, writing about the late pianist Glenn Gould, I expressed sadness that we won’t be able to listen to his third, hypothetical version of The Goldberg Variations, and wrote: “Although we’ll never hear it for yourselves, we can dream about it.” Of course, there’s no guarantee that Gould would have revisited his most famous work again, even if he were still alive, while the real tragedy of a death like that of Philip Seymour Hoffman is that we know exactly what we’ve lost. Hoffman was a productive actor at the top of his game, a year younger than Brando was when he made Last Tango in Paris, and there’s no question that we’ve been deprived of another thirty years of great performances. One of the sad wonders of cinema is how it forces us to confront how we all age, and Hoffman, who was utterly without vanity as a performer, might have left us a lasting essay on what it means for an actor of limitless resourcefulness to grow old on camera. As it is, we’ll never know, although we can glimpse it in the accelerated lifetime he lives in Synedoche, New York, a great movie that I’m not sure I can ever watch again.

When an artist we love and admire dies, we tend to experience one of two responses. In some cases, as with Hoffman or Heath Ledger, it’s a sense of loss at the realization of all we’re going to miss. At other times, when death arrives at the end of a long, productive career, it feels more like losing a friend or mentor we thought we’d have around forever. That’s why our strongest emotional responses tend to come with the death of someone whose work has quietly become part of the fabric of our lives, measured out in small regular increments, as in television or in a daily newspaper, rather than one who produced a handful of towering works. When I was growing up, I once found myself deeply sad in advance at the thought that Chuck Jones would die, more than fifteen years before he actually passed away, and the short list of public personalities whose deaths have affected me the most includes Charles Schulz and Roger Ebert. These may not have been the individuals who influenced my life the most—although my debts to Schulz and Ebert are incalculable—but over time, their faces and their work became part of who I was.

Francis Ford Coppola

Then there’s someone like Stanley Kubrick, who seems to unite all of the above. He was seventy when he died, and given the long stretches that elapsed between his later movies, it’s doubtful whether we would have gotten much more after Eyes Wide Shut, even if he had lived another decade. Yet it’s still shocking to see the prospect of additional masterpieces closed off by something as mundane as death. Directors can produce great work well into their seventies and beyond—just look at Altman and Kurosawa—so the loss of any major filmmaker feels premature. It’s sobering to realize that the number of new Scorsese or Spielberg films we’ll have a chance to see isn’t just finite, but can probably be counted on one hand, and that there will come a time when the ones we have are all we’re going to get. We’re lucky, at least, in the fact that the movies themselves will survive, which isn’t the case with other forms of art: I often wonder whether some of the thrill we get from live music or theater comes from the hint of mortality it carries, as we witness something that is happening right now and will never recur in quite the same way again.

But if individual movies can last forever, life itself can’t, and it’s in the passing away of an artist’s personality and possibility that we lose the most. So although there are many other worthy candidates—and I almost went with David Lynch—the person whose absence I suspect will hit me the hardest is one that takes even me by surprise: Francis Ford Coppola. It isn’t a matter of wanting him to direct another great film, since I haven’t even seen Youth Without Youth, Tetro, or Twixt, and there’s no question that his best years are behind him. Yet when Coppola is gone, it’s going to feel like the end of an era, with the departure of the one man who, more than anyone since Orson Welles, exemplifies the triumph and tragedy of a life in film. When he’s gone, I’ll remember him less for any one movie than for his commentary tracks, which are among the best I know, with the intimate, candid, generous fireside chats they afford with our Uncle Francis. It’s a voice filled with wisdom and regret, and it hints at the happiness that might still be found in wine, family, and good food after the fever of Hollywood has been left behind. And part of me hopes that he’ll live forever, like Tom Bombadil in Napa, ready to gently remind us of things we might prefer to forget.

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February 14, 2014 at 9:19 am

Learning from the masters: Charles Schulz

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Note: To celebrate the third anniversary of this blog, I’ll be spending the week reposting some of my favorite pieces from early in its run. This post originally appeared, in a somewhat different form, on March 31, 2011.

The case of Charles M. Schulz is a peculiar one, because there are really two faces to Peanuts. There’s the strip itself, which remains one of the most original, arresting, and entertaining works of art of the twentieth century. And then there’s Peanuts the franchise, the source of Vince Guaraldi albums, television specials, and countless other forms of merchandise, some of which are worthwhile, but which also tend to overshadow the deeper qualities of the strip itself. (Hence the response to the well-meaning but somewhat confused Tumblr blog 3eanuts, which gives readers the impression that the original strips need to be altered to bring out their underlying bleakness.) Which is too bad, because Peanuts, at its best, is the greatest contemporary example of how a uniquely personal work of art can enter the dreamlife of millions.

And its impact has been incalculable. I recently picked up a copy of Todd Hignite’s seductive book In the Studio: Conversations with Contemporary Cartoonists, and if there’s a single underlying theme in its pages, stated or unstated, it’s the massive influence of Peanuts. For cartoonists like Seth and Chris Ware, not to mention Bill Watterson, Schulz is the artist who transformed the mainstream comic strip into a personal, even autobiographical form, at a time when there were nearly no precedents for such an achievement. Even now, it’s hard to think of another artist who managed to write a daily strip that was so funny and so bleak, so personal and so universal. Given the current splintering of the media landscape, we may never see anything like it ever again.

It’s difficult to understand this now, but during the peak years of the strip—which I’d place from roughly 1960 to 1974, although any attempt to define its golden years before 1980 or so is basically arbitrary—it was read avidly on college campuses by the same people who would go on to devour the likes of Jules Feiffer in the Village Voice. With its use of the jargon of psychoanalysis and philosophy, its depictions of depression and failure, and its relentlessly black humor, it felt like a comic strip for grownups, even as kids went nuts for it as well. And as David Michaelis points out in his invaluable Schulz and Peanuts, its adult fans, like Feiffer, reacted with deep suspicion to the commercialization of the strip. How could America’s greatest poet of quiet desperation also be shilling for MetLife?

But the real point is that these two aspects of Schulz’s life shouldn’t be separated. Peanuts was both intensely personal and the biggest marketing phenomenon this side of Disney. It was used to sell cars, insurance, and Easter Egg kits even as the strip itself grew ever sadder and more pessimistic. In some ways, this still feels like the most subversive coup in the history of American popular culture. Not until The Simpsons—which, we’re told, owed much of its early popularity to “all the pretty colors”—was a work of art so ubiquitous and so misunderstood. And both cases speak to the universality of master craftsmanship. For Peanuts and The Simpsons alike, there’s no clear line dividing the popular from the sublime: it’s one seamless work of art.

As with The Simpsons, there’s no denying that Peanuts underwent a decline in its final years, and in particular was never the same after the mid-1980s. But to quibble over the fact that Schulz managed only thirty years of unparalleled excellence is like asking why Beethoven only managed to come up with nine decent symphonies. (Which sounds like something that Lucy might ask Schroeder). Strip by strip, panel by panel, it’s one of the richest bodies of work produced by any American artist, a lens through which the culture of half a century can be glimpsed. As such, it was an essential part of my education, and The Complete Peanuts will be among the first books that my own children will read. I can’t imagine giving them a greater gift.

A reader’s family tree

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A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle

When we think of our favorite books, we tend to picture a tidy shelf or a ranked list, but they’re really more like a family tree, with authors sprouting haphazardly from those who came before. In my case, the first books I remember loving with a fanboy’s passion were the works of Charles Schulz. I was lucky enough to grow up in a house filled with vintage Peanuts paperbacks, which meant that even as the strip was starting its long daily decline, I was reading one of the great extended works of art of the twentieth century. What caught me was its tone: it was immediately appealing to kids, but written for adults, with storylines that were a complicated mix of psychology, whimsy, and despair. (I remember surprising my mother when I complained, at the age of nine, that I was suffering from a post-Christmas letdown.) In some ways, Peanuts set the stage for all that followed: it taught me that even as you’re caught up in the lives of fictional but maddeningly persuasive human beings, you can feel your mind expanding. The best years of the strip still make me feel that way, which is why I plan on introducing them to my own daughter as soon as she’s old enough to read on her own.

The next big branch consisted of a handful of authors who would be shelved these days in the young adult section: Madeleine L’Engle, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Ellen Raskin, E.L. Konigsburg, and others, most of them women. L’Engle caught my attention first, and looking back, I think it’s because A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels were my introduction to serious science fiction, with astrophysics and relativity interwoven with ethics, theology, and family drama. I moved from there to fantasy—I don’t think any book has ever moved me as much as The High King—and the usual string of Hardy Boys adventures. (Oddly, I also read two authors who didn’t affect me nearly as much then as they did later. The Phantom Tollbooth only became my favorite children’s novel after I was already an adult and could appreciate how much wisdom it contained, and although I loved Sherlock Holmes, I didn’t become obsessed with him until I was about to go to college, and discovered William S. Baring-Gould’s incredible annotations.) And the writer who took me to the next level, as he has for so many others, was George Orwell: after Animal Farm and 1984, I knew there was no going back.

Stephen King's It

Next comes an author whose influence I’ve only recently begun to acknowledge, although he’s been a big part of my life for a long time. I read The Talisman somewhere at the beginning of middle school, and over the next year or so, I devoured most of the books from Stephen King’s classic period. These are still the novels I’d recommend to someone who wanted to get into the habit of reading for the first time: they still grab me as they did then, and they’ve aged far better than most popular fiction. King also marked a turning point in another important respect. Until then, I’d been reading the books that most teens my age or slightly older were reading, though perhaps with greater intensity, but now that my destiny had locked into place—I knew I wanted to be a writer—I found myself faced with many possible paths. It’s really only by chance that I stumbled next onto Umberto Eco: it could have been any number of other writers, and I sometimes wonder how different my life would have been if I’d been drawn to, say, Hemingway or Updike. In any case, I read The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum right when I was most vulnerable to being deeply influenced, and I’m still feeling the effects.

Later, in high school, I fell under the spell of Norman Mailer, as much for the life he seemed to embody as for the books he wrote. (I still haven’t read The Naked and the Dead, and the Mailer novels that made the biggest impression on me were those weird, monumental outliers Ancient Evenings and Harlot’s Ghost.) Borges came slightly later. Since then, the family tree seems to have smoothed itself out: there are many leaves, but fewer branches. Most of the books I now call my favorites are ones that I read during or after college, but although I’ll occasionally go through a period when I want to read everything an author has written—McEwan, Forsyth, Updike finally—the sense of a reading life that grows unchecked has mostly fallen away. It used to be a jungle; now it’s more like a garden, as I search out the great books that I’ve missed before and check off them off my list. I used to read like a child, and now I read like a grownup, or, worse, a writer. And that’s something of a loss. I still find books that excite me tremendously, even if I’ve been putting them off for years, but if I want to recover that early sense of contentment, I often pick up Conan Doyle, or King, or even Peanuts. But I’m always secretly hopeful that I’ll get that feeling again. The tree still has room to grow.

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February 27, 2013 at 9:50 am

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