What am I reading? Good question. It used to be so easy to answer, but in the year(s) since I’ve essentially swan-dived into the world of publishing, the act of reading for me has become synonymous with the value of one’s work ethic. To ask “what are you reading?” is to, at the same time, imply—what haven’t you read? Well, if you’re asking what I’d like to read, I have mounds, the to-read pile that’s extended to at least a hundred unread books. It makes a person feel guilty, and when you realize that it’s only you that’s spinning the entire prompt into something hypercritical that you feel even guiltier than ever before.
Might as well lay the guilty on thick. I have a confession: I haven’t read anything in months. Wait. Don’t judge me, at least not yet. Hear me out. It’s not that I haven’t aspired to keep up with my reading. There are countless new releases beckoning my call—Idra Novey’s Ways to Disappear, Jonathan Lee’s High Dive, Justin Tussing’s Vexation Lullaby, and even Don Delillo’s latest, Zero K. I’ve perused every book that’s passed my desk in order to get a sense of the text, the narrative, so that I can better function as a Book Reviews editor for Electric Literature. The difference that weighs down on me is the fact that I used to read three times the amount I do now for the job. Somewhere along the line, I found myself skim-reading more often than giving each galley a thorough glance.
What changed? I honestly had no idea prior to Nathan Knapp approaching me about writing this piece. I’m glad he did because it gave me time to reflect. It gave me a reason to stop, exhale, and reexamine my reading habits. And what did I find? It wasn’t the fact that there are too many books to read, or that nothing’s interesting me (my biggest fear, as editor and writer is losing interest in what routinely keeps me motivated); rather, it was the knock on the door from another medium entirely.
Maybe some of you know what I’m talking about. A lot of us are intrigued, perhaps obsessed, by the medium and I know I’m not alone in saying that a lot of my literary influence these days come from it. Yeah, I’m talking about film. The symmetry of approximately eighty scenes building a narrative that ranks in at two hours, an entire experience cultivated into one digestible piece… yeah, I have caught the itch to write a screenplay. Moreover, I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to do so, collaborating with a director that has been through it at least once.
To ask “what are you reading?” is to, at the same time, imply—what haven’t you read?
The extensive turning of the pages went from that of a bound book to the many (countless) dull-white Courier-set screenplay. I have read so many damn screenplays, I can see the formatting imprinted on my vision. So, yeah, it’s not that I won’t be reading the books I’d like. It could be that the inner workaholic in me is finally coming to grips with boundaries, the limits of what a person can do. It turns out that I am human, after all.
It could be that I just needed to finally confess this. I needed to get this off my chest.
Though I put down the book after a few pages, I won’t toy with the idea that I might never again pick it back up. Not even going to play with that kind of guilt. Besides, I bet you’re throwing enough of that at me for my poor reading practices.
I mean, I’m holding onto Vexation Lullaby right now, as I write this, flipping through the pages, knowing well that just because it will go back into the to-read pile, it doesn’t mean I won’t soon be drinking coffee, and/or smoking a cigar while being accompanied by Justin Tussing’s bleakly beautiful prose. These books are not at all lost on me. I carry them with me in my bag during my commute. It’s just that like life itself, our reading habits evolve to fit the yearning within.
Michael J. Seidlinger is the author of a number of novels including The Strangest, The Fun We’ve Had, and The Laughter of Strangers. He serves as Electric Literature‘s Book Reviews Editor as well as Publisher-in-Chief of Civil Coping Mechanisms, an indie press specializing in innovative fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Falter Kingdom is his first YA novel.