I go through phases of reading--phases where nonfiction seems more real to me and more necessary, and so I just read nonfiction. I was in a nonfiction phase in graduate school and in the five years (roughly) following that time. When my son was born I found it hard to get much reading done at all as I went to the studio while he slept during the day, and at night my head was too tired to do much more than watch old episodes of Lost or The Wire with the help of netflix.
Of late I have been in a fiction reading phase. For now memoir or actually-happened fact does not call me. Invention and story are the draw, as I want to settle my painter's imagination in my own work or in the worlds created by writers. I don't leave my own space when I travel to a work of fiction that holds me, but instead step along an ancillary path that gives me more of the information I crave. Last night I finished reading Lorrie Moore's A Gate At The Stairs, a book narrated by one of the most captivating, resonant, humorous and smart female characters in recent fiction. Why are there not more of these in contemporary fiction? Or maybe I just need to read more. Here's an excerpt from the book that reminded me of many a late night with book in hand in an old home without air conditioning:
Every night I lay in my bed, staying up past ten, reading. The light from my lamp attracted insects through the holes in one of the screens, and by eleven I would look up at the ceiling and it would be crawling with bugs, small, medium, and large, light and dark, all collecting up there in omincous flocks as if awaiting Tippi Hedren. Once, a leggy winged albino think landed on my book, and its oddness fascinated me, though I soon slammed it between the pages. Once I awoke in the middle of the night and could see that through the crack in the door and the badly settled frame there was a long sliver of light from the hallway, and fireflies could enter the room; they sparkled in and out like fairies, as if the door were nothing at all, as if there were no separating this room from any other space. They were like visions, really, but ones I'd not had as a child, when I'd slept through the night with a depth and stillness that was no longer possible.
p. 290 from A Gate At The Stairs by Lorrie Moore
I've been away from home in the last week and will be gone this coming week too, so I will not be posting much, if at all, until the start of August. I am very fortunate to be heading to a retreat centered on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.