July 10


Ben Marcus Takes A Reading Holiday

I really enjoyed this interview, over at Flavorwire, with Ben Marcus. His responses are interesting throughout, including his comments towards the end about “experimental” fiction.

When he is asked about the long process of creating a new anthology of short fiction, New American Stories, Marcus responds:

What made it possible was taking some pressure off of myself. Instead I had more fun just looking at the stories I could love over a long period of time, the stories that grew and became more complicated and richer when I read them, re-read them.

In one way, doing an anthology becomes a great excuse for reading everything that you can get your hands on. We’re so busy doing tons of other things, trying to get our own work done — I also read a lot of student work. So years go by, and all of these writers I want to read go unread. I have these piles and piles and shelves of books. It occurred to me that there was so much terrific work happening, that I was falling behind. Doing the book became an amazing excuse to take this vacation completely structured by intense reading. To be honest, the most fun part of it was just sitting with stacks of books, just having no real set of principles or rules other than reading and reading and reading, making smaller piles. Just getting to the bottom of something.

It’s strange, as one gets older, that reading becomes more of an effort. Is that simply because life gets more complex? I just know, for myself, that when I was a teenage, I could read all Saturday. I could just lie on a bed, with my chin on the bed’s edge, and look down at the book on the floor, turning pages for hours. Now reading (most reading) requires something closer to a conscious action, a decision to not quickly turn to something else. That’s why Marcus’s concept of a “vacation” to go reading, whether professionally or self-imposed, so appealed to me.

I’m sure part of it is my new Internet brain, which expects to jump from one thing to another second by second. Part, too, may be my greater personal engagement in the world of fiction. I was indiscriminating in my reading when I was a teenager.

These days, however, it’s hard not to read something and react personally, to feel annoyed, injured, or awed. This constant ego-reaction surely slows things down, makes reading more like work. Do you have the same experience?



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  • Walking in the forest, I’ve noticed that a lot of birds don’t use quotation marks when they sing, and the leaves mostly refuse to speak unless they fall and crunch. I can’t read the faces of the squirrels and they don’t seem to be good writers. They like nuts, mostly acorns but not the classic chestnuts.

  • I totally get where you and Ben Marcus are coming from. I always feel these days that everything I read should be an “Important” work, that I should be reading something that I’m supposed to read before I die, that people have decided are the books to read before you die. I feel like it’s some sort of checklist, which prevents me from reading spontaneously out of pure interest.

    I do want to check out Ben Marcus’ anthology. Then we’ll have both vacationed at the same resort.

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