Read a lot.
Read until you find the things you love, because you will find them.
When you find the things you love to read, look at them closely to see how they’re put together.
This was Charles Baxter’s reply to the last question of the night–from a group of young writers in the back row–when he read at Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor the other week.
Actually, it’s not quite right to say he read. He delivered a craft talk, about writing the stories that became There’s Something I Want You To Do, about deciding how to structure the book, and the whole was laced eloquently with readings from the stories, and from at least one revealing outtake.
I went home and added this item to my to-do list: Read. A lot. Of course I don’t need a reminder to read, but I do need a reminder to give that particular item at least as much gravitas as, “Hang blinds” or “Pick up ink cartridges.” Many of us do.
Charlie was my poetry masters thesis adviser way back in 1991. Catching up since, he and I have agreed that I was probably the last poetry student who got (that’s my word, not his!) to work that closely with him on poetry. Lucky lucky me, because even though he has devoted his life to fiction, his book of poems, Imaginary Paintings, remains one of my favorites. In fact, I regularly teach, “The White Apartment.” And Charlie is an old-school teacher: expert, generous, and clear.
Here’s one of my vivid memories of one of our thesis conversations. I was uneasy about a poem. I asked Charlie if I should cut it. He simply said, “Definitely.” Deadpan. His tone of voice did not invite further discussion. Now, I see clearly that the poem, called “tresses…tresses…tresses,” was juvenelia. It didn’t belong in a masters thesis. Charlie let my own doubt guide my decision.
I hope you’ll add There’s Something I Want You To Do to your reading list. Reading it’s a deeply satisfying journey into human virtues and vices and a reminder that in the course of a life lived fully none of us will escape brushes with any of them. Click here for more information about the book.
And don’t forget to read. A lot.