Fear of burning out on a writer

I used to fall in love with a book and then devour the rest of the author’s work in the space of two weeks.

I stopped doing this in my twenties when I ran through Walker Percy’s novels, first to last, after picking up The Moviegoer on the advice of a friend. I ended up nauseous with boredom behind a copy of The Thanatos Syndrome, wishing all the characters would hurry up and overdose on heavy sodium.

This reaction isn’t unique to Percy. For me any manic obsession with an author’s writing tends to fizzle out much the same way my romantic attractions did before I got hitched.

I always know I’m in trouble when the nagging internal monologue starts up: How many times is he going to use that joke? It’d be great if she let some other character speak for a while. Does he really need twelve clauses in every sentence?

I fell hard for Mark Twain’s nonfiction last year. I insisted on reading “Was the World Made for Man?” aloud. I forced other people to read it aloud. I terrorized friends by quoting from his work at length in bars. I copied out passages, longhand, in the hopes that his rhetorical style would sink in. But eventually I forced myself to realize that Twain, brilliant though he’s capable of being, is sometimes just a guy who tells ignorant jokes and farts after eating beans.

So, the question for me is always: how much more immediate exposure can my passion stand? With Rupert Thomson, whose work I’ve read in spurts, so far, so good. Twain and I are on a break, though.

Now I’ve got Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist sitting here next to my computer. I hadn’t read his work until I picked up Apex Hides the Hurt (excerpted at the NY Times) a couple months ago on the recommendation of a friend. I understand why reviewers have denounced the metaphors as heavy-handed, but I agree with Gideon Lewis-Kraus that this is part of the point, and anyway I was profoundly impressed — by Whitehead’s language, by his imagination, by his scathing social critique, and by the empathy that pervades his depiction of the protagonist’s isolation and emptiness.

Since most Whitehead fans characterize this novel as the least impressive of the three he’s written, I can’t wait to dig into the others. Except I do keep waiting, because I’m nervous. I don’t want the magic to die.

Debord/Jorn image taken from here.


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