Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Dear Mr Blue,
I have been a voracious reader since childhood, devouring fiction, history, science, philosophy, like a vacuum cleaner. I'm the only person I know who's read everything by Sartre, Simeon, Dickens, Trollope, Patrick O'Brien, and Jean M. Auel.  I've read the Koran, the Buddhist canon, the C. H. Mackintosh commentaries on the Bible, Beowulf, the Icelandic sagas. And now, at the age of 48, I seem to have crashed. I have not opened a book in the past two years. It doesn't interest me. I look at the books on my coffee table and they're like bricks to me. Any ideas?


Dear Scorched, No sin to be aliterate. There's a whole world out there that writers write about that you can discover for yourself. Cooking, travel, clinical depression, exile, self-destructive behaviour, the accumulation of vast wealth, inappropriate romance, just to name seven. I'm on the other side of the canyon from you, a writer who is staring at a blank page and trying to figure out how to make a brick out of it. Someday, somebody should  bring nonwriters together with nonreaders to see what they have to say to each other.

From Love Me, by Garrison Keillor

My friend Sue blew in from Brisbane on the weekend, bearing mangoes and other gifts.
'You know I'm not a reader,' she said cheerfully, giving me a copy of Love Me, 'but I loved this.'

It's true, Sue doesn't read. Though years ago she gave me a copy of John Updike's Rabbit, Run and said fervently, 'If you read only one sentence...'

I read the whole book and saw what she meant. Updike's sentences are superb.  What a stylist.

But Garrison Keillor ... I've heard excerpts from his radio show and didn't like him. And this book ... would I be able to read it?

I was (and am) in the middle of Yukio Mishima's Forbidden Colours, about a famous nasty old Japanese writer who, to take his revenge on womankind, bribes a beautiful young homosexual man to break their hearts ...  a pretty amazing book to have been written in the early 1950s, since there is a great deal in it about homosexual beats and bars in Japan. But I find it hard to 'get' at times, the people are so strange, and well, horrible.

So I needed a 'light read' and dipped into Love Me at once. This is also about a writer, a man who had one best-selling book and then went to write for the New Yorker. His wife, a social worker, was happy living in the same old house and run-down suburb in St Paul, Minnesota, and didn't want to go with him, chasing fame and glamour in New York; she is a person for whom things are 'good enough' (you can see where this is heading at once).

And then he finds he can't write a thing, and takes on a part-time job doing an advice column for a small regional paper.

There is so much lovely bitchy stuff about writers and writing in this book. Real writers are mentioned here, and I would hazard a guess that some of the stuff about them is real and some made up. Writers like A. B. White and Updike and Salinger drift through the corridors of the New Yorker, and you want to say to them all, get a life!

But it was the concept of aliteracy that struck me. It's the first time I've heard the term used.

We all know people who are aliterate. People who can read, but just don't want to. Many of these people have tertiary qualifications. They don't see the point of the exercise.

Sometimes I read myself to a standstill, so I understand what Scorched was getting at.  Enough reading! I say, and go out and garden, or cook ... but so far, after a break, I always come back to books. They don't remain bricks to me for long.

And after Love Me, I'm itching to get back to something meatier. Like that dreadful Forbidden Colours, which makes me see what the point of reading and writing is.

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