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Writing and Reading

I’ve been away. I’ve been writing, so, of course, have been too busy to write. And reading too. Reading makes me pay attention to my writing which has made writing much more difficult. Paying attention complicates things. My friend Toni, who also writes, also reads. She’s been reading over some of my writings and been very helpful. She pointed out that I, like many who play at this writing thing, fail to firmly set a scene. We cheat on the reader who really wants to know who’s doing what to whom and where and when. But when I read writers, real ones whose bread is writer’s bread, whose shoes were bought with honest word-sweat, I find many who would unsettle Toni.

John Banville is one. I do not think Mr. Banville knows many words that I do not know. He did drop “plimsoll” on me this morning but I’d run across it before and had an inkling. Funnily, I thought it referred to underwear, not shoes. I thought it female roots, not male. My spell-checker didn’t like it so JB wins this round. But what Banville does with whatever words he’s using is to make sure they are in the right order. Order, I am discovering as I discover how to write and how not to, is what it’s all about. Banville would drive Toni absolutely nuts.

Banville has taken me with him to the mind of a child who could be him and we are watching and commenting on events from a past. Turn a page and we are with a child. The same child? Could be, we’ll know, don’t worry. Now we are watching other things from the same, maybe, past somewhere else. We are an old man and before us is that past, both of them perhaps. And there is no break, no ****, no “Chap XXIV” that followed “Chap XXIII.” The son-of-a-bitch is making me work. But that’s fine. As this reader who wishes to be a writer, if only he lives long enough, moves on it flows through you as Banville gently slides from place to place, from mind to mind, from allusion to reality to reflection and the reader understands what is happening. A lot of ordinary and a few extraordinary words and they are all in the right order.

And, because anyone who reads and writes also watches, I’ve been putting in the obligatory hours with the Roosevelts. Ken Burns directs like Banville writes. We are with Teddy, his broken sot of a brother, we are with Eleanor, with 5th cousin Franklin (who would count these kinly links? I do not even know if I have any 3rd cousins. A 5th might be anyone, Ken Burns perhaps, or John Banville), with the insecure, possessive woman who bore him and there are no breaks, no momentary blank screens, no shifts in framing, no new narrator and no ads. It works. It makes you work. Burns jumps back and forth in time and stitches together this family, dispersed and fractured as it was and it’s fine. All the pieces are in the right order. Order out of disorder. Banville and Burns. Maybe they’re 4th cousins, once removed.

I’ll go back to my writing now. I just wanted to share my excuse for not sharing.

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