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Tuesday, January 2, 2007

A reading year

My main concerns, here as in life, are reading and writing. In that order, because readers make writers. This is true in two senses. First, writers are writing for readers. We may not get them but we all hope for them. I doubt anyone is satisfied doing it solely for him- or herself.

Second, I will bet that most, if not all, writers got into this habit because we love (or loved) to read. We loved a book that would take us somewhere, or make us forget how boring our life otherwise was, and we dream of doing this for some stranger. If you are a writer and have gotten out of the habit of reading, get back in! Call it "research" if you must--if your Protestant ethic is even more troubling than mine--but have a book on your bedside table. One that, unlike some presidents, you are actually reading.

Waging a rearguard struggle against forgetting all the other languages I've ever studied, I try to spend a few minutes each day reading biblical Hebrew. For years now, I've been laboring through the Psalms. The Psalms, of course, are poems, and poetry is notoriously difficult to translate; its forms are specific to the language it's written in (not that this isn't true of all literature). If you're familiar with any Psalms in English translation, for example, you may know that one of the structures of this poetry is parallel lines; for example:

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures,
he leadeth me beside the still waters.

There are also acrostics and all sorts of other difficulties that are lost in translation. I manage about three verses a day.

Whereas a Psalm such as the twenty-third has sustained generations through experiences like trench warfare, a thriller or romance can be relied on to entertain us during tedious journeys or sleepless nights. I've (belatedly) discovered both in Radclyffe's Honor series. A writer can get away with a heck of a lot if, no matter what, the reader has to keep turning the pages. If I'm engrossed in the story, if I have to know what happens next or how the heroine and heroine are going to get together...The other end of the spectrum from poetry, as it were.

Like the sugar on raisin bran.

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