Love Your Ugly Literary Exes
Here’s the thing about reading: some motherfuckers bring in “coolness” into the equation and ruin it for the rest of us. I’m talking about the douchebags who assure you their interpretation of Dave Foster Wallace’s work is a must-hear. They claim to “understand” literature. They “know” quality. You know, the kind of people who snort when others mention reading romance or fantasy of hardcore horror and who frown upon anyone whose tastes jump around, stray too far into weird/genre territory, or are based on whatever the New York Times tells them is the hottest thing on the market. I know because I’ve done it sometimes.Yeah, I used to laugh when folks told me golf is a sport or when they mentioned reading Paulo Coehlo.
Then I grew up a bit (trust me, it wasn’t much) and stopped being an asshole because if someone likes to wear ugly shorts and drive around in a toy car hitting a tiny ball with a stick, I’m happy for them. That’s their jam and I truly hope they’re happy when they’re out there. The same goes for reading. I wills till judge you for reading Coelho because life is too short to be reading that shit, but I won’t say anything about it and I will certainly not tell you to stop or suggest other books because I think they’re better. I won’t for two reasons: you should read whatever the hell you want to and because we all need to learn to accept and love our ugly exes.
You know what’s awesome? Making fun of James Patterson. You know what’s also awesome? Saying that you criticize his work because you’ve read a lot of it. Yeah, back in the day, I would read the shit out of some James Patterson. I also read a load of Patricia Cornwell, Michael Connelly, and Jeffrey Deaver books. I even read some John Grisham and Dan Brown. I know, that’s preposterous! I went to the books store and picked up things from the stacks and read it. Some I dug. Some I hated. It was a learning process, and it made me the reader I am today.
I bought a ton of books about giant squids and Bigfoot. I read a lot of books about ghosts and apparitions and haunted houses and I dug that shit. I read tons of mediocre poetry and memorized some of it. Come at me, bro! I fell in love with Bukowski and didn’t think Hemingway was passé. Yeah, I read bestsellers and discounted paperbacks from authors who bang out the same damn “thriller” two or three times a year. Wanna know something else? I didn’t understand Shakespeare. The first time I read Walt Whitman I had to yell “What the fuck is this?” Yeah, I thought Madame Bovary sucked and kept my mouth shut for years because I knew I was supposed to love it if I wanted other readers to take me seriously. I, too, wanted to be cool.
Oh, let me drop a few more confessions here in order to shed any last shred of coolness that might be hanging on like a rebellious turd. It took me nine months to read Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day. That’s right, a woman can develop a complete human inside her body in the time it took me to finish that damn thing, and by the time I was done, I had kinda forgotten what the whole mess was all about. Ready for more? I don’t like Jane Austen and after waiting almost a decade to dig into Lolita, it was a hell of a letdown. Sue me.
It took me three readings and five years to be able to explain to people why I loved Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil.Even as a teenager, I knew I was supposed to read Normal Mailer, Henry James, Virginia Woolf, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Emily Dickinson, but I didn’t. Instead, I read Stephen King, Richard Laymon, and Bentley Little. I read Lovecraft, Poe, Bukowski, and Benedetti. Pulp, crime, and horror called to me. They entertained me and made me think of my own stories. They made me a writer. They made me a passionate, diverse reader, and being cool can go fuck itself.
If you like to read about people sucking each others’ nasty bits, that’s great. If cosmic horror pulls you in, fine. If your shelves are lined with noir, fantastic. If you’re a bizarro lover, sweet. If dragons and swords give you a literary boner, magnificent. Whatever you dig is cool. Whatever you read is great, but you shouldn’t shove it down anyone’s throat. Read and let read. Most importantly, learn to accept your past. You read Dr. Seuss before you read Borges. They’re both equally formative.
I read Dan Brown and James Patterson before I got plugged into the amazing indie lit scene that makes up 90% of my reading material now, and every time I make fun of folks for reading them, I make fun of myself. We’re nothing more than the collection of crap we’ve done, experienced, and loved. Every “dumb” book you read counts. Don’t forget that. Remember those exes fondly and never deny them. Now go kiss someone new.
Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of ZERO SAINTS (Broken River Books), HUNGRY DARKNESS (Severed Press), and GUTMOUTH (Eraserhead Press). His reviews have appeared in Electric Literature, The Rumpus, 3AM Magazine, Marginalia, The Collagist. Heavy Feather Review, Crimespree, Out of the Gutter, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, HorrorTalk, Verbcide, and many other print and online venues. You can find him on Twitter at@Gabino_Iglesias.