Grieving the Reader’s Experience

Let me be clear on one thing: I love literature.  I really, really do.  That’s why I’m a writer!

But being a writer has also drastically changed my reading experience.

In the words of Billy Collins, “Readers read great work and feel appreciative.  Writers read great work and feel a burning jealousy.”

I know I’ve talked about this before, but I just wanted to share that– in some ways– I grieve the true reader’s experience.  It’s becoming more and more rare that I can just fully take in a great book with an open, generous heart.  There is this little flame of envy that licks all over my body, and while I think it’s a bit uncharitable, it also both reminds me that I’m a writer and fuels my writing.

Though I am terribly grateful that I’m a writer down to my bones, sometimes I do long for those golden moments of childhood when I could just embrace a book with nothing but love.  Don’t get me wrong, I still love books– with a deep, passionate, fiery love– but there is usually envy in that matchhead too.  Envy and analysis: how did the author do that?  Can I do that?  What if I were to …

Sometimes I miss it.  That’s all I wanted to say.

Había una vez... (Once upon a time) by Carolina Pratto

Había una vez… (Once upon a time) by Carolina Pratto

Billy Collins & Validation

Last night, my friend Elyse and I ventured downtown to hear Billy Collins, my favorite poet, read at the Pantages Theatre.

He read for about an hour, a lot of new stuff from Aimless Lovehis new book (I read all the new poems in one sitting– I can do that for no other poet than Billy Collins) but also some old favorites like “The Revenant” and “The Lanyard.”

If you’re not familiar with Billy Collins, please come out from under the dark rock you’re living beneath (I kid, I kid!).  No, but really, in case you didn’t know, Billy Collins is a brilliant and hilarious poet.  Hearing him read live is such a treat for his deadpan delivery.  Elyse remarked, “It’s like attending a comedy event … but a really highbrow one.”

We laughed and laughed and laughed– and then made those soft sighs and murmurs that follow poignant poems.

Afterward, he had a very short Q&A session (which he called a conversation) wherein he said (and I’m paraphrasing as best I can here), “If you read great work and feel appreciative, you’re not a writer.  Writers read and feel a burning jealousy.”

YES!  I was so just discussing this on my blog.

It was a delightful evening with delightful company.  Elyse and I were some of the youngest people in the audience, and I felt bad for the rest of my generation that was spending their Friday without Billy.

Click this image to link to the book's Goodreads page.

Click this image to link to the book’s Goodreads page.