Sparks fly upwards

So here’s an interesting side effect: I’m reading Strangers In Their Own Land, an exceptionally well-timed work of non-fiction, and as I read I feel a sticky sense of sadness that stays with me all day. I’m like the rubberized horse whose story she recounts late in the book. I recommend the book to you, but I also want to hurry up and finish it, get it out of my life. It’s not doing my art any good.

Although the experience has me considering: what kind of book does do my art good? What makes Your Brain At Work, or Acedia and Me, helpful and Strangers In Their Own Land, or even Psychology of Writing, less so?

I hadn’t given it any thought before. I intuited that non-fiction would be more useful for me than fiction; I escape into the fiction I read, and to do my own writing I need to be present. But beyond that I made the assumption that any non-fiction that intrigued me would suffice. A rash assumption!

This week I’m suspecting I need a particular combination of intellectual newness and personal applicability…applicability that has emotional echoes. Psychology of Writing didn’t offer more than the occasional emotional echo, though it was applicable new information. Strangers In Their Own Land isn’t offering me applicability or newness—she’s skillfully drawing a landscape where I’m embedded in ways she is not. Besides, her goal is to illuminate, to paint, and while I’m glad to have the portrait (I’m no painter), I already knew the face.

But Acedia and Me offered me new ways of approaching a landscape I’d walked. And Your Brain At Work flung open doors that I hadn’t before tried to open. Those things put my brain in gear, and when my brain’s geared up it moves. Brain in motion: super helpful for writing!

(As an aside, I don’t think a scholarly approach revs me up as much as a merely well-researched one. Yeah, I know, it’s just a style thing, and it’s a pity I’m so limited. I don’t like peanut butter, either.)

I decided this…spring?…to read one non-fiction work or more each month. I settled in by collecting a stack of faith-focused and self-improvement books—Mind of the Maker, Daring Greatly—but soon thereafter veered off into other subject areas. The stack is waiting patiently; maybe those topics are a better fit and I would be wise to clear the stack.

But not yet. Next up? Capital, by Thomas Piketty. Will this work to the benefit of my writing life? Odds are not in my favor: it has 100 pages of “fun” endnotes within the book’s binding while the real (technical) endnotes are on a website. But I’m not reading Capital for brain-compost. I’m reading Capital for the reason that my parenting colleagues back in the day read Wicked: I want to see for myself what ‘questionable material’ my kid‘s consuming. <snicker>

Besides, I prefer economics to kissing books!

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