Reading, Writing, and Plans for the Future

By Michelle Blake on September 30, 2010 1:58 PM

Below is a short piece I wrote for a great website, The Laughing Yeti, sponsored by writer Shome Dasgupta. He's asked a variety of writers to contribute their thoughts on books and reading, which reminds me that we do not have to choose either screens OR books. Instead, we will have screens AND books.

If the subject of writers and what they read interests you, there are some good books out there with terrific lists and glosses. My favorite is THE TOP TEN, edited by J. Peder Zane. Also, over the coming weeks, I'm going to flatter Mr. Dasgupta by imitating him and asking writers and readers for reflections on reading.


I am a lover of books, books as objects, books as solace, books as a mean of escape and empathy and education. I need to have, on my bedside table, at least two books I have not yet started reading. Otherwise, I feel a little panicky, afraid that I will reach out one night into a bookless void.

At the moment, I am doing something I haven't done in a while--rereading, very slowly, a novel I already know well, Coetzee's DISGRACE. I am doing this so that I can begin to understand how he accomplished what he did in that book--how he moved his character from monster to saint without one moment of sentimentality, and all within the context of one of the greatest power shifts in the 20th century, the dismantling of apartheid. The author never flinches or backs away from brutality. This is one of my weaknesses as a writer, the desire to smooth things over, and I hope to gain from this book an iota of the courage Coetzee has always seemed to exercise so effortlessly, but never before with such astonishing scope and generosity.

One more thought about escape, empathy, and education: It occurs to me that we think of escape as a cheap and easy thing. But with a novel like DISGRACE, while I do get to leave my own irritating life behind, I do not move into an easier world. I move into an infinitely more complex world, if only because the complexities (which I for one tend to overlook on my own, because of deadlines and droughts and the impositions of the daily routine) are illuminated. And, so, I become more educated.