fiction / write here write now

READING FOR PLEASURE

JEFFREY EUGENIDES

LATE BLOOMER It wasn’t until my twenties that I became a serious reader. —Jeffrey Eugenides (quote from The Paris Review/portrait from the London Telegraph)

This isn’t exactly a post, just something I ripped off my own Facebook wall, after having just posted it to express the joy I found within the covers of Jeffrey Eugenides‘s Middlesex. Middlesex is not a new book. It was published in 2002 by this genius of a man, an American novelist and short story writer of Irish and Greek descent, whom I consider also a humorist, a philosopher, the key to my fictional universe. I am new to fiction, though I spent my first 20 years or so on earth reading fiction, from the fairy tales to guilty reads like Harold Robbins and Sidney Sheldon, from the classics to the contemporary gems — yes, Stephen King included, whose characters inhabited my youth, Carrie, Cujo, the dead dog come alive in Pet Sematary, the forces of good and evil in The Stand, the viscious, child-catching clown in It, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.

And then I turned 28 — or thereabouts — and, exhilarated that at last I was an adult, I turned from fiction to nonfiction, gobbling up memoirs and biographies and whatever I could squeeze out of works of wisdom, from Neale Donald Walsh‘s Conversations with God to Judith Thurman‘s Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette, even Maira Kalman‘s The Principles of Uncertainty.

Now I am not too old but not too young, I long for fiction again. I started to wonder why I couldn’t daydream as much as I used to do. I’ve become too busy. Instead of riding buses, where against my wishes, I would be confronted with so much time with nothing to do but to watch the same scenery for 30 minutes, for one hour, for more, I now drive my car, fully alert and focused on getting myself from point A to point B — or all the way to point Z, if I could skip points B to Y with my foot on the pedal.

So  now I long to get lost in otherworlds again, in such worlds as Eugenides’s Middlesex. I read Eugenides long ago, on the rare occasions I picked up a work of fiction on the way to the beach or to read on a long-haul flight. Our first encounter was through The Virgin Suicides (1993), which I loved, both the book and the film it spawned in 1999, directed by Sophia Coppola and starring my favorite Kirsten Dunst. But only now, now that I am right smack in the middle of Middlesex, somewhere past Book 3, that I’ve found my new Proust, mon nouveau Marcel, in Jeffrey Eugenides, my new literary hero. For me he has dug up the gem of reading for pleasure and pleasure alone that I thought I had long buried in the ground of oblivion, along with my childhood daydreams.

And here is how, floating on the cloud of his imaginative prowess and literary precision, I broke into an unworthy parody of my own writing skills in praise of Jeffrey Eugenides.

“A man, with years of memory packed in his thoughts, sits on a park bench and, in all of ten seconds, the equivalent of a hundred words on the page, as the bench stretches to accommodate as many as the man, any man, can imagine, a friend joins him and then another and then more, before the entire street squeezes in, followed by the entire neighborhood, then the entire city that opens up the space to let the entire country in, then the entire continent that invites all other continents, the entire planet, and later, all the other planets that let the entire galaxy tag along with so many other galaxies in tow that before long all of the universe sits there with our solitary man on a park bench, who is alone but with anybody, everybody, anything, everything he could think of to keep him company, in all of ten seconds, the equivalent of a hundred words on the page, maybe fewer, maybe more. This is an old Proustian trick but, without the aid of long sentences, my new Proust, mon nouveau Marcel, my new literary hero, Jeffrey Eugenides, can cast the same spell, do the trick, accomplish the mission with aplomb. Bow!”

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