I'm eagerly waiting for a few hot new books due to come out this month. First, I want to get my hands on Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot, which is sure to be a philosophical and lyrical take on this very old theme of novels and stories in general. And second, enormous as it apparently is, I'm dying to read Murakami's latest novel, 1Q84. Both books are at the forefront of what I think of when I think of cutting-edge contemporary fiction, and they're very much in keeping with the sorts of things I'm usually reading.
But in the meantime, I've got to find a way to slake my thirst. And that got me thinking about the value of reading something different once in a while. I started my search for a new book as I always do - by poring over my own shelves, which still have a few books I've been meaning to read but haven't gotten to yet. I noticed a book whose title I didn't recognize - it was from a pile of books my mother had been donating to charity, and I had rescued a few likely-looking ones and quickly added them to my own stack in the move to a new apartment. It was Forgetting Elena, by Edmund White. Now I'm happily ensconced in a fascinating, slightly surreal novel of manners - and it's one I never would have thought to read if it hadn't been staring me in the face.
It can be demoralizing to think of all the great novels we'll never read in our lifetimes, but the way we can fight this reader's panic is to keep reading - and to remember to read something that is outside our normal milieu. There is an entire world of forgotten books out there that deserves to be revived. Just because a book is from 1982 doesn't make it unworthy of reading (we tend to read the classics from long ago or the contemporary of-the-moment stuff, but not whatever was great in the in-between times). It's also important to stretch beyond our comfort zone stylistically, and read work that isn't simply what we imagine ourselves writing. We need different styles in our brains to inform and enrich our own; otherwise, we'll end up sounding like bad imitations of our favorite authors, rather than ourselves.