The Mark Blog

Bookmark This: "The Slowest Reader" by Benjamin Percy

The Mark Blog recommends this essay by Benjamin Percy, published on The Rumpus.

Benjamin Percy is the author of two novels, Red Moon and The Wilding, as well as two books of short stories, Refresh, Refresh and The Language of Elk.


The Slowest Reader

Sometimes, when I am feeling high-strung or cross-eyed about something, I call Jess Walter. Forget, for a moment, that he drives a sports car and shops at the GAP: I like to think of him as a literary Gandalf, holed up in a cave in Spokane, wearing ragged gray robes and leaning on a warped staff. I trust him. Because he’s good-hearted. Because he works hard and writes enviously well. Because we grew up in similar circumstances. Because he has carved out a life for himself as a full-time writer. And because, over the past few years, he’s become a pal who knows how to share a whiskey and tell filthy stories and give good wizardly advice. On almost every occasion I have asked Jess what he thinks, his response has been, “Don’t be in such a rush.”

And he is always right. I have a high octane personality and I can’t help but try to wrestle too many projects to the mats. This profile, this essay, this book review, this comic book pitch, this screenplay idea, these five short stories, these two novels. And then I have to teach, to travel—and, most important of all, play with my kids, hang with my wife. I have trouble sleeping at night. Sometimes my heart feels caged inside my chest and my brain feels like it’s going to tear itself in half and the only antidote is a five-mile run and six sets of ten on the pull-up bar. Before I stroke out or lose my hair, I need to slow down, chill the fuck out. I need to follow Jess’s advice. I need to not be in such a rush.
 
This, after all, is the best thing I ever did for my reading, which might be the best thing I ever did for my writing.
 
When I first arrived at grad school, I received a list of 100 books. 100 books I ought to have read. I scanned it in a panic. Some of the titles I recognized. Many I didn’t. And I had read, maybe, five of them. So I got to work, driven by insecurity and hunger. I felt so far behind my classmates—and I felt such bloated pleasure in shoving all these stories into my eye. By the end of my first year, I had read every book on the list.
 
Maybe this was an accomplishment—I certainly felt good about it at the time—but really, I read with such speed and carelessness, nothing stuck. Ask me about The Magic Mountain today and I may puree some The End of the Affair into it. And didn’t Beckett write Time’s Arrow? Or maybe that was Calvino. I could not process and benefit from all those wondrous sentences and plots and characters, snarled together as they were in my mind.

I woke up at 4:30 to write and I fell asleep with a book across my chest. Fiction had become more than my life—it was my religion and I its faithful, misguided monk. I not only rushed through my reading, I rushed out my writing. I rushed out my submissions. I rushed through my note-taking.

Read the rest of the essay here.