A few days ago, I caved (I’ve been thriftily rereading what I have already) and went to the bookstore and bought this book:
I was really looking for the new Alan Bradley– a new Flavia mystery!– but it hadn’t actually reached the shelves yet. I might buy that one on Amazon, since it’s cheaper there. Anyway, I got this one by Jedediah Berry instead. What a name! There’s a name for a character, right there.
Side note: Do you ever meet real people, and are really tempted to steal their name for a character? This happened to me first in middle school. There was a boy there, I didn’t know him at all, as he was a year under me, and things like that matter at the time, however inconsequential they seem to us now. But I noticed his name, and it stuck with me as a character name for years. And then I met him in college, and he had grown into his character-name. It was the weirdest thing. I was fascinated by him– not because of who he really was, but because of the fact that he had turned into the character I had built for him in his absence. Tell me that’s not strange. Or perhaps if you are a writer too, it isn’t strange at all but perfectly normal. Hm.
So, anyway, I got this book.
I’m not too far into it yet, but I’m thoroughly enjoying it. On the back cover there are comparisons to Borges and the like, but there’s a missing comparison. Do reviewers no longer read the classics? I’m really seeing a similarity to G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday. I admit, though, to never having read Borges. That’s probably a cardinal English sin, like my never having read 1984. Or Animal Farm. But I’ve read plenty of other books instead, so leave me alone!
The upshot of all this is that I’ve been thinking of The Man Who Was Thursday, which was one of the first books to really inspire me when it came to writing. I was in high school, still not so sure about my English skills, as I kept getting C’s. This was when I was still letting my mother read all of my English assignments. She would go over them with a fine toothed comb and edit the hell out of them, and they’d all end up sounding like her. And then I’d get a C. But what was I to do?
Well, I’ll tell you what I did. I had a two part plan, and I put it into action. The most immediate part of my plan was to not tell her about my assignments anymore, or wait so long to do them that she wouldn’t have a chance to look over them and edit them before they were due.
The second, more long-term part of my plan was to read up and study. I tried to read as many essays as I could about other books, because I wanted to copy what they were doing. I wanted to make the same moves and sound the same way. When she would drop me off at the CSUF library (she was taking Psych courses at night), I’d disappear into the stacks and just read. I’d look things up in the card catalogs, and write down titles that caught my eye. I went into the bound periodicals and flipped through endless 1920’s and 30’s magazines. I’d look for the titillating parts of novels that I’d found out about by reading critiques or reviews. I searched for sex in James Joyce’s Ulysses but never found it because of all the damned dialect.
Somewhere in there, I found G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday. It was bizarre and compelling all at once. It was an adventure, but cerebral. You got the sense while reading it that all the characters were symbols, but symbols of what? And so I read it over and over. I read all the Father Brown mysteries while I was at it, and loved them, but to me the biggest mystery will always be Thursday.
Side note: When I got into the MFA program, I met a guy who was just like one of the main characters in Thursday! He looked just like how I pictured that character, and if they ever make a movie of the book, they need to track down my classmate, who is a character in his own right.
This Jedediah Berry guy– I’d be super surprised if he has never read Chesterton. He hasn’t totally copied it or anything. This isn’t a criticism, and I’m not doing some hipster academic thing, pointing out rather pointlessly how nobody’s original and everybody’s derivative. Duh, of course we’re all derivative. Hello, 80’s music! Again. And while I’m at it, can 80’s music please go away again? Please? I didn’t like most of it the first time around.
But what I am trying to say is that there is a definite similarity, or homage going on, and I am really enjoying it. So, thank you, Mr. Jedediah Berry.