Monday, April 25, 2011

Brian Oliu, On Reading

"My mother was a librarian and so after school each day I would get dropped off at the library. After finishing my homework and eating a snack bag of Doritos, I would start to read—it started off with all of the children’s books, before I progressed to the teen books, designated by a small black bookcase that was relatively low to the ground where one would find your Sweet Valley Highs, your Christopher Pikes. I moved onto the 'grown-up books'—first starting with the non-fiction books; favorites were ones that were about places and people: Sally Ride, Oregon, San Diego. As I got into my pre-teens I began reading the best sellers—the library was the smallest in the state of New Jersey and would often get only one copy of the book, which would be reserved well in advance by one of the patrons. This meant I would have between the time the book arrived and the time the person would come in to pick up the book to finish reading it; often sneaking into the back room to read as I suffered from horrible night terrors after reading Dean Koontz’ The Eyes of Darkness when I was eight and I did not want my mother finding out that I was reading something I shouldn’t. Most of the time I wasn’t able to finish the books in their entirety—I’d get a small snippet before someone came to pick it up, but it was enough to get a small sample of the plot and the language. Considering the majority of best sellers were thrillers or murder mysteries I would manage to scare myself half to death; not because of what was written, but because what I would imagine what happened next: a consequence of not 'drinking deep' and instead having my imagination fill the gaps with whatever horrible thing I could dream up.

The most memorable instance of reading what I wasn’t supposed to was when the summer reading lists would be sent to the county libraries in order to help students pick out what book they would most enjoy and to be prepared for a sudden surge of requests for Lois Lowry. There was a huge uproar because the books that were selected for the 7th going on 8th graders were considered to be highly inappropriate for the age bracket. Myself, not yet 12 years old, would overhear these conversations and immediately track down the books in question: A Clockwork Orange, 1984, A Handmaid’s Tale. These images of dystopian futures, oppression, and, especially in the case of Atwood, issues of gender and sexuality shocked and terrified me. The nightmares became more vivid, and now they had subtext!

As a result of this, my reading habits have not changed much since I was younger: I look for writing that informs, that introduces me to concepts and worlds that I can think about and pretend to exist within. I also look for writing that will shake me to the core, that gives me a visceral reaction: of language that causes my face to scrunch up, or to nod my head, or to cringe or smirk. To me, words are some sort of magic code—a series of letters that when put together in the right order cause someone to feel something. I think that is an absolutely amazing thing: that a series of words will give me chills or alter my thoughts. It’s a powerful and wonderful thing, and something I always keep in my mind when I do my own writing."

Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey and currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. His collection of Tuscaloosa Craigslist Missed Connections, So You Know It's Me, will be published by Tiny Hardcore Press. His work appears in Hotel Amerika, New Ohio Review, Sonora Review, Puerto del Sol, DIAGRAM, and elsewhere. For more information, visit his website here.}

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