Sunday, June 5, 2011

Tom Williams, On Reading

"I'm moving, and that means I'm boxing up books, making tough decisions on what to keep and what to leave outside my office door with a FREE BOOKS sign taped above the piles. A lot are easy to toss: textbooks and duplicates and classics that bored me or I've been meaning to read but have realized I'm not going to get to and besides if I really want to I can look them up on Google Books. The ones I'm keeping, though, are those by friends and those by mentors, and those by writers so dear to me it's as if I've never known a time when I wasn't reading them (Charles Johnson, Philip Roth, Flannery O'Connor, Clarice Lispector, Graham Greene). I'll shove them all in a U-Haul box and seal it up, wanting to get this onerous task out of the way. But invariably, my hand, as if on its own, will pause when I pull something from my shelves. And I'll stare at the title, recalling not only the wondrous contents of the book itself but the circumstances, places, and times when I read and reread it. This time it was Mark Harris's Bang the Drum Slowly, a book I'd been thinking about a lot lately, a book I've cherished for decades, which I've wished I'd written and tried too often to rewrite. And I realize again, something I've known forever, that I was a reader first, before I even wanted to be a writer, and that what made me want to write, most likely, was a desire to keep company with people like Mark Harris--whom I never met yet whose heart and mind I feel I know. After that, I stuffed, neatly, carefully, every book into a box. I couldn't leave any more behind."

Tom Williams is the author of The Mimic's Own Voice, which was published this year by Main Street Rag Publishing Company. His stories, essays and reviews have appeared in numerous publications, most recently in Barrelhouse, Booth, The Collagist, RE:AL and Slab. An associate editor of American Book Review, he is the incoming Chair of English at Morehead State University.}

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