I am not the writer whose backstory includes always having my nose in a book. Most author interviews include a bit about how they were reading in the crib, by flashlight at night under covers, voracious, unstoppable, unflappable readers. They loved bookstores, the smell of a mass of book paper, and got off sniffing binding glue from the library air. They were reading Dubliners and The Idiot for fun when they were twelve. They’d go on to work in book stores, teach English or go into advertising.
Not me. I ran and jumped and climbed trees and played sports and played dry-wit class clown. And though I did get a degree in advertising (marrying art and business, you see), I ended up going to law school and practicing on my own for fifteen years. Intellectual property and entertainment law (marrying art and law, you see).
And I’ve still not read The Dubliners or The Idiot.
Though I attended a fine school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I did not grow up in a bookish or otherwise intellectual household. My folks weren’t boors nor bores, not at all. They were supportive and involved parents in just about every way. They just weren’t prolific readers. Some, but not a lot of books on shelves. I’m fairly certain I never saw my dad even read a book. He had a Master’s Degree and said he was finished reading.
No matter the writer’s background, no matter whether or not the writer was raised on books or not, all who become writers get bit. The insect finds us, bites us, we turn a different color, and then we fall hard. An intoxicant, an ecstasy entered our blood stream and all we want to do is feel that feeling again. To feed it. Like a drug, any addiction, our brains scream for a fix and if we don’t get it we don’t feel so well. Ask my wife.
Though I could reach back to Madeleine L’ Engle; The Phantom Tollbooth; Old Yeller; Are You There God, It’s Me, Margret; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and proclaim that was when it started for me, I don’t think that’s true. I wasn’t yet bitten.
All punning aside, what bit me was Stephen King. His books were my gateway substance. He wasn’t assigned in school (though Dolores Claiborne should be mandatory reading in any Fem Lit class) and so it was a revelation to read just for the pleasure of it, tossing theme, symbolism and structure—all that academic fussiness—out the window and to simply hang on for dear life to find out what happens next. I am still a Constant Reader of King and I happen to think he’s the Dickens of our time. So there. The Shining is not only one of the best horror books ever written, it’s one of the best books on my shelf period.
Because of the King awakening, I started to appreciate school assigned fiction. Fahrenheit 451, Lord of the Flies. Catcher in the Rye. To Kill a Mockingbird. The short story A Clean Well-Lighted Place by Hemingway made me see him and highly revered work in a different way. Then poetry (poetry!) started to dazzle. I’m looking at you, e.e. cummings. My AP English teacher, Ms. Irvine, read us one of her poems in class that had a line: winter is like a perhaps fist. This floored me, this word play that made so much sense though nonsensical on the surface, the playfulness of it. That you could play . . . that this was about playing. That was big revelation for me. Even Hamlet resonated now—the intrigue, the sex and death! Books had become fun. Books had become entertaining. Books had become vital.
I started mainlining in college once I read Generation X by Douglas Coupland. That book spoke to me and made me actually say to myself out loud in my apartment bedroom while people were playing beer quarters loudly in the next room on a college night Thursday, “I want to write something like this. I think I can do this.” You see, usually I was in there bouncing coins and chugging suds with Depeche Mode’s Enjoy the Silence as background. But that night I was so engaged in Coupland’s novel that I found myself in a bubble of my own silence, enjoying it, because all I heard were the words and my heartbeat.
Soon, I was strung out on the Beats. On the Road, Dharma Bums, Howl. You know, the coolness, the blow-man-blow, the ebullient angst. These books taught me freedom.
David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest made me see how street vernacular and high art and erudition can go together and work. Well, maybe it was a little long. I’ve never laughed at footnotes before. DFW taught me to laugh out loud at arch filmic footnotes.
Stewart O’Nan’s oeuvre, especially the first I read, A Prayer for the Dying, changed the way I saw fiction as a reader and a writer. Similarly, Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone. These books were high Art, capital ‘L’ Literary yet so immersive and so impossible to put down. These books taught me the marriage of great story and elegantly pyrotechnic prose can be a lasting and profound one.
Now, in mid-life, I am the writer whose story includes always having my nose in a book. I love bookstores, the smell of book paper, get high on binding glue.
I’m going to go read Dubliners and The Idiot now. But, if I get bored, I’ll pick up Coupland or King and get bit once again.
Born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Mark Falkin graduated from Southern Methodist University in Dallas and then the University of Oklahoma College of Law.
By day he is a literary agent and recovering music attorney. He is the author of, Days of Grace, which was optioned for a film, and nominated for a literary award, The Needle Award, at POD-dy Mouth blog, where the reviewer said, “This is literature at its best . . . Falkin could easily be likened to the aforementioned Lethem or to Augusten Burroughs or even J.D. Salinger.” Bookpeople, said “Here’s more proof that Austin is home to some of the best new writers around . . . Falkin’s novel is reminiscent of the writing style found in Lethem, Sedaris, Coupland, and Kerouac, with his sharp wit and journalistic style.” He hopes to set the “YA Dystopian” genre on its ear with his new novel, Contract City.
Visit his website at http://www.markfalkin.com.
Follow him on Twitter @MarkFalkin.