Literary Learnings


By Christopher D. Ochs

I have a confession to make. I am not as well-read as my writing peers. I am not as well-read as my readers think I am. Neither am I as well-read as many of my friends. And I am nowhere near the level of proficiency I desire when conversations turn toward fine literature. I’ve lost count of the times that I have found myself in situations where people ask me, “Have you read anything from Mr. Abc or Ms. Xyz?”

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Nine times out of ten, my answer is “Sadly, no.” (As a side comment, this is probably the biggest reason I sometimes suffer from near-debilitating instances of  “Impostor Syndrome.”)

While I enjoy reading, it is not at that passionate level that I observe in so many of my fellow consumers of the written word—and certainly nowhere near their speed. It’s not for lack of trying, nor applying myself. The lion’s share of my reading experience has been spent on books covering physics, chemistry, calculus, electrical engineering, quantum mechanics, cosmology, and . . . well, you get the idea.

If that weren’t enough, I’ve found there’s a double whammy associated with the tiny universe of academic material I have read. It has put me in the habit of reading v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y.

Over the decades, reading such weighty tomes as Kittel’s Thermodynamics or Kohavi’s Switching and Finite Automata Theory has trained me to read in a mode where every sentence must be thoroughly absorbed, each word ruminated with precision.

The unfortunate side effect is that I easily slide into that same habit, treating all reading material in that same molasses-in-January fashion. As a result, when I read fiction, I often put the book back down after a mere five to eight pages. Not because I’m bored or dislike reading—it’s because I’m mentally exhausted by digesting each and every word.

As you might guess, if I read an entire short story in one sitting, it’s a flippin’ miracle. However, every once in a blue moon, I can break out of that sluggish mold if the book grabs me. And by that, I mean the book deserves six out of five stars.

In my lifetime, there have been only three books that I devoured at what I would call a “breakneck pace”: Frank Herbert’s masterpiece of science fantasy, Dune; Patrick Rothfuss’ seminal work, The Name of the Wind, and Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman, which became the inspiration for my third novel, My Friend Jackson. Each of these volumes I have read in a single week. And at the end of each, I marveled, “How the heck did that happen?”

So, dear reader, have patience with authors who have not paved their way with previous careers in journalism, copy writing or editing, or authors who have not started (and probably never shall) on the path toward their Master of Fine Arts degree. And have patience with this luckless author, who has little to offer in the way of Literary Learning. Except maybe this one little nugget . . .

Ask us why we’ve never read Camus, Austen, Salinger, or even Patterson, we might ask you why you aren’t familiar with the work of Ludwig Boltzmann, or haven’t read anything by Stephen Hawking.

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