by Michael A. Black
As I’ve said before, I used to look forward to the summers when I was in college so I could read whatever book I wanted, and not be required to wade through an uninteresting (and unreadable) so-called “classic.” For me, a “classic” was synonymous with “boooorrring.” Inevitably, I gravitated toward mysteries and thrillers. My tastes still lie in those areas, but I do pick up an occasional “classic” every once in a while. A few years back a professorial friend of mine gave me a book on disk of The Iliad, by Homer. Well, I at least gave it a try before putting that first disk back in the box and returning it to him… I also make it a point to read at least one nonfiction book a year. I’ve also explored other genres ranging from sci-fi to mainstream to westerns to romance. Choosing my next read depends on my mood.
I know what you’re thinking… Romance? Hardly the stuff a guy like me would be seen reading, right? Not to worry… If the mood does strike me, I have a selection of wrap-around paper covers displaying pictures of generic tough guys and semi-clad babes that I can temporarily affix to the book so as to hide the romantic cover. After all, I have an image to uphold.
Just teasing. I feel no need to hide my reading preferences. As I’ve said many times before, good writing is good writing. It all helps you in developing your writing style. There’s a lot to be learned from reading everything you can get your hands on, including the type of books you wouldn’t normally read. Bringing back my college day reading lists, I have no regrets about being forced to read some of the books on them because it was a learning experience. I truly hate some of them to this day, like Moby Dick, for instance, but wading through it (or at least trying to do so before I reached for the Cliff’s Notes) is all part of becoming a better writer. As a student of language, I try to learn from whatever I read, be it entertaining or not much so.
By the time I enrolled in graduate school I’d been reading what I liked for a good number of years, and I had a lot of life experience to go with it. I’m sure many of my grad school professors found my unabashed criticism of some of their assigned classics a bit unsettling, but college is a place of learning and being exposed to new ideas. To that end, I’m sure the Profs emerged more educated for the experience. I know I certainly did. Is it any wonder why many of them still cringe at the mention of my name? ;-)
I just finished my latest Executioner novel (working title, Fatal Prescription) and I feel in the mood to pick up a good book and relax. This can be an arduous task, however, since my “to read” stack is just a few books shy of touching the ceiling. Lately, the book that’s been calling to me is one that I read before, a long time ago: The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer. Although I struggled to master the Middle English of the original text back in my undergrad days, I came across a modern English translation that I used to help get me through that class in college. But I can still partially recite that opening line in the flowing Middle English:
Whan that aprill with his shoures soote,The droghte of march hath perced to the roote, And bathed every veyne in swich licour, Of which vertu engendred is the flour…
Close enough, I guess, but aren’t you glad we don’t talk like that anymore? Now, where’s that modern translation? The Canterbury Tales is basically a collection of short stories, and many of them are rather humorous. The cast of storytellers are traveling through the countryside and every night they gather around the campfire and one of them tells a story. As I said, some of the stories are humorous, and some are downright ribald. I always get a good belly laugh from “The Miller’s Tale.” I guess Chaucer’s goal was to say that the type of story told should depend on the mood of the teller and the listener as well. That’s good advice for readers of any era.