On Reading Leading to Writing

When I was a kid growing up in the 1950s, my parents would take my kid brother and me out at least one Saturday evening each month to some local restaurant for dinner: Rothbard’s Delicatessen, Yet-D-Far for Chinese, Bob’s Big Boy for burgers…. It was great, but even greater was what we’d usually do after dinner.

“Can we go to a newsstand?” the kid and I would ask. The answer was almost always yes, and so we’d head off to one of several newsstands in the area that carried a wide variety of magazines, comic books, and paperbacks.

Mom and Dad, Mom especially, were avid readers who didn’t care what the kid and I read as long as we were reading something. (Mom, an artist, had many art books on the shelves at home, and I’d often sit and study the nudes when no one else was around.) So, I’d go browsing for my favorites: Flying, Mad (both the magazine and the paperback collections like The Mad Reader), Famous Monsters of Filmland, and comic books to add to my substantial trove.

In elementary school, we had a biweekly visit of the L.A. Unified School District’s “Bookmobile”, a mobile library from which we could check out books. And I did. The Freddy the Pig books, Miss Pickerel Goes to Mars and other books in that series, and the Winston Science Fiction series. It was the Bookmobile that offered up my first taste of Robert Heinlein: The Red Planet, a book I read and then re-read many times over.

All of this exposure to books and magazines provided the foundation for me to become a lifelong reader, and an eclectic one at that. And beyond just reading, it fostered imagination and a fantasy life that started to be expressed through writing. I also found that my own particular portal into self-understanding came best through putting words on paper. When I could look at what I was thinking, I could better understand what I was thinking.

Over the years, I’ve written many letters to the editor – some published and some not – a number of published articles and essays, and two books. My first book, Spacebraid and Other Tales of a Dystopian Universe, was a collection of stories written from pure imagination. There is not much of me in those stories except for a few small particulars.

It is a different story with Zendoscopy, as many readers have easily discerned. Where they have gone wrong, however, is in the assumption that all the episodes in the book actually occurred. In fact, most are riffs on a kernel event or are complete fabrications. What is so interesting to me is that so many people have found what they think is truth in the stories and, perhaps displacing their own identification with them upon me, think that Zendoscopy is somewhat of an autobiography. In three words, it’s a mistake. The book is an example of “writing what you know”, and I’m glad that it seems more real than it is. Nevertheless, I frankly admit that there is far more of me in it than in most of my other writing.

I’m currently at work on a not-quite-a-sequel to Zendoscopy. As yet untitled, it does pick up on the lives of several of the characters in Zendoscopy, but it’s a completely different story and it’s much more separated from “me” than is Zendoscopy. I’m about a hundred pages into it as I write this blog entry, and it’s going to be some time before it’s finished. I hope that when it is, it’ll be as well received as has been Zendoscopy, but I write for the love of writing and not for the money (fortunately). So, whatever happens, happens.

I’ve digressed a bit from how I developed my love of reading, but it was that love that also stimulated me to write. My only regret about it all is that I long ago gave away my collection of comic books. If I’d kept it until now, it’d be worth a small fortune.


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