This week marked an incredible achievement on my part as I finally finished Richard Fords’ The Sportswriter. While finishing such a book, for those in the know, may not rank in the upper echelons of neither being a challenging nor a long read. Such as the likes of say, War and Peace, Ulysses or Anna Karenia are. For with it in it’s paperback state the piece clocked in at a, rough, 380 pages and containing within said pages the tale of a near forty year old man lamenting on his divorced life. A man however who isn’t ashamed by this fact in a time where it wasn’t as common place and only now were new ways of thinking coming in to effect in a substantial way. He is content in life to a certain degree, writing sports for one of the many New York tabloids and enjoying his single man solitude but all the while is haunted by the death of his first son. And I hated and I mean hated it.
It began easy enough within it’s first twenty pages or so but it soon became a dull slog, enthusiasm was waning but I pushed ahead in the hope it might come to something or maybe I was missing something. 360 pages later I wished I had packed it all in back at page twenty-one. Now I don’t want to knock the book too much as others may enjoy it. It just came down to the simple fact I didn’t connect with it which exemplified its flaws in particular it’s dated attitudes towards women and race and the LGBTQ community at large. Normally such things are to be expected with dated material but are handled or understood in such a way that it doesn’t impact the reading but like I say these issues were likely expedited by my dis-enjoyment of the piece. So why the fanfare and the opening cry for praise, for the hearty pat on the back and or the congratulatory handshake/hug, whichever you are inclined to offer?
Books are written in most part not only to offer a form of escapism but to offer a new perspective, an insight to, be it introspective or of a grander scale, to something. The author has something to say and it is either hidden in it’s playfulness or sitting on the surface but as I closed Fords’ novel never had I encountered such a moment of self reflection and realisation; I won’t let a book beat me. I’ll happily lose a game of monopoly or scrabble or horse or whatever. I’ll quit TV shows, podcasts, personal endeavours, sports etc. but I will not quit a book. The first line of every book I’ve read seems to act as some weird self imposed and ever binding contract that is only broken once every word of said title has been ingested. Ever since my spur to read again I have not not finished a book no matter how much I detest it or don’t understand it or whatever may be the cause of my dislike, I will not stop. On several occasions my girlfriend has remarked that I can stop reading if I dislike it that much and each time I have responded with a disarming, “oh no no it’s okay I want to see what happens” or “no, I know but I like this ‘insert mundane made-up element here’ so I’ll just read a little more.” Every time I have found something to latch on in an attempt to not break my strange self imposed contractual obligation to the book.
This odd phenomenon I have noticed little elsewhere until the completion of Fords’ work upon which I noticed it in one other area of my life. As recently I have taken to running a couple of times a week and as soon as I lace up my trainers the contract is imposed. I will not stop running until I complete the mental course I have laid out in my head. Even as the blood thumps against my skull and my arms ache and my lungs strain against my chest and dramatically, I act as if my only halter will be death itself. Maybe these experiences are just a sign of good exercise something so unnatural to my lazy state. However no matter the reasoning I can never seem deter from or fail the mental path or I have laid out before myself. Even stranger is that this sense of dogged determination is seldom seen anywhere else in my life. This blog though I have just realised is another example of such a self imposed contract that I fear detouring from. I may just have cracked the ethics to my productivity, all I need do is to continue to lawyer myself to my own ambitions through the creation of nonsensical imaginary mental contracts. On which note then I must hence forth implore you to read Fords’ The Sportswriter in the hopes that no matter how you feel about the prose that you may, in the end, learn something. Maybe something completely unconnected to the book itself but hopefully something worth while. Or if it fails on that account I guess I can only apologise for wasting your time or maybe you shouldn’t take suggestions from someone who believes the way to improve his life is to lock himself into imaginary unbreakable contracts. Hey it’s up to.