As promised in a previous entry, I am referencing back to Steven King's On Writing. If you plan on following this blog, I recommend that you run out and pick up a copy. It's won't be the last time that I talk about it.
In On Writing, there is are several chapters where Steven King lays out what he thinks a writer needs to do. One of the key components, in his opinion, is the need to read. As he sees it, if you don't read, there is no reason for you to write.
In my own situation almost every piece of the craft of writing has been difficult for me. That's why I am forty-two years old and still scraping away at my first novel. However, the one part that I've never had a problem with is reading. Reading for me is like breathing. I don't even think about having to do it. On any given day, I have something close by to look at. I would be willing to guess that in the last year, there has been maybe one day where I have turned off the lights and not have looked at a book.
So, let me get to Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full. It's not his most popular book. Those honors would probably go to The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test or Bonfire of the Vanities. I don't even know how well I was received by the critics.
What I do know is that when I found it almost twenty years ago, I devoured it. It was the right book, at the right time, by the right author. This book is so well written that I took pieces of it and used them to put together a personal philosophy that led me through some really murky waters.
At the end of 1999, I was twenty-six years old and I felt like I was a pretend adult. I had a degree and a few years of real world work experience. However, none of it made me feel sure-footed in my transition to full blown adulthood. I was watching my friends complete credentials, get that first big promotion, or head off to professional school. I felt like I was between gears while everyone else was racing off to their futures. I had zero direction. As much as I was struggling with my job, it ate up a lot of my time. It also fueled my anxieties in the evenings and on the weekends.
Over the Christmas holidays, I had an unbelievable opportunity to take a trip to Amsterdam and Berlin. If you've gotten this far into my entry, you're a reader. And being a reader, you can probably relate to my mistake. A direct flight from Los Angeles to Amsterdam is ten hours. Fifteen minutes into my flight, I realized that I had brought the wrong book with me. Ladies and Gentlemen, Lenny Bruce is probably a fine book. But a five hundred page book about a doomed funnyman doesn't make the time in the air scoot by.
I landed in Amsterdam and hit the bookstore to see if I could find something to read. I needed a nice travel book. Something my Steven King or Dean Koontz would work out fine. I may even do one of those courtroom books if I needed to.
That plan would have worked out fine if I spoke Dutch. I passed every newsstand looking for something, anything in English. I can't believe what a dufus I was.
I spent a few days in Amsterdam and took the train into Berlin. I was in Berlin for a few days before I hit paydirt. In a little newsstand, I found the one book they had in English. Tom Wolfe's A Man in Full. I wasn't expecting much. I just wanted something I could read.
What I got was a thunderbolt sent down from Zeus. Yes, it's a book about a businessman who's up to his neck in debt. But, it's about so much more. As I read it, I felt like I was taking a college level course in Atlanta real estate and the Stoicism. Tom Wolfe is such a master storyteller, he found a way to swing heavy concepts like that and still develop solid characters with depth and a plot that cruised over eight hundred pages. To this day, I am in complete awe of his abilities. This is the kind of book that made me think, "I want to write something like this one day," and "I could never write like that," at the exact same time.
To this day, one of my biggest takeaways is the way he reveals the Stoics. The Stoics believed that each person had a little flash of Zeus deep within them. As a result, each person needs to trust in that piece of divinity.
I returned from Europe with book in hand and a new outlook on life. I didn't know it yet, but things were going to get much, much darker for me. There were times when the only thing that I had was that small spark of the divine in my heart. If it weren't for Tom Wolfe and this wonderful book, I wouldn't have known it was there.