These pages, the pages I'm reading, they're breathing. Although I have only read 3 of Lovecraft's stories so far—Dagon, The Statement of Randolph Carter, and Beyond the Wall of Sleep—each of them takes me out of the room and into a world that is so unlike anything I've ever read that it makes me feel uneasy. There is something of gothic romanticism, and something of classic horror as penned by the Stokers and the Poes and the like, yet also something of dreamy fantasy and a bit of "emotional" sci-fi that is not so much scientific as it is cosmically subconscious, the inner nucleus of thought thrown out there into the void of infinity and beyond. Of course I have only begun and haven't even gotten to the thick of the Cthulhu mythos, but Jesus Fucking Christ, what a man, what a time, what a tale.
I'm reading the new annotated collection of stories that had a long 20-something-page introduction and copious notes on every page in the margins in brick-red that I at first indulged in, then found distracting, and now avoid, glancing at them at the end only if I have to. I have read the whole intro and was astounded by Lovecraft's racist and xenophobic outbursts as described by his wife. I've seen some of it in his writing already, bitter contempt toward primitive degenerate "white trash" in Beyond the Wall of Sleep. And yet numerous authors forgive Lovecraft his unsightly passions for his genius and for the enormous influence he had on a generation of writers like King, Oates, Gaiman, Chabon, O'Connor, Williams, and many more. And I'm only starting to learn of it now.
People often tell me what I'm an old soul. In a way I am, perhaps, bred on reading old classics like Dracula and Tom Sawyer and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in Russian when growing up. Well, the contemporaries didn't make it beyond the iron wall of Soviet Union, and I read what my great grandmother has accumulated in her library, including racy and at times openly sexual stories of One Thousand and One Nights. I also read Russian classics like Anna Karenina and Dead Souls and Crime and Punishment, all of which I'm rereading for the first time in English now.
Three years ago when I started writing full-time, I have decided to dive into the world of literature and study it for my own enjoyment and to learn how to write better. So I read what bubbles up in my universe by ways of you guys mentioning books to me or reading about books. And Lovecraft was on this list for a very long while.
Reading about his life in an odd way made me feel better about mine. Both of his parents were admitted to asylums and died there. Both of my parents are not exactly gifts of parenthood either. My mom is an exceptionally talented artist and fashion designer whom I parented since I can remember myself when it should've been the other way around, and whose constantly fluctuating mood outbursts led me to have a fear that I might grow up crazy too. My dad, a journalist and a crime fiction writer published in Russia, introduced me to the world of literature and took me with him to live in Germany for 4 years, giving me a much needed culture shock, and who at the same time suffered episodes of uncontrollable rage and punished me by abusing me verbally, physically, and sexually, and later chalked up my trying to tell others about it by labeling me as a lying, promiscuous, and inclined for insanity child. On top of it, both my parents indulged in beating me, as did other members of my disjointed family. This, coupled with growing up in the midst of dying communist regime provided a powerful cocktail of reality that I escaped by reading books.
I have learned to read when I was 4 or 5, and have not left books since. So when I was reading about Lovecraft's secluded existence and his copious correspondence with his readers and friends, I smiled. He was "blogging," just like I'm typing my thoughts right now, because if I won't, my head will burst apart.
This is why reading is crucial to the development of a new writer. When you start out, you feel so weird, so out of place that you're tempted to give up, but the more you read, the more you see all the other ways of writing and learn more about the lives of other writers, and you suddenly see that we're all very much the same, weird lonely kids who learned who to hide in their heads and come up with stories when reality became unbearable and needed to be shunned.
When I started out, I was afraid to somehow write "wrong," although now I know it's total bullshit. Reading about critics dismissing Lovecraft on the account of his excessive use of words like "horrible," "terrible," "awful," "frightening," and the like, or reading about him dying in near obscurity, known only to a select group of pulp magazine readers, makes me want to never ever ever give up.
Some of you sometimes ask me where my incessant energy comes from.
I honestly don't want to do anything else but write in the first half of the day, and read in the second half of the day, go to sleep, wake up and repeat. There are so many fantastic books yet to read, so much history to learn. I have close to 700 books on my reading list which will take me 7 years to chew through, and I'm about to add another 20 or so, the books that were influential on Lovecraft and the whole generation of horror writers. I'm giddy. I want to read them all. I will probably die with my nose in a book, but I simply can't stop. It gives me a high. It inspires me. It pushes me forward.
If only my eyes wouldn't close at night. They get exhausted from peering at words all day, and I have to rest them. If I didn't have to, I'd read through the night.
Here is the list of books I have compiled from reading about Lovecraft and his influences. Anything I missed? Anything else you'd recommend or heard of? Let me know.
- The Golden Age by Lucius Apuleius
- Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole
- The Champion of Virtue by Clara Reeve
- The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
- The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis
- The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
- Dr. Heidegger's Experiment by Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Robert Maturin
- Camilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
- An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce
- The Upper Berth by F. Marion Crawford
- The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers
- The Shadows on the Wall by Mary Eleanor Wilkins Freeman
- The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen
- The Gods of Pegana by Lord Dunsany
- The Book of Wonder by Lord Dunsany
- The Willows by Algernon Blackwood
- The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood
- John Silence—Physician Extraordinary by Algernon Blackwood
- Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by M.R. James
- Utopia by Thomas More
- The Other World by Cyrano de Bergerac
- The Blazing World by Margaret Cavendish
- Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
- Micromegas by Voltaire
I love you.