I have a friend I meet for lunch. He’s a poet, biographer and university professor. I first met him eons ago when he was my Eng 101 tutor at university, and didn’t see him again for over twenty years until we reconnected during a writers’ event. As concerns the point of this blog, however, he could be a builder of dry stone walls because what I want to talk about here is the type of conversations he and I have, which for me illustrate how important it is to have people who ‘get’ you.
What do he and I talk about? Not much about our personal lives, unless there’s something big happening. Not much about our work, unless ditto. Our conversations have a pattern to them, whereby one of us lightly tosses over the net a subject-ball and waits eagerly to see if the other will lob it back. Eagerly because we know a successful return will mark the start of a conversational rally that we’ll both thoroughly enjoy.
Toss: Barbara Pym? Lob: Tame gazelles, excellent women! Nigel Molesworth? As any fule know, and what use will that be to me in the new atomic age! Kanye West’s Power? Robert Fripp!
Ghormenghast and Split Enz! I said to my friend that I truly believed he was the only person in the world I could tell this story to: that the first two lines of the Phil Judd-penned Split Enz song Stranger than Fiction were lifted from a description of Titus Groan. ‘Stranger than fiction, larger than life, full of shades and echoes…’
Critical question: have I lost you? Is all this so much obscure babble? Or are you shouting with recognition at some, possibly all, of the above references? Are you thinking with glee: at last, someone else who has a head stuffed with weird, random shit!
It’s so important – no, it’s imperative – to have people in your life who ‘get’ you, with whom you can talk freely and at length about the stuff that you love, no matter how weird or obscure that stuff is. As J Alfred Prufrock feared (which is why he never did dare disturb the universe), there’s nothing worse than pouring out your heart, desperate for that connection, only to have the other turn towards the window and say, ‘That is not it at all. That is not what I meant at all.’
It’s so important, it’s even become a movie cliché*: ‘You just don’t get it, do you?’
And that’s a roundabout way of getting to the point of this blog, which is about the kind of readers I realise I want most. I want readers who ‘get’ me – who get my style of humour because they enjoy the same humourists who’ve influenced me, and who spot the obscure references because they’ve read those books or watched those TV programmes, too. Those are the readers who will accept and enjoy my books for what they are and won’t berate them for not being the books they wanted to read.
But like J Alfred, I’ll never have what I want. I can’t. For one, it’s not practical for me to screen every reader for suitability before allowing him or her to take my book home. For another, I suspect the only person who would fulfil all my criteria for ideal reader would be me. I’m whom I write my books for. They are written for my tastes, my sense of humour and my interests only.
If readers like what I like, they’ll probably like my book. If I’m lucky there’ll be more than one reader like that, but, then again, even if only one reader tells me that they ‘get’ me, then, yes, it will have been worth it, after all.
*See the montage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgPiHyqx54M