I have a habit, and I’m not sure whether it is good or bad. Sometimes when I’m reading, a sentence or a paragraph just leaps out at me. It’s a cliché, but some things just resonate. So I write them down somewhere. I almost highlighted something in a novel the other day, but then I thought that would make me look a bit too much like some kind of literature student.
So, why could this possibly be bad, you ask? Well, I believe that I am a sponge. I do it with music, with pop culture, and with books. I absorb things until they are pretty much a part of me. With music, this involves semi-obsessively listening to my latest crush, which tends to be reflected when I next pick up a guitar. With odd slices of pop culture, it involves internalising and then quoting with irksome frequency (I have done this one since I was a child; everyone does, to some extent). With books, this involves cutting out pieces that I particularly like and leaving them lying around on my laptop. Then I read them a few more times every now and then. It’s a sort of bluffer’s guide to knowing the whole book really well, I suppose. It means that a part of it remains lodged in memory.
Naturally, I blame my father for this. His memory is like a mutilated encyclopaedia of snatches of poetry, literary references, bad jokes and obscene limericks. I have only just realised that I am doing more or less the same thing. Witness:
There was a young man named Dave,
Who kept a dead whore in a cave,
He said, ‘I know it’s disgusting,
And she needs a good dusting,
But think of the money I’ll save.’
I am a sponge, and when it comes to books I have a theory. It is a theory worthy of one of Borges’ characters. Remember Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote? It is a short story about a modern-day individual who attempts to recreate Don Quixote. Not to copy it, but to write it again from scratch. He immerses himself in the language and the culture of the period, and he writes little stumps of the story which are identical to the original, yet somehow infinitely richer and more sublime.
If I can absorb styles of writing - in my more deluded moments I sometimes think I have a gift for writing pastiches – then the logical step is to read, and absorb, as many books as possible. I won’t say all of them, because there’s a lot of tripe out there. And I won’t say that I will attempt to recreate them, as Borges’ character does. Much as I enjoy picking small holes in the boundaries between reality and fiction, I do ultimately live in the real world. But if I didn't, this would be my masterplan for literary world domination.