I read–devoured?–Lynda Barry’s One Hundred Demons last summer, mostly prone on the chaise on my balcony. It was more ecstatic transporting than true reading. One Hundred Demons is a graphic novel, using the term in the loosest form, that portrays Barry’s own poignant coming-of-age here in Seattle in the 1960s/70s. In the book’s eighteen stories, Barry takes on the demons of her youth one by one–the friendship abandoned in pursuit of coolness, the joy of dancing lost to the self-consciousness of adolescence, to name a few–until the graphic vignettes total up to a stunning story of innocence lost.
The only thing that interrupted my reading pleasure that August day was the nagging thought that my initial reading of the book would soon end, and it would never be the first time again. I tried to read slowly, but that would only last for a few minutes. Within hours, I’d read one of the best books ever.
Since then, I keep the book on the window sill in front of my desk and have taken to rereading the book in bits or in total in writing downtime, which in my case, there tends to be, uh, quite a lot of–perhaps even as much downtime as up time. Even my younger daughter remarked recently, “You’d get more done if you took fewer breaks.” Yikes. But I find the “breaks”–the lolling on the chaise, the leafing through a favorite book–are as much a part of the writing as the actual scribbling of words on paper. And, I know there are a lot of writer types out there pounding out thousands of words a day. But I find it’s best for me not to let my mind linger on the word count of others. No good has ever come of that. And it’s in these slow moments that I remember not just what I want to say it but why I want to say it. The joy that other writers have given me reminds me of the potential of story. And Barry–with her stories of head lice and acid trips drawn in bright colors and earnest, handwritten pages—reminds me of the power of the particular life come alive on the page, how the individual story can tell the universal one.