In an odd way, the fact that no one else knows has made me more competitive, not less. I’m sure serious runners are familiar with this seeming paradox. Maybe nobody else knows that you shaved 1.2 seconds off your personal best time for the mile, but you know — and that knowledge, plus the fact that your achievement has brought you no external reward, gives you a perverse sense of satisfaction. Or no, let’s be honest about this: it gives you a perverse sense of superiority.
If you’re the kind of reader who doesn’t intend to give up on a Great Big Important Novel no matter how inhumanely it treats you, then there’s a sense in which Joyce or Pynchon or Gaddis (or whoever your captor happens to be) owns you for the duration of that captivity. In order to maintain your sanity, you may end up being disproportionately grateful for the parts where they don’t threaten to bore you to death, where there seems to be some genuine empathic connection between reader and writer.
Readying myself for a move to Los Angeles, I naturally turned to literature, but I decided to avoid the region’s richest, oldest, most beloved literary currents: its unflinching examinations of Old Hollywood, its hardscrabble outsider odysseys toward the kingdom of celebrity, its hard-boiled tales of murderous intrigue and complex deceit beneath the palm trees. Those novels became iconic for a reason, but I had to ask: given Los Angeles’ practically unfathomable size and diversity, what other kinds of literature does it offer?