Good News: Mary Ruefle Can’t Keep Up with All the Books Being Published, Either
In Conversation with Linn Ullmann on the How to Proceed Podcast
How To Proceed is a bi-monthly conversation about writing, creativity and the world we live in. Author Linn Ullmann talks to some of the world’s most exciting literary voices about their books, their writing process, and how they view the world and current events around them.
We have a globally out of control situation, says Mary Ruefle. In this episode, she talks about reading and writing, clarity and fear, menopause and the freedom of invisibility, and being in the margins. And, of course, about dogs.
From the conversation:
Mary Ruefle: From like twenty to sixty, you’re in the main thoroughfare. You’re in the thick of things. You’re in the middle of the stream. But when you’re not, there’s a great freedom there. When you’re a little kid, or an older person. I’m no longer middle-aged. I’m old, approaching—I’ll be elderly. When does elderly begin? Does it begin at seventy? I don’t know when it begins. I’m 68.
There is something beautiful about the margin. But there are also days when I walk down the street and I feel detached. All these people are so caught up in what’s going on in their lives right now and in the larger world. It’s easier for me in the margins to detach from that. It’s easier for me to say, well, today I don’t care what the news is. Just like a child can detach, older people can detach in the same way. It’s easier for me to detach and say, life is a river, it’s always going on, it will continue to go on, and I can let it go on. I don’t have to swim so hard anymore, trying to keep up.
Trying to keep up is exhausting. And specifically, as a woman of letters, a literary person, I can’t keep up with all the books that are published. I can’t keep up with them. Anyone who says they can keep up with books is lying because there are too many. You can’t read everything that’s ever been written and everything that’s being written now. And then there’s all the books that have yet to be written. And it breaks my heart that I will be dead, and some fabulous, fabulous author will be born, and I will not have the experience of reading them.
But it’s okay because I have had the experience of reading so many writers that I loved. The experience of sitting in front of a book that fills you with light and intense passion and joy or deep thoughtfulness, that experience is the same with all great books. I love that experience, and I read to have it again and again and again. There is a certain argument to be made that reading is a marginal experience to begin with, because you can’t be out there living when you’re reading a book. And I have always loved those marginal experiences where I stopped swimming against the current.
Litteraturhuset in Oslo is Europe’s largest of its kind, dedicated to presenting literature in the broadest sense of the word. Since its opening in the fall of 2007, the house has welcomed authors from all parts of the world, and through readings, conversations, lectures and debates, it strives to open up for new horizons and perspectives on the society, the world and the people around us.
Mary Ruefle is the author of many books, including Dunce (Wave Books, 2019), which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, and the LA Times Book Award; My Private Property (Wave Books, 2016), Trances of the Blast (Wave Books, 2013), Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures (Wave Books, 2012), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism; and Selected Poems (Wave Books, 2010), which was the winner of the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. She is the recipient of numerous honors, including the Robert Creeley Award, an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and a Whiting Award. She lives in Bennington, Vermont, where she serves as the state’s poet laureate.