The Gendarme's Mark T. Mustian on Omnivoracious Reading
As we noted on Monday, Mark T. Mustian's The Gendarme tackles those most difficult of subjects for fiction: genocide, war, cruelty, and love. Narrated by the 92-year-old Emmett Conn, a Turkish immigrant to the United States, the novel follows Conn from the present into the past and a welter of ever-clearer memories of the protagonist's role in the Armenian genocide in 1915.
The novel comes with glowing blurbs from the likes of Robert Olen Butler, Bob Shacochis, Sandra Dallis, and Atom Egoyan, and already has been picked up for reprint in several countries, including Greece, Spain, Brazil, Italy, Israel, and France.
We'll hear one last time from Mustian--about his own "corollary to the Franzen/Piccoult-Weiner dustup"--but for now here's more on omnivoracious reading. (Also check out Mustian on research and experience.)
by Mark T. Mustian
I’m a lawyer. (Okay—it’s out there. I admit it. Shoot me.) I’m also a politician. And a writer. Someone asked me once, after an introduction mentioning the same (and I’m not making this up): “Is there anyone we could trust less?”
More than anything, though, I’m a reader. I read a lot as a kid: The Lord of the Rings, the Foundation trilogy. I was big into Dune. Then I went through a period in my life, a good decade or so, where I read very little for pleasure.
I practice bond law, a form of contract law. Beginning with law school, and proceeding on as a lawyer, I convinced myself that after reading documents all day, the last thing I wanted to do was pick up a book at night. One of my law partners—of all people—brought me back into reading. He did the same work I did, and he still read. He lent me a copy of Undaunted Courage. And I was off again, reading.
I read widely, and weirdly. Sci-fi, thrillers, non-fiction, literary fiction. I listen to audio books. (Interestingly, story collections work well for me as audio books). I revisit the classics or near-classics, things I should have read earlier: The Confessions of Nat Turner, The Heart of the Matter. But I’m amazed at how many writers really don’t read that much. I always ask other writers: “What’s the best thing you’ve read in the past year?” I often get non-responses: “Oh, I’ve been so immersed in my novel I haven’t been able to get to anything,” or “I can’t read anyone else while I’m writing, for fear I’ll begin to mimic the author’s style.”
But how do you write without reading? All during the writing of my new novel The Gendarme, I read extensively. Beyond the research into the deportation of Armenians from Turkey at the beginning of World War I, I read the surrounding fiction, some of it quite good: Micheline Marcom’s Three Apples Fell From Heaven; Antonia Arslan’s Skylark Farm, Barry Unsworth’s The Rage of the Vulture. For an autodidact like me, I want to absorb other good writing. I want to see what others have done, and try to figure out how they’ve done it—and not do the same thing.
But reading takes time. A writer friend of mine says that if you read three books a week, you’re not really reading. He may be right about that. I try to block certain times to read: airplane flights, weekends, any visit to a doctor’s office. The advent of electronic readers (Kindle, etc.) has helped in at least one respect: they give their usage the appearance (somewhat) of being work-related. I mean, who really knows then what I’m reading? At the many governmental meetings I attend as an attorney (where my attention is needed for, say, ten percent of the proceedings), I can pretend to be reading important legal documents while in reality knocking off another chapter of Swimming in the Volcano. I haven’t had the nerve yet to do the same during a city commission meeting where I’m sitting up on the dais, but at the next public hearing where 200 people are lined up to say exactly the same thing...Well, I’m thinking about it. I read/hear the same death knells everyone else does regarding attention spans, printed books, the novel in general. But stories, long stories, have survived since cavemen and cavewomen. I tend to think they’ll be around, in one form another, for quite a while yet. And I hope to be reading as many as I can get my hands on. And writing, too.