It has been observed—I forget where or by whom—that only kids have heroes. I’m not entirely sure that’s true, but I do think you have to stop being a fan in order to become wholly a professional. You can continue to admire and delight in the work of another writer, but if you’re slavish in your devotion, if you’re stuck in the role of full-blown fan, your own growth will be limited.
I can really relate to that.
It’s taken from The Crime of Our Lives, an excellent book by Lawrence Block, collecting the author’s essays, introductions and columns about his colleagues and his experiences in the field of genre fiction. It is not as one might think, an autobiography (and I realize the title of this post is misleading), but a collection of personal reminiscences about other people1.
It’s quite a good read – but then, I am a fan… or rather, I admire and delight in his work, without giving in to slavish devotion, and I consider Block’s Telling Lies for Fun and Profit one of the best books about writing I ever read2. And I did read a few.
The parts about Block’s apprenticeship as a reader in a literary agency are illuminating, and provide much food for thought – sometimes really reading bad stuff and seeing other people’s blunders is a good way to learn how to avoid those blunders.
And after all, one of my teachers, back in London, taught me that to learn you have to teach. Very zen, even if we were talking rocks and fossils.
I began my life as a reader of crime fiction – with The Three Investigators (hey, I was seven![^3]) and then a lot of Ellery Queen. And while later I turned to science fiction and other imaginative genres and sub-genres, mysteries and crime fiction are still the books in which I am happy to take a vacation once in a while – just as with historical novels and Oriental literature.
And I need a vacation in a crime book especially – yes, I am mean – when fanboys and self-styled uber-geeks manage to bore me and blunt my otherwise keen passion for the fantastic. And as I grow old, I discover I get bored more easily.
Block’s book, in this sense, is a pleasure as it takes me back to authors I discovered in the past and I loved, but also provides a good opportunity to discover authors I somehow overlooked or left behind.
And it’s non-fiction, and I still maintain that reading non-fiction about the fiction we love makes us better readers and sometimes, maybe, one hopes, better writers.