I’ve always loved Ben Peek’s stories. He has a truly individual voice and way of seeing the world, and this shines through in his work. So with the arrival of his novels The Godless and Leviathan’s Blood in the mail, I was spurred to ask him how he refreshes his wells, because everything I read from him is fresh, bright and new.
Ben said, “When I am not writing, I read, mostly. It is terribly boring of me. I write and I read. Between the two, I talk about books, and every now and then, I think I should take up something worthwhile. Perhaps I should work with refugees, or learn how to be a doctor. A medical doctor, that is. But in the end, I go back to reading, to writing, to my quiet obsessions.
A few years back, it occurred to me that I could count how many books I would read before I died. It was an estimation, of course, but still, it was not too difficult. I keep a list of the books I read in a year. It is roughly between fifty and sixty, a book or so a week. In ten years, I realised, I might read five hundred books, maybe six hundred. I am thirty-nine, now. If I live another fifty years – and let us assume, for the sake of argument, that I will – then I will read anywhere between 2500 and 3000 books. Then, hopefully in a spectacular event involving recreational drugs, beautiful people, and a cruise ship, I will die, and be buried at sea. Perhaps. But regardless of how I exit this life of mine, I will not have read a lot of books.
So, I read.
I read anything, by and large. What I don’t like, I give up. It’s the numbers that haunt me. Because of them I have been left with little tolerance for books with flawed craft. Bad pacing, bad words, a lazy thought process. You can learn these things. An author should. I have no time for the author who approaches their craft with an anti intellectual stance that rejects this crafts. Just as I have no time for small minded, xenophobic works. Nor am I interested in books that are cruel for no other reason than to be cruel. I also, and perhaps this is the most peculiar habit of mine, will not read books where pets are killed. Of all the things I mentioned, it is this one that I have broken only once as an adult, and that was for László Krasznahorkai’s Satantango.
Otherwise, I read anything. I read for the beautiful constructions such as J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace. Or for the consistently excellent and personally fulfilling Usagi Yojimbo by Sam Sakai. I read the intelligent fury in Kathy Acker’s body of work. The beautiful language of strange in Fritz Leiber. For the world view I take from Salman Rushdie. I read because it introduces me to fabulous people – to Hilary Mantel, Lavie Tidhar, N.K. Jemisin, Matt Kindt, Octavia Bulter, Avram Davidson, Hilda Hilst, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and more and more – and to the fabulous things they make.
And then I return to the work I have, which is inferior, yes. I try to equal those people I admire, to create works that someone, out there, will read in their limited amount of time to read in this world of ours. I hope it means as much to them, as others do to me.”
By the way, there’s a Goodreads giveaway for The Godless.