I am not the first person to joke that ‘I love such-and-such writer so much that I would read their shopping list’. For me that writer is Samuel R. Delany. I have yet to read something of his that I didn’t enjoy on some level. Obviously, I have enjoyed some of his works more than others, but whenever I get my hands on a book with Delany’s name on it, I tend to get pretty happy. I got into Delany while I was young enough for him to be a pretty major influence on my personality. Delany began the process of showing me what true intellectualism actually is. He showed me that a person can, and likely should, be interested and curious in everything, and that even topics I once found boring (like economics) can have implications to everything you hold dear. And he is a science-fiction author as well.
Delany is also a fantastic writer. He was the first writer I encountered that could actually make reading non-fiction gripping. He gave the term ‘creative non-fiction’ actual meaning to me. I could go even further and say that Delany kind of recreated what the idea of a writer even is for me. He also made me think about what it means to be an intellectual, which for some time was about the only aspiration I ever had (I am now, thankfully, cured of that desire). If I had to list the people most influential in my life, Delany would certainly be on the top of that list.
All this probably sounds like gushing. And it is.
I’ve been reading Delany for some twenty damn years, and so some of these opinions did come to change. This blog is called ‘Failures in Polymathy’ (a biographical film on Delany is called The Polymath) exactly because I did at some point realize that a person cannot come to know everything. In the time that I have grown as a reader, I have decided that I just cannot, for the sake of my own mental well being, be interested in everything. I would like to, but the intellectual capacity just isn’t there. When I was closer to twenty, reading an essay about some poet I had never heard before was exciting, and represented a future where I would endeavour to learn more. Now closer to 40, the exact same essay brings a lot of anxiety, and the realization that no matter how hard I try, there will always be more to do.
Shopping list may be a bit harsh, but this collection really did have the ‘odds and ends’ feel to it. There are certainly great essays in here, but some of the work (notably, the pieces that were once introductory chapters to works by some other people). Delany is still without a doubt a fantastic writer, but I don’t consider this to be his best work. ‘Shorter Views’ is a much better collection, as is ‘About Writing’ (a book I still tell people is a must read to anyone who does ever want to write). Even I have to admit that I didn’t enjoy this nearly as much as 20-something me would have. Occasional Views is a collection for us absolute fanatics, those obsessed with Delany. Prepare for me to write this exact same review when vol. 2 comes out.