The last book I read was Anthony Burgess' Tremor of Intent. It's the first novel I've read in awhile, and it did a thing that I really wanted to witness, and hope to internalize. It had a plot, with twists, and it had this kind of construction, and there were thematic things going on which were clear and tied to the characters. I'm writing some books, but the characters don't actually do anything. When they do, it's more of a reaction to general things. It's not well-constructed or thought out at all. It's something I hope to get past at some point.
Tremor Of Intent is a book about spies, written in 1965. It doesn't have the weird psychedelic pulp glamor that you might want out of such a thing. It's not that kind of a book. It's its own thing, something smart. It's out of print, but it's not a tossed-off genre exercise.
Burgess' Napoleon Symphony is also out of print, and the next thing I plan to read. It's apparently Burgess' favorite work. That's a bit more experimental, but I'm hoping it will still have the stuff I'm trying to teach myself.
The last novel before Tremor Of Intent I started to read was John Barth's Giles Goat-Boy. Before that, the last novel I actually finished was, I think, Thomas Pynchon's V., which, although it's awesome, doesn't really do the point-a-to-point-b thing. I love it, and I love Joseph Heller's Something Happened, which is barely a novel for how little happens, but I don't want to write like that exclusively. They're too very different books- One kind of hops from one thing to another, based seemingly mostly on what the author wants to talk about, and the other is extremely focused. But there are books that split the difference, and are focused on a variety of things as they move from one to another, and these things tend to be quick reads, but I just haven't been dealing with them for awhile. I think the trick is to read shorter things, one after the other. I'm trying to learn what forward momentum looks like, because right now the writing is going slow, and I think it might be tied to my not knowing.
It's worth noting that a lot of my favorite books don't really go anywhere, don't fit the mold. The argument is that post-modern blah blah blah. However! One of my favorites, the cartoonist Kevin Huizenga, is kind of aware that he has problems as well. His are the same as mine, with regards to narrative, and characters that are distinct entities. I talked about him, and his problem, (self-diagnosed) when talking about the top comics of 2006- I said his were the absolute tops. But I also said that his best story, The Feathered Ogre, actually had a plot that developed and characters and the whole bit. Or Else 4, The Wild Kingdom, is great, and it is totally free-wheeling and abstract like poetry, and captures a whole lot of things. But he wants to push on, and hopefully break through to the thing.
I mean, yeah, the truth is, you don't need to do the thing, and you can still be great. A lot of comics, because of the nature of serialization and their being long-running, don't go anywhere or do anything. They're good for the territory they mine within that, the aesthetics and point of view at work. Honestly, if I wrote a book that ended up the prose equivalent of Calvin And Hobbes, that would be just as compulsively readable as a novel. Maybe even better, for its rereadability. But it seems like this classic mold of storytelling, where the finale reveals the point, is nothing to scoff at. Maybe I'm wrong, and plots are kind of dumb, and a distraction from what I'm really interested in. But it seems like it requires more thought, so it's probably not that stupid.