swimming upstream

I’m currently reading Alan Jacobs’ Breaking Bread with the Dead. It’s a tough read, but absolutely worthwhile. In one passage, he advocates for “reading upstream,” which is to say looking to those who influenced your influences:

I took a couple of classes in medieval literature but I came to adore the anonymous masterpiece Sir Gawain and The Green Knight because I knew Tolkien loved it. “What we have loved, / Others will love, and we will teach them how,” wrote Wordsworth, and the ones who taught me how were primarily writers. I loved their stories, so I was prepared to love the stories they loved.

Austin Kleon describes this same phenomenon using a different metaphor: the family tree. “Seeing yourself as part of a creative lineage will help you feel less alone as you start making your own stuff,” he says in Steal Like an Artist.

One fun way to do this: see what songs and artists your favorite band is covering.