One post I swore I’d never write when I started this blog (more than ten years ago!!!!!!) was the one where you apologize for not writing more often, and so far I have successfully avoided falling into this trap, even as the gaps between posts have increased!
Blog readership is substantially up from last year, for some insane reason. Last year I had twenty thousand unique visitors and like forty thousand page views, this year it was thirty thousand unique visitors and sixty thousand page views. And this is despite me writing way, way less often than in the past. So that’s cool.
It’s been nice to not have a book out. I never thought of the blog as a marketing tool, but now I can ignore the pressure to turn it into a marketing tool. Instead I can just write about the shit that comes to mind. This year I’ve posted less often about books. I’m not sure why. I’ve read just as much, and I’ve gone through some pretty interesting phases in my reading. Like I just read a ton of Michael Crichton novels, including some pretty bizarre ones, and I didn’t write much about him. I spent two months reading Clarissa and posted hardly anything about that. I read Gawain and the Green Knight, a truly bizarre medieval Arthurian tale with the crazy, strange morality that medieval tales are known for. But did I post about it? No. I also watched way more TV and played more video games than in years past. This year I must’ve put at least 200 hours into Diablo 3. I beat Borderlands 2 and the Pre-Sequel, I beat Fallout New Vegas (after 100 hours) and put another fifty hours into Fallout IV. I even, finally, after bouncing off it for many years, got into Skyrim! I watched plenty of The Good Place and You’re The Worst, I fell in love with Riverdale, I saw Sorry To Bother You and Eighth Grade and Roma and Blackkklansman and A Star Is Born (and plenty of much worse movies) in theaters. But about these things too I posted nothing.
Looking back on my year, I posted largely about my writing process. Some years I post little about this, but for some reason I intellectualized a lot of it this year. For me it’s a perpetual struggle to get closer and closer to the heart of longing. For years all I knew was that I wanted to find it, but I had no idea how to go about it. This year I started to learn the secret: you just listen. It’s that simple. You put your pen over the paper or your keys over the keyboard, and you listen to your own heart. I mean that quite literally. There are some images that make the heart beat faster and that make your skin tingle, and those are the ones you’ve got to write.
See, I’m doing it again–writing about my process!
Because at the other end of the thing, at the consumption stage of my relationship to media, I’ve been wondering more and more what it’s about. I remain convinced that narrative fiction is, like gravity, the weakest of the many forces that act upon a life. People are more influenced by what they ate for dinner or by the fit of their shoes than they are by books. And even when it comes to ideas, most peoples’ ideas, including mine, are largely the same as what their peers believe.
More than that, fiction (but not just fiction, I’m talking about all art) is a shadow-play. It’s not real. I’ve spent my adult life waiting for the book that’ll truly transport me, and I’ve found them to be very rare. More and more, I feel that the best I can hope for is a book that’ll become my friend. I remain myself and the book remains itself, but it’s a true pleasure to sit down and listen to the book tell me something interesting.
Kids experience a more passionate connection to fiction. I know this. But even as a kid, I don’t think I was defined by what I read. When I hear the way people on Twitter talk about, say, Star Wars or something else from their childhood, I can’t relate at all.
But it’s still fun to write. I mean some people spend their lives writing marketing copy. Compared to that, writing fiction is pretty meaningful.
You also don’t know the things that will stay with you. I read The Tale of Genji six years ago, and it was a bit of a slog. The book is eleven hundred pages, it’s repetitious and slow. But the quiet melancholy of the book has stayed with me all these years. Lately I’ve started reading a Chinese novel, The Story of the Stone (also known as The Dream of the Red Chamber) and that same quiet sense of transience has crept upon me, but in a much more fun way! I feel really connected to the characters in this novel for some reason, perhaps because they’re the most frivolous people imaginable (a bunch of rich aristocrats who hang around in their family compound reciting poems and praising each other extravagantly). It’s a book that’s really added something to my life.
Looking back over the year’s reading, I see a few that I think I’ll carry with me forever: Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day; Arthur Schnitzler’s Late Fame; Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (extremely underrated book!!!); Howard Sturgis’s Belchamber; Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism (which has already inspired a short story); Julian Barnes’s Sense of an Ending; Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire; Evan Connell’s dyptich Mr and Mrs Bridge; Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry Into The Origin Of The Sublime and the Beautiful; oh, and so many Somerset Maugham novels, but especially Moon and Sixpence.
Like gravity, fiction’s power fades less with time and distance than other things do. At times, it’s even stronger than memory. Books, or at least the right books, really stay with you. A life devoted to books isn’t necessarily logical or useful, but it’s does give you certain sorts of experiences that you couldn’t otherwise get. There’s a pleasurable solitude–a sense of communion with another person–that’s more intimate than most friendships. Although the relationship with a book is entirely imaginary and no reciprocal, it still feels in some ways like a real relationship, and that’s something that I actually enjoy quite a bit.