Hello old friends. Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at my blog’s states on Google Analytics. Most people who read this blog do it through Facebook, or WordPress, or RSS, or through direct email subscriptions, so the number who actually click through enough to register on my site stats is pretty small. Of those who do, the vast majority come here through googling random stuff.
I dunno, I’ve been writing this blog since August of 2008: twelve years. It has upwards of, what, I dunno…twelve thousand posts? A fair amount of them are linked up above, through my compilation of all the books I’ve written about (at least through 2016). But most of my personal posts, my posts on writing or weight loss or sobriety, aren’t linked. People stumble into them at random. I like it.
The literary world has really turned me off lately. It just hasn’t been nourishing at all. Too petty, too small-minded, and, frankly, too cruel. I’ve stepped back from Twitter, and I haven’t posted as much on Facebook either. The blog is qualitatively different. It’s my voice only. It doesn’t really exist in community with other blogs: if I’d wanted a readership I should’ve been out there linking to other people and reading their stuff, but I never found many other sites that resonated with me and felt similar to what I was doing.
It’s okay. More and more, I think of the writing community and the literary world as something that are separate from me. I’ve been trying to recover my identity as a mere reader. It’s working! Nowadays when I open the NYT book review and hear about some young phenom who sold her first book for $2 million, I don’t burn with envy: I just think, that book sounds interesting?! Or that book doesn’t sound interesting. Either way it doesn’t affect my self-respect.
It’s hard to read. Not just because I’m a mother now, and because of all the disasters, and the election. It’s just hard to concentrate, to find the time. I’ve been watching more TV and playing more video games than ever before. I bought a Nintendo Switch Lite, and it’s been great: it’s small and casual enough, so I can pick it up and put it down–don’t have to open up my huge honking gaming computer or sit myself in front of a TV–and it’s got enough power to play some AAA games: I’ve gotten back into the Witcher 3 in fact! I’d gotten bored because it’d become too easy, but I imported my save from the PC (It was genius of them to allow cross-platform saves), and I decided to stop using the really cheap power that gives you a shield that makes you invulnerable to all hits. And now it’s slightly more interesting.
But that’s not the same as reading. Even graphic novels haven’t proven as interesting. Have had Adrian Tomine’s latest book The Loneliness of the Long Distance Cartoonist sitting on my shelf for ages: he’s one of my favorite artists in any genre. But I haven’t even opened it.
Lately I did read Juvenal’s Satires. I’m not entirely sure that they have that much to say to the modern consciousness, but they were fun. Written during the late Flavian and early Nerva-Antonine Dynasty, they’re a harangue on social decay in all of its forms, with frequent emphasis to sexual immorality: men who dress like women come in for frequent criticism. My wife asked me why I would read something like that. I could only shrug. It appealed to me at the time.
The Lonely Years, my literary novel, is out to agents, which is what’s gotten me all panicky and anxious. But I’ve got other things cooking. My sexy assassin novel, now tentatively titled Death Trap, is going through revisions. And I’m gestating a fantasy novel about a sorceress who wants to conquer the Earth, but who will lose all her powers if she falls in love. It’s hard to concentrate on that too. Every morning I intend to get all kinds of work done, but I get distracted wondering if I’ll hear from an agent, and the day slips past.
Have decided to focus more on things that are durable and less on the ephemeral. So instead of tweets I’m going to read magazine articles. This week’s New Yorker had a great profile of Susannah Clarke: the author of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (who is coming out with her second novel soon). Apparently she was struck down with a mysterious illness shortly after Jonathan Strange came out, and for fifteen years she’s been intermittently bed- and house-bound. Reading the book made me think of two things: one, her success is so much a product of the science fiction and fantasy writing world that I know. She meets her husband at a week-long workshop. She sells an early story to Patrick Nielsen Hayden at Tor. Her husband is friends with Neil Gaiman, who’s an early supporter. And, moreover, in her interest, in her introversion, in her hopes and desires, and in the reception of others to her work, she very much reminds me of people I’ve met at sci-fi conventions over the years. It kind of gave me a very warm feeling. I still remember the summer when I read Jonathan Strange. It was 2006, I was home after my junior year of college. I found a copy for free in a bookcase in the break room at the US Holocaust Museum (where I spent the a summer volunteering). And I read it the whole way through, but not carefully. So when I reread it, almost ten years later, in 2015, it was like reading a story that I’d only dimly heard about before.
The book is so good. It is a classic. People will be reading it in a hundred years. Which is odd, because it is, to some extent, a pastiche, not just of Jane Austen (although that’s an obvious influence) but of other nineteenth century novelists that I’ve never even read. It’s like if someone in 1860 was to write a contemporary book, in a world where there were magicians. The characterization and the world-building are superb. The plotting is tight (in fact that’s probably the major evidence that it’s not really a nineteenth century novel), and it really struggles with the line between the Romantic and the realist. What a book. Oddly, the profile was more concerned with Clarke’s illness, and with its relationship to the subject matter of her second book, than it was with discussing her work on its own terms. But whatever, it was arresting enough, and I was happy to learn more about her. Shocking to think that 1992, when she began work on Jonathan Strange, is almost thirty years in the past. What a different world that was.