The first 50 books – 2019

As of 13 June 2019 I have read 50 books for the year.

Let’s take a look at some statistics

  • 12/50 or 24% were written by women
  • 35/50 or 70% were translations
  • 7/50 or 14% were by Nobel Prize winning writers
  • 6/50 or 12% were fantasy novels

And the breakdown of books 41 – 50 are as follows:

  • 5/10 were written by women
  • 6/10 were translations
  • 3/10 were by Nobel Prize winning authors
  • 1/10 were fantasy
  • 3/10 were by small presses

I am pleased with the progress I made with the last 10 books, particularly as it relates to books written by women.  I did consciously try to read more books written by women, and in this I was helped by completing Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy, which I still think is very strong, though perhaps would have been stronger with just the first book.  It really was a revelation, whereas the other two were variations on the theme.

I made significant progress with Elfriede Jelinek’s The Piano Teacher, but didn’t manage to finish it in time!  It should appear somewhere in the 51 – 60 range.  So far I think it is a strong book, and I like it, but I haven’t quite yet come to the understanding as to why she won the Nobel.  I can’t wait to find out, though!  And I know she both translated Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow and considers it a key work in her own life, and that alone is enough to make me very curious and very interested in where she might take The Piano Teacher.

I recently – foolishly? – purchased all of the remaining books from Open Letter‘s back catalogue.  I now own everything they have ever published, and thank Anthony Blake for his assistance there.  It was really quite something receiving two enormous boxes of books!  Anyway, my intention is to spend some time focused on Open Letter’s books with a view to hopefully discovering a new writer I love forever and hold dear.

An interesting aside about Open Letter.  I have enjoyed a number of the books they have published.  And I have found at least one author (Sergio Chejfec) who I really admire.  But I haven’t yet found an author I love.  Dalkey Archive and New Directions have authors I love, but Open Letter?  Not yet.  Another challenge!

A month or so ago I was very much interested in reconnecting with fantasy, but that’s dropped off a bit recently.  I’ve been reading a lot, and having a good time with, and haven’t needed the kickstart that fantasy often provides.  And that is a common pendulum swing for me.  I’ll use fantasy books to get me going and then I’ll shift to more literary writers.  That said, I remain open to literary fantasy, and even epic fantasy, too, I just haven’t been reading it as much.

I’m making my way through Murakami’s 1Q84.  I read another 100 or so pages over the last few weeks.  Why?  Well.  I don’t know.  I suppose to see it through to the end?  I want to understand what it was that made Murakami think that this idea was worth spending 1,200 pages on.  So far, at about page 600, I can’t see it.  But there’s a lot more to go.  I look back at what I’ve read so far and – well, nothing has really happened.  Sure, I have daydreamed a lot about returning to Japan, but that is simply because I am reading Japanese names, and not due to any powers of description or emotion that Murakami might posses.  He is a singularly colourless writer, and when his ideas don’t quite connect (such as the woefully uninteresting Little People), then there’s just not much to his writing.

We’ll see, I suppose.

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I Remember – #986

I remember Eloise and I sending one another recipes and screenshots/videos of the food we made, food that would invariably be forgotten by the time it came to eat such things for ourselves, because of seasonal drift.  I would send her summery recipes when it was cold in London, and so on and so forth.

-3 June 2017

This post is part of the I Remember series.

I Remember – #985

I remember becoming interested in the Brandon Sanderson method of success with fantasy writing, which meant: office hours for writing, strict production and word count above all other metrics, plotting and planning to the utmost.  But, oh, his books!  Tired, cliched, absent of any kind of sophistication of thought or feeling, juvenile in terms of relationships, and ultimately they all read as though they are video games come to life.

-2 June 2017

This post is part of the I Remember series.

The Journal of Failure – Week 24 of 2019

Week 24 of 2019 – 3 June to 9 June 2019

Goals

Reading

  • Goal – 103 / day, or 721 / week
  • Achieved – 747/707 – Success!

Writing – I Remember

  • Goal – 7 / week
  • Achieved – 0/7 – Failure!

Writing – Small Projects (Fragments, short stories, etc)

  • Goal – 28 minutes / week
  • Achieved – 30 minutes/28 minutes – Success!

Writing – Large Projects

  • Goal – 49 minutes / week
  • Achieved – 27 minutes/49 minutes – Failure!

Getting myself out there

  • Short story reviews – Zero (Seven total for the year)
  • Submissions – Zero (Twelve total for the year)
  • Rejections – One (Six total for the year)
  • Acceptances – Zero (Zero total for the year)

Commentary

Ah, another rejection.  This time from Hi Vis Press’ Low Light magazine, so that is a shame.  Nose to the grindstone and all that.  I’ve received a lot of rejections lately because I have been submitting a lot!  So it doesn’t bother me too much, though more than, of course, an acceptance.

Writing was ok this week, though not as good as the previous couple of weeks.  I was unwell, and that basically meant I spent two days off working playing Hollow Knight, and then when I was back at work, I went to bed very early and just recovered. That also meant I read a good chunk of Murakami because it goes down super easy, even if I don’t exactly admire his subject matter or writing style.  But I do like to read him when I miss Japan, which is often.

Still, I started work on a new short story, this one set in Minsk and concerning two friends who start an importing company under watchful Soviet eyes, and which was initially inspired by Enrique Vila-Matas‘ Far From Here, which was in one of the Dalkey Archive Press’ Best European Fiction collections.  I have about 700 words so far, and it’s at a point where I could finalise it as flash or keep it going to hit the sweet spot of 2,000 – 3,000 words.  I may just submit it around as a flash piece while continuing to work on it.  I am reasonably happy with where it is going, though I admit I need to avoid my strange tendency to fall into mawkish sentimentality.  I suppose because it is easy to write (and horrible to read)?

The novel continues apace.  It’s a 5,465 words now, so there was a modest increase from last week’s 4,865, but much of the (admittedly short) time spent working on it this week was tinkering around the edges.

I have added a front page now with a working title and an area for two questions which I need to keep in mind at all times:

What is the through-line?

What are the themes?

Themes are self-explanatory, and I believe that they will begin to reveal themselves as the piece continues.  Already I can see a focus toward art and the relationship of a father to his daughter (surprise – I write about that more now that I have a daughter!).  But a more thorough reread (and further words on a the page!) will help elucidate the themes and allow me to focus and cut away items which don’t swirl around those.

The through-line is more tenuous but more important, I think.  It’s an aspect of a novel I think about a lot when reading, and even more while writing.  Let’s take Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, which is 800 or so pages of – everything!  And yet, the through-line is, to me, the search for the writer Archimboldi and the problem of the murder of women in Santa Teresa/Ciudad Juárez in Mexico.  Everything read in that book revolves in some way around those primary conceits, or near enough.  One can indulge a touch with 800 pages.  Anyway, I need to find my own through-line/s and then use that lens to view anything I write – does it align with what I’m trying to achieve?  Is it relevant in some way?  Am I progressing or commenting upon the major aspects of the novel?

I don’t know what it is, yes, which means I am fumbling around a bit.  But when I find it that will allow me to go back to what I’ve written and, also considering the themes, really hone in on what I would like to achieve.

I continue to fail writing I Remember, which means more of the mundane nothingness of my life disappears.  I started that project with the explicit intention of avoiding losing the small parts of my life, but that hasn’t worked as well as I would like.  Alas.

Reading was fine.  Nothing spectacular.  Of primary note is S. A. Chakraborty‘s City of Brass, which I picked up a while ago based on an article I’d read about up and coming fantasy writers who were taking fantasy in different and interesting directions.  And, look, if the Arabian skin had been removed from this novel it would be a mediocre fantasy novel, so that’s a real shame.  There’s not much to it and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone unless you really want to read the word ‘Cairo’ in a fantasy novel.  I am not in a very great hurry to read the other two in the trilogy, and perhaps never will.

I’m on track to read 50 novels by the end of June, which is, I think, about right and what I should expect with a young child.  100 novels for the year would please me.

And that was my week of failure.

Each week I aim to provide an update on the Journal of Failure.  These reports are intended to provide an impetus for me to achieve as much as I should/more than I do, and also to provide a further ongoing record of my life, as it is. 

The Journal of Failure – Week 23 of 2019

Week 23 of 2019 – 27 May 2019 to 2 June 2019

Goals

Reading

  • Goal – 102p / day, or 714 / week
  • Achieved – 785/707 – Success!

Writing – I Remember

  • Goal – 7 / week
  • Achieved – 6/7 – Failure!

Writing – Small Projects (Fragments, short stories, etc)

  • Goal – 28 minutes / week
  • Achieved – 0 minutes/28 minutes – Failure!

Writing – Large Projects

  • Goal – 42 minutes / week
  • Achieved – 1 hour 29 minutes/35 minutes – Success!

Getting myself out there

  • Short story reviews – One (Seven total for the year)
  • Submissions – Two (Twelve total for the year)
  • Rejections – Zero (Five total for the year)
  • Acceptances – Zero (Zero total for the year)

Commentary

I am pleased with how much I read this week.  Much of it can be laid at the feet of Rachel Cusk.  I finished her wonderful Outline trilogy this week, rereading the first two books, and read for the first time the third.  I think on balance the first book is the strongest, and then the third, and then the second.  The repetition throughout the books works well.  Cusk has found a melody which holds up to different interpretations.  All of this is good.

So often, though, I feel like this kind of autofiction is also endless fiction, both positively and negatively.  At its best, I want to read a thousand, ten thousand such pages.  At its worst, I feel like all of those many thousands of pages will be identical.  She says a few things at length, and says them well, but the drifting feel where nothing happens means that you really could write a thousand pages and have nothing happen.  I don’t know.  The summarised version of my argument here is that good writing is good, and bad writing bad, which is reductive, meaningless and unnecessary.  And yet. It’s the same with Knausgaard, who really did fill thousands of pages with meandering nothingness.  Is it because seeing our own banal thoughts on a page provides comfort because it implies that we have kindred spirits in the world?  Perhaps.

I wrote no short fiction at all.  Hard to get myself out there if I am not plugging away at that. I didn’t even crack a notepad or pen in that space.

I wrote almost enough I Remembers.  I need to write 7 / week to keep abreast of the time as it passes, and more to catch up.  Oh yes – my memories are stuck in March 2018, which means I look back through my photos to jog my memory of what happened then, and thus I see a lot of pregnant-wife photos, but my March 2018 self did not know I was having a daughter and knew nothing also of her personality or her name.

I did spend a good chunk of time working on the larger project, which I have given the working title of ‘Woes’.  It’s coming along well enough, I think.  I increased the word count from 2,795 to 4,864.  I don’t have an explicit word count each week, or total desired word count as yet, but it’s nice to watch numbers go up.  I think we can all agree about that.

I am starting to develop a feel for where this piece is going.  I find that 5,000 – 10,000 words is the danger zone for me when I haven’t got any planning in place because I start to just add random words and scenes in without any thought to cohesiveness.  I suppose there is an argument that a first draft shouldn’t aim for cohesion but for feel, and that matters of tightening can be attended to lately.  And in this I broadly agree, but if I have really no idea in which direction a novel is headed then I will invariably just rewrite the plot of a novel I admire.  And we don’t want that!

This week my aim is to start eliminating some of the placeholder TK texts I have throughout the work, and to develop enough of a framework that I can get beyond the 10,000 hurdle.  Once through that I hope it is smooth(er) sailing.

Of course, I have started reading Patrick Modiano this week, and now I want to be writing a gauzy fiction/non-fiction memoir about memory and loss.  Of course!

And that was my week of failure.

Each week I aim to provide an update on the Journal of Failure.  These reports are intended to provide an impetus for me to achieve as much as I should/more than I do, and also to provide a further ongoing record of my life, as it is.