Friday, December 18, 2009

One a Day

Something was changing for a long time. It took about a year to understand it, but now I do. People who've been coming here for a long time know that the original focus of this blog was on writing. For a long time I couldn't stop writing and I couldn't stop talking about it. I took classes and workshops and attended retreats and wrote the better part of two bad novels before I stopped to try to figure out what my problem was.

It became obvious over time, but what I found was the more I challenged myself with what I read, the more unhappy I became with what I was writing. A woman I met through blogging and emails came to Denver this summer and we finally met in person. She'd read the first hundred pages of my second attempt and what she told me came as a strange relief. She thought what I'd written was very good, but after getting to know me she had a hard time reconciling what I'd written with who I am. It didn't sound like me.

By that time, I'd stopped writing completely and I focused all my energy on reading. I'm glad I did. The truth is that I don't want to write something I wouldn't want to read and I'm not capable of writing that well. Maybe I never will be.

Over the past few months I've started writing again, but I'm not working on a novel. I have notebooks full of ideas and fragments and pages of gibberish that would make Gertrude Stein chuckle, but it's what I need to do now. In 2009 I all but abandoned poor Eudaemonia. I didn't know what to say.

Now, I think I do -- at least here on this blog.

I've finished twenty-one books since my last post about reading. Catching up won't be easy, but I have a plan. I'll write about one book a day until I'm caught up.

For those of you who are new here, understand that I'm not a book reviewer or literary blogger. I'm not even a college graduate. I'm just someone who likes books. My intent in writing about them is to capture my personal and not always rational opinions about the books. I don't presume to assign literary merit. I put a great deal of thought into what I read, so my going in position is that they're all "good" (as meaningless a word as it is).

Here's the list of books I've read, but not yet talked about. Tomorrow, I'll begin.

Death in Venice by Thomas Mann

Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

Falling Man by Don DeLillo

Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles

Saturday by Ian McEwan

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Night Train by Martin Amis

The Brain Dead Megaphone by George Saunders

Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut

Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes by Thomas
Cathcart and Daniel Klein

Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

Mark Twain in Hawaii by Grove Day

Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

A Gravity's Rainbow Companion: Sources and Contexts for Pynchon's Novel by Steven C.

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

Catholics by Brian Moore

Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov

Dangerous Laughter: Thirteen Stories by Steven Millhauser

I'd love to hear your thoughts about the relationship between reading and writing and of course -- about the books.


kristenspina said...

It's nice to have you back here, and I can't wait to hear more!

Stephen Parrish said...


Rob in Denver said...

Hrrrm. The dreaded self-critic. We all have that rat bastard.

But here's the thing: if you wait to write the novel you want to read, or until you think you're good enough to write it, then you'll probably never write it... and that'd be a damn shame.

I realize the WIPs I've read may be lost. I understand all too well. Still, punch your rat bastard right in the mouth, tell him "back off, fucker," and then write another story.

Sphinx Ink said...

I agree with Rob in Denver--"punch your rat bastard right in the mouth." I've been a blocked novelist for many years. Every time I start writing a piece of fiction, my inner critic sneers that what I'm doing is repetitive, been done too much before, nothing original, etc., etc., etc. Writing nonfiction is easy for me, and liberating, but somehow to me being a "writer" means I must write fiction. (Fiction is what I most love to read.)

Don't let the rat bastard wear you down. What you've read, done, and thought over the years is all percolating around inside you, and it wants you to let it out. You ARE a writer, Lisa!

I'll be very interested in your discussions of the books you've read. You are a thoughtful and involved reader, and you have good insights into your chosen books.

Virginia said...


Kristi E. said...

I agree with Rob. But maybe you still need to explore, let yourself be creative and messy and see what comes up.

I am looking forward to your reading insights!

cynthia newberry martin said...

Lisa, this is a thoughtful post on the links between writing and reading. I agree that I don't want to write what I wouldn't want to read, which keeps me plugging away at the writing. What I write also tells me a lot about myself. In fact I look at writing--fiction and otherwise--as getting the insides out. And further as a process of bringing the inside and outside closer and closer together. It sounds like you are figuring out what works for you. Thanks for sharing these thoughts about your journey.

Lisa said...

Hi K!

Hi Stephen! Loved your post about crayon queries :)

Rob, I don't know. I am still writing, but I'm not writing a novel right now. It really isn't the inner critic (not that the inner critic isn't always a factor -- that's just not it this time). I think what it comes down to is not having a story or an angle on a story that I feel so strongly about that I have to write it. I'm writing -- nothing complete and nothing structured -- and I'm trying to find my way to the thing that I care so strongly about that I have to write it, if that makes any sense.

But hey -- how's your book coming? Are you guys still meeting and is my seat still open for when/if I'm ready to come back? I miss all of you.

Sphinx, I'm so happy to see you here. You had a tough year and I hope you're on the mend.

I can't tell you how much I appreciate the supportive words. You and Rob may be right and I may be deluding myself into thinking it's not the rat bastard, when maybe he is playing a bigger role than I think.

Virginia - thanks for stopping in.

Kristi, Messy. That would be the word. Have great time in Belize!

Cynthia, I wish our time wasn't so limited when you were in town. This is exactly the conversation we were having at lunch. I'm with you -- I have to write -- even if it's nonsense to figure out what I think. I like the idea of "getting the insides out". Thanks for that.

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf