January 4, 2011

Writing Dilemmas & Reading Pleasures

At the beginning of a year I tend to go back and read the notes I made the previous year on what I had read. One of my reasons for doing this is a very bad memory for names. Another is that I like to record quotes from the book that struck me when I was reading it. These are not necessarily  what I would note if I was doing a critique of the book, more things that remind me of something, or relate to an idea I’m thinking about, or even something I am writing.

This was brought home to me as I re-read Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna, which I first read a year ago and which is our reading group choice for January. The things I noted a year ago, and the things that struck me second time round are distinctly different from each other. The Lacuna stood up well to re-reading and I recommend it.

I have completed another revision of the-novel-known-as-Ann and made a list of all the poems, writing and art works that are quoted from or referred to in it. Now I will give it to a new reader, someone who hasn’t read any of the earlier versions and who has a perspective on an aspect of the story that I am keen to get input on. And nervous about.

So, deciding how to go about getting it out there, so to speak, is looming. I’ve been published by regular publishers, and self-published, so I know my way around. I’ve also kept reasonably up-to-date with what is happening in the epublishing world. So I know about the options. All have their pluses and minuses. I don't expect to sell a lot of books/ make money; I write about the lives of people to whom big, dramatic events don’t happen, although personal trials and tragedies do, and my protagonists are lesbian.

The biggest downside of any form of self-publishing, for me, is marketing and publicising, because I hate it and so don’t do it. It’s not that I can’t do it, more that I am overcome with resistance and fatigue whenever I set out to.

Watch this space as I figure out what I will do.

I don’t have another novel idea in mind, but I do have a lot of short pieces, some short stories, others shorter than that, which I will do some work on and gather together and see if they make something. If an idea for a short story or poem or novel comes along, I’ll go with that, too.

Whatever else. I’ll keep reading. Here are some of my favourite books from last year’s reading:

Burnt Shadows  by Kamila Shamsi. (She was at Writers & Readers)
Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
Re-born Early diaries of Susan Sontag, edited by her son David Rieff
The Graveyard Book & American Gods by Neil Gaiman (he came to Writers & Readers too)
A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
The Collected Short Stories of Lydia Davis
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
Room by Emma Donohue
Evidence of Things Unseen by Marianne Wiggins
How To Live: A Life of Montaigne By Sarah Bakewell.

The Montaigne book is a real treat, and I strongly recommend it — one of those biographies that looks at the man and his work as a whole. I gather it will be out in paperback this month (I read a library copy). Two fairly random quotes from it:

“Montaigne … Saw himself as a thoroughly ordinary man in every respect, except for his habit of writing things down.”

Montaigne thought “that the solution to a world out of joint was for each person to get themselves back in joint: to learn ‘how to live,’ beginning with the art of keeping your feet on the ground.”

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