Tuesday, January 06, 2009



I'm disinclined to make New Year resolutions; I generally find the practice empty and teetering too close to trendiness. When people ask me for my New Year's resolution, I generally say I don't have one. But of course, year after year, I have sat here perched atop early January with the whirlwind of the holidays behind me, wondering what changes I might bring to my life as it resumes its normal work patterns.

Tomorrow is my birthday. I was thinking this morning that this will be the first birthday since I was, oh, 21, in which I don't feel like a failure dreading the onslaught of time. It's also my first birthday without my father calling to sing "Happy Birthday" to me on the phone. It's hard not to think of these things as trade-offs the universe forced me to make.

You see, year after year, I have secretly been hoping that this would be the year in which I might make some creative progress. So all those times I said I had no New Year's resolution, I had in fact been making resolutions all along. Freed up from that pressure (though I'm starting to obsess over the new novel), I find myself thinking of other resolutions I might make.

Obviously, the usual ones apply. Enforced detox notwithstanding, I'd like to stay healthier and saner than I did this past year. I'd like to remain creative. I'd like to make my friends happy. I'd like the value the time we have; we don't have it forever.

And I'd really, really like to become a better reader.

In 2008, I feel as though I became an incredibly sloppy reader. I was constantly dis-satisfied (though plenty of people have comforted me, saying that it's hard to read when you are in the middle of doing some serious editing and writing). I'd say this tendency first started in 2006 when book after book I had been eagerly anticipating simply let me down. It was an awful feeling--sort of the way you feel when a shade of color you have depended on to brighten your face suddenly fails to do so, or looks childish. Writers whose careers I'd followed no long really spoke to me.

And yet, every now and then something new just absolutely captured my imagination.

My friend Maud and I have talked about this--how the best fiction tickles you at the time, and then continues to leave an impression, even after you have forgotten all the intricate plot details. It leaves an imprint, like the very best music or a certain intense quality of light. I was taking a look at Blood Meridian, for example, which is still one of my very favorite books, and thinking how little of the details I actually remember. But I do remember how it made me feel, and I trust that feeling to mean that the book will dazzle me now--perhaps even more so since I'm older and theoretically will be able to mine even more out of my reading experience. The best books, in other words, always make me feel something that I remember, like all the best works of art. And I was thinking to myself how much in common all art forms share--the very best things, like the best people, linger in your mind.

Someone said to me recently that perhaps I have now read so much it is in fact going to be harder for me find so many books that are as exciting as when I was in my 20s, and reading was a newer thing. And if I were at heart a childish person, I'd say that fiction isn't as exciting as it used to be. But what I actually think it means is that I must try harder to seek out the new things I need to keep my imagination fresh. The onus is on me.

i went to borders last night and spent an hour and a half trying to find a single book i wanted to use my gift card on. can you believe it?

i think you have a point re: becoming a developed reader and becoming more choosy about what will hold your attention.
in other words... there's hope for us all, even me!
There's always hope, I think, as long as there are people. But, at the end of the day, I'm a pretty stubborn piece of cork, bobbing upright in the water, always optimistic.
I hear you completely on this. I've always been a big reader and listener of classical music, but in the last year or two (esp the last 12 months) I've been having a terrible time finding things that hold my interest. I spent months last Spring walking through book stores, looking at books and putting them back - type too small, book too thick, simply looks to exhausting, etc. I was starting to wonder if I might be seriously depressed but without any other symptoms...

Then I started to come back. Muldoon no longer reaches me, but I can't get enough of Simic, etc. Beethoven's middle period quartets need a break, but Jordi Savall is in. Who knows how the mind works...

I had a Borders card and coupon recently and ended up buying a Simon Hopkinson cookbook for the pleasure it gave me - and because I simply could not find anything else I wanted to read. Used to love mysteries as "fun" reads, now most seem so awfully obvious. Literary novels looked exhausting, etc. etc. etc. Maybe I'm permanently jaded now too.
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