Whither blog, 2016?

A new year, a new hosting site. (The other site will disappear in time, I’m sure). It’s impressive how easy it was to export/re-import all the data. (The only thing which hasn’t copied across is the links’ page, which I’ll need to reconstruct. I’ve had to use a new theme, and this is about the only free 3-column one, and I’m a little frustrated how few features you can customise without paying – I wish the margins were wider on this theme; – on wordpress outside wordpress, you could play with the actual programming, and do what you want! – I’m also going to have to think what to do with Books Read etc).

I admit this blog (let’s call it, the previous blog) has fallen apart of late; – but, so has my reading of novels. Partly this has to do with life; partly novels. For it is only novels I am having a problem with; – for plays, for non-fiction, for Icelandic sagas, I retain a great avidity.

It’s something that’s in fact been building a while. Long since I’ve noticed an inclination towards non-fiction – a familiar enough occurrence, I understand, as you get older. I don’t know what it is, but I’m finding something more interesting, more stimulating in the factual. But also I’ve reached a new point where I find myself questioning too the worth of the novel as an art form. (One amongst many things which annoyed me this year about Robert McCrum’s list of the hundred greatest novels, is that it only had novels in it. For two hundred years, I think, in literature, we’ve convinced ourselves that the novel is the superior art form; yet for two thousand years before, it was scorned.)

The problem with novels is their length. (No, I’ve never been good at long novels; anything over 300 pages I’ve always struggled with). But I’ve come to think now that all (most?) novels are too long. You need a fine degree of genius, in fact, if you’re to maintain a novel over 100 pages.

And I’m not talking about current literature when I say this: you already know I have little but contempt for what people are writing now; but plenty of our greatest novelists too have written flabby monsters. (I’m thinking currently of Nabokov’s Glory, which I’ve been stuck in for a long time – a work which is only 188 pages, but would be better at less than half that – or not written at all). It’s not merely that I think all writing would be improved by being a little more succinct, by trying to structure your novel a little better so that you’re not tediously dragging out your plots and ideas; wasting a little less of your reader’s time. (Of course, I understand there are commercial reasons why you don’t want to write less than 100 pages). Perhaps it is all these plays I’ve been reading: but drama is a much more tighter-controlled artistic experience, and I think Aristotle is right here: there is a greater artistic impact in something if you can read it at one sitting; – you can easier turn back too, and read it again.

It doesn’t help that I’ve reached the point where I’m reading 50 novels at once, and am stuck in most of them. I’m looking through the ones currently that I’m actually inclined to finish, trying to find some common denominator: Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos, Cao Xueqin’s Story of the Stone, Celine’s Journey to the End of the Night, Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, Rabalais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel, GV Desani’s All About H Hatterr – and that’s about it; the other 45, I am simply not going to go on with; and I am going to be much, much more ruthless about giving up on novels from now on. So all the novels I intend to go on with are classics (the last is the only one not as accepted), but also they are all episodic – the plot isn’t so much the point, as the vehicle in which it is carried, the world evoked which can be endlessly configured.

So fewer novels this year, more plays, more non-fiction. I’ve suddenly become interested in Icelandic sagas; and also – for some reason or other – Arthurian romances. (Seriously, Mr Obooki, you find novels too long and of too little artistic worth, so you’re going to read Arthurian romances? – I know. I have my reasons). Also, I intend to get something (fictional) written this year (asap) and get it out into the world (“publish” might be too strong a word for what I intend).

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10 thoughts on “Whither blog, 2016?

  1. Happy 2016, Mr Obooki! I hope to join you in reading more nonfiction this year even though I myself am not yet tired of the novel form (just certain novelists, he he). Anyway, happy to be reading about your reading adventures for another year. Cheers!

  2. Happy new year, Richard. Glad you found your way here. I am trying to think of different types of posts for this new year – I want to get away from the single book review style post; it’s not me. Still hope to see more Spanish lit posts on your site in the new year.

  3. Congratulations on the new blog address and new look. I look forward to reading whether you’ll move entirely to non-fiction, Arthurian romances, or something else entirely.

    I’m rather of the opinion that most novels are too short. I like getting immersed in 600 or 700 pages. But it’s true that there are also authors who just don’t know how to reign in a novel of 600 or 700 pages that should have been 200 pages. As Blaise Pascal said in his famous statement on brevity, “I’ve made this a long letter because I didn’t have the time to make it short.”

    All best for 2016!

  4. That reminds me of the novella I’m trying to write. I reckon it will be about 60 pages, but for months now – no matter how much I write – it just seems to stay on 40 pages. Sometimes I do actually get to 41 pages, but it just falls back again somehow.

    In a contrarian mood, I think I might have a go at Proust this year.

  5. Right now I am a third of the way through Trollope’s longest novel, the epitome of “too long,” yet there is no logical reason why it should not be longer, why the cast should not expand indefinitely and the story go on forever. It is a serialized novel that functions like serialized television, and perhaps really is best read in 40 page chunks over the course of a year and a half.

    I suppose I am a literary bird-watcher. Owls build owl nests, herons build heron nests, and Trollope writes Trollope novels. I like searching for the nests and get excited when I discover a perfect specimen.

    Having said that, yes, novels, who needs ’em? A turn in the culture to more epic poems, closet dramas, Lucianic satires, and unclassifiable bizarreries would be fine with me.

  6. Congratulations on moving to your new digs.

    I’ve always had a liking for non-fiction; whether it’s growing with age I can’t quite say. But I’ve found myself interested in memoirs of various stripe, reportage, history, scurrilous biography etc. more so recently, as in, in the last couple of months. (The Corvo book is one I want to read soon – Symons cropped up very briefly in Sybille Bedford’s Jigsaw, which I read just before Christmas.) I think you’re right to feel that people who are trying to describe or explain some of the often bizarre and complex apparatus that makes up our world have more that is worthwhile to say than the novelist describing angst, quirk, etc. There are very fine and worthwhile novels as well, though.

    I have meant to read both of Weiner’s books for a while, so interested in how you’re finding the FBI one.

  7. Yes, episodic novels are ok. On saying all this, I’ve got to decide what my big classic novel for January is going to be. Last year’s was Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister Part 1, which I still haven’t finished, so I’m hoping this year’s will be better.

    I didn’t know anything about Weiner or his book – it was a Christmas present. It’s good so far. I’ll try to put up a post about it.

  8. I’m also having difficulties with novels. It’s been some time since I’ve been able to lose myself in a book, and my issue seems to be the falseness of the form, which seems to be more pronounced with every novel I read. I understand that art is artifice, that realism is not reality and all of that. Even so, I find myself annoyed that novelists are making claims about reality, that they find whatever metaphysical stance they take to be at all important, and the entire project is striking me more and more as some sort of puffed up nonsense from beginning to end. Unfortunately, the more nonfiction I read, the more I see that it too is merely a collection of claims the author makes about reality, and those claims are often narrow, political, and suspect. So I keep reading a lot and I keep getting annoyed by nearly everything I read, because people by and large seem to be blinkered and prideful idiots with access to pen and paper. I also feel this way about my own writing, so that’s added amusement. There is no point to any utterance at all, I begin to think. Despite that, we should all keep blogging away. Don’t ask me why.

  9. I’ve been thinking about these issues, especially reading the 600+ pages of The Maias, and will return to the matter.

    Scott, you’re beginning to sound like a character out of Vila-Matas’ Bartleby & Co.

  10. I had to look up Bartleby & Co. I have to read that one.

    I’m working on a novel these days, writing the middle section of the narrative, using my so-called sympathetic imagination to write this part of the book in the voice of the trees that went into the building of a ship. It’s all so highly artificial that I don’t mind the falseness. There’s no pretense of realism.

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