Wednesday, May 4, 2016

a sort of emptiness

It's strange to not be reading any fiction. I recently finished Thomas More's Utopia, which is certainly fiction, but I read it as a historical document, a research text. I'm reading a lot of research material right now, almost all of it related to my current writing project, Nowhere But North. Most of that reading has not been listed in my sidebar over there, the "currently reading" spot under the photo of Mrs Sheep. I will say that the book of Abe Lincoln's speeches and letters has been quite good, and originally had nothing to do with the novel I'm writing. Mighty Reader and I were in D.C. a month ago and we visited the gift shop at the Lincoln Memorial. I realized that I didn't know much of anything about Lincoln aside from the handful of things we're all told in school in the USA (or at least were told, back when I was a lad), so I decided to read his own writings. Possibly I am entering into a phase of life where I will begin reading collections of letters; I enjoyed the heck out of Chekhov's letters (A Life in Letters (Penguin Classics), 2004), so much that I read them through twice. I digress. I am reading a lot of non-fiction just now, and it's all work-related, if you consider drafting a novel to be work, which I guess I do. I find that I'm not in the mood to discuss any of this reading, because I rarely discuss a work in progress except to occasionally throw an excerpt up here on the blog. Why am I writing this post, then? I'm not sure. I feel, I think, the real lack of being in the middle of a novel. Not reading fiction has created a sort of emptiness in my head that I don't like, but my days right now don't leave much of a gap for fiction, at least not for anyone's but my own. Which is strange. But there it is.

22 comments:

  1. Well, I see what you mean. I'm reading the Faerie Queene to the exclusion of almost all else, and I want my nice new novel, dangit, but it doesn't feel like quite the time either.

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    1. The Spencer is quite a job of work all by itself. "doesn't feel like quite the time" is something I well know. I look at my many stacks of "to be read" books and I tell them, "Not yet, not yet, but soon, I promise." Right now, I'm reading what I'm reading right now.

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  2. needs must when the devil drives... i'm not sure who said it but i know the feeling. good luck with the writing endeavors...

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    1. Thanks for the luck. I'm in the dead center of the first draft, right when I always begin to think that it will be a good book when it's written, but I am oh so very tired of being the one who actually has to write it. The enormous amount of background reading required to write this novel is to blame for me delaying so long in drafting it. I have detailed notes for this book that go back six or seven years.

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  3. Scott, "reading fiction" as opposed to "reading nonfiction" opens up a fascinating concept: the real differences between the two genres. I bounce around between the two, and I find that I am drawn to the more fantastic in nonfiction and the more realistic (lifelike) in fiction. I wonder if this points to the notion that fiction is never really false and nonfiction is never really true. Perhaps that is all a bunch of cryptic meandering (which is a pattern others have accused me of favoring), but your thought-provoking posting has me wondering again about the actual differences between fiction and nonfiction. Hmmmm.

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    1. More and more, I become convinced that every utterance is just a claim about the speaker, incompletely and inaccurately understood by both speaker and hearer. Nothing is entirely factual, nothing is entirely imaginary. That last is a claim about the speaker, I guess. Anyway, the best I could do is make claims about the differences in the way I interact with "fiction" and "non-fiction," which claims don't necessarily tell us about the works in question. I guess the "differences" don't interest me; I like novels best, though. The amount of bad writing in fiction seems to be generally less than the amount of bad writing in non-fiction.

      I will say that as far as history goes, I'm interested in primary sources, letters, documents from the time in question. I am not much interested in the opinions of historians, see above about them talking about themselves, etc. Exceptions are Thucydides and Herodotus.

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    2. I tend to read works of fiction and nonfiction that kind of illuminate each other.

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    3. Yeah, I know what you mean. I've started doing that sort of read more often lately.

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  4. Oh that feeling! I know what you mean. I'm reading nonfiction too. A whale book.

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    1. Are you reading In the Heart of the Sea? I know the odds are against it, but I've been wondering about that book, so I ask.

      This summer, or this fall or winter, I'm going to re-read Moby-Dick. A quasi-nonfiction book, a natural history of whales and whalers.

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    2. Ah no, Philip Hoare's Leviathan or, The Whale.
      (How do you pronounce his last name, by the way? I have no idea).
      Do reread Moby Dick! I'd like to hear your thoughts on it.

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  5. What, Philbrick! Primary sources, I thought. Have you read Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex? It should be read first. It's good.

    Philbrick's Sea of Glory: America's Voyage of Discovery: the U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 is good, too. The source material might be a little too voluminous in that case.

    I don't think Philbrick is talking about himself, except to the extent that he loves 19th century sea voyaging, as we all do.

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    1. I've just checked and neither my university library and the public library have those books!
      The public library has In the Heart of the Sea and Revenge of the Whale: The True Story of the Whaleship Essex though, and another book by Philbrick called Mayflower.
      Tom, have you read the Hoare book?

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    2. The Chase Narrative looks excellent, thanks for pointing to it. I haven't read a word of Philbrick, so I can't say, but one tends to make claims about reality, and to filter out facts that counter those claims. I'm being too hard on historians; the real perps are those laymen writers and their "development of civilization as told through the history of cereal grains" or whatever books full of unexamined commonplaces and other nonsense. I am being vague because I am not supposed to name names.

      Did I say that the Chase book looks good? It does.

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  6. In the Heart of the Sea will have to do, then. There is that one part of Chase's story, which it only takes him a couple of pages to cover, that is almost beyond belief. It is easy to imagine Melville reading it with relish, perhaps with glee.

    I have not read Hoare's book.

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  7. http://www.riapress.com/riapress/92x5t3bookpdfs/narrative%20of%20whaleship%20essex.pdf?-session=StoreSession:5A95CB010c5542A0CByLFF8282D5
    Is this the one? Not very long.

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  8. About 15 years or so I read a number of collections of letters, mostly by 18th century Englishnfigures like Edmund Burke, Samuel Johnson and Horace Walpole.

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  9. Ah Scott, because you're a writer, here's something silly I just wrote:
    http://thelittlewhiteattic.blogspot.com/2016/05/reasons-i-didnt-read-your-novel.html
    :p

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    1. Hahaha.
      (I've just realised that I mixed up the numbers a bit. Edited.)

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