Around this time last year I was saying to myself, I’m going to figure out how to set up one of those blogs and start doing it. I think that I started reading book blogs in the summer of 07, and I had my daughter set one up for her senior project that August, but she didn’t use it. As with any number of things, I eventually realized that I was being a nudge about something that was about me, not someone else. Another thing to consider about the period right before setting up the blog is where I am today, on the monday morning of the first of the holiday weeks, thinking about what to read over the break and what to write.
I’m not sure that blogging changed everything, because I was already writing in a new way. But I hadn’t been in the new mode for very long–I had started writing essays, personal and semi-literary, over the summer. Blogging did change that form of writing, rather significantly. I lost focus on doing longer essays, and stopped pushing through to the end of research projects. As an example, recently I posted an unfinished Virginia Woolf-Olive Schreiner essay that I had started a year ago and worked on in January and early February. But that case is actually even better as an example of the beauties of blogging. Without the blog I might have finished it, and who knows what would have happened from there–nothing, I would have to assume, although this thought reminds me of the larger plan for doing the essays, which I haven’t thought about in quite a while. Instead, I have a blog and eventually I copied it and put it up and now it’s there. It doesn’t change the situation very much, but every little bit helps. And I remember that what slowed me down in finishing it was that I was trying to chart Leslie Stephen’s interaction with Schreiner, and finish the Ruth First/Ann Scott biography of Schreiner. I wrote about where it stood in a vague way, and later wrote a post on the Schreiner biography. Those posts started getting a regular hit, from who knows where (still wondering about that–one little comment would be nice), and that finally prompted me to figure out how to post one of my essays, even though it was an unfinished one. And of course “figuring it out” took all of ten seconds once I got around to trying to do it.
But I’m getting way off track–and with all of the time opening up before me, I’m having a funky writing morning, I can tell. So blogging didn’t exactly change everything, but it has been a huge part of a big change and massive shift in itself. First off, it turns out that I have been carrying around an intense desire to write about what I read. It’s strange, because I suppose I knew that I had an untapped reservoir of literary studies and reference, but I really didn’t have any idea that it was so keen to find an outlet. Now it brings a certain pressure to bear on seemingly every single book I read and all sorts of random topics. At the same time, however, my reading is decidedly less random. Blogging is an amazing tool for following all sorts of threads. I know that I have gone through different reading phases and general topics of interest and study over the years, but with a blog it’s easy to see how they actually take shape and what they are beyond a general grouping. I’ve seen a number of other bloggers talk about what it does to their reading habits, and I always find it intersting. There are some topics from the past where I wish I had the blogging record and am curious what it would have done to the effort, but I suppose I’ll just focus on the stuff that actually happened this past year.
Where it all gets interesting is the completely unexpected part. Obviously I’m talking here about Richard Yates and the rather deep reading into his books and life that I did over the past year. Last December there was a copy of Revolutionary Road slumbering on my bookshelf, later carried off to a spring vacation on a whim. But I never could have predicted the impact and focus on Yates and how it was evolved. The take-away is fairly obvious, although I’m not sure that I’ll find another book and author that generates quite such a strong and sustained response anytime soon. But considering some of the other writers and studies over the past year maybe it’s easier than it seems, and Mary McCarthy is an especially good example, and Jewett and Annie Fields come close, Schreiner counts, and there must be similar opportunities.
Part of it is a matter of approach or “technique,” and I think, reflecting now, that I can mark out the basic path. You won’t be surprised to hear me say that it’s reading literary biography. I know now that my understanding of this pattern of reading and study has progressed, whether or not this is how I would always dig in with an author in the past. With some books I’ll just read them, fine, but if the drive is stronger then I might have thought to find authors with multiple works of interest and to put their books and lives into a broader context and make connections and comparisons. This is where I seem to draw my satisfactions and it’s more time-consuming than I would have guessed–before you know it you’ve worked on three or four authors, read as many biographies and maybe ten of their books, and throw in four or five other books and the year is gone. And I guess that’s been my year of blogging.
But the biggest thing about this year is that it has been so surprising and completely unpredictable. There were twists and turns that were completely unexpected, not just of reading and discovery and writing, but of appreciation and support. I know that I need to reach out and “work the room” and find more blogroll cronies and readers, but the modest bits gathered thus far have gone quite a long way. Getting passionate about a rising topic like Yates helped the cause, but perhaps that can also be seen as forming a solid foundation for the future.
I should also mention some grey areas, which include some progress and false starts. Over time I realized that the shorter, less-worked, but still substantial basic blog posts could serve some different purposes. There was a big summer lag between the time that it was suggested that I might write a background piece on Leslie Stephen and Switzerland and when I finally got around to it, but I was happy when I finally wrote it up. I conceived the idea of reading through Stephen’s short DNB lives, but the second one, on Milton, got the better of me and I stalled out. So I have to pick that up again. I guess I’m still working on Yates and tracing out paths into Annie Fields and literary Boston, and it all seems to be spread too thin. But that’s what’s good about this, that it’s just another format for reading accountability and blogging–I’m remembering to try to take another shot at it next year. Another false start was the African reading challenge, where I thought I would coast along on the momentum of the previous fall. I read the Mariamba Ba book Scarlet Song, which was great, and then the Schreiner biography but never got back to Africa.