If I’d had a little more foresight, I might have posted up something like this at the beginning of the month instead of spending the entirety of May fooling myself into believing I could keep up with my schedule…
Like the title says, I’m considering May as a retroactive hiatus month. So, no story this month, and it covers that blog post I missed a few weeks back, too. But! June should be a calmer month (she says, full of optimism and deadly naivete), or at least one with less house guests and a more predictable routine– so I’ll see you then!
For all my griping about how ebooks just don’t match up to paper ones in my books (ha, ha), there’s one aspect I don’t think I’ve fully realized until more recently. And that’s their size. Or rather, the fact that outside of a number on the bottom of the screen telling you how many pages a particular book has and/or how long it thinks it’s going to take you to read said book, there is absolutely nothing differentiating a tiny little novella from some behemoth that has designs on all your free time for the next two weeks.
Now, I grant you, this has its perks. For one thing, if you’re the sort of person who might balk at some eight hundred plus page epic, if you don’t happen to notice just how long it is until you’ve been well and truly hooked, you might end up reading something wonderful that you otherwise would have assumed you didn’t have time for. That being said, if you’re the sort of person who is usually reading several books all at the same time, and you happen to pick up an ebook copy of some brick of a high fantasy novel that you assumed was something like four or five hundred pages long and is, instead, twice that length, you might have to adjust your schedule or accept that your library loan is going to run out before you finish.
At least with a paper book you’ll know what you’re getting into.
Now, don’t mind me, I have to go read another couple chapters of The Priory of the Orange Tree.
In the book I’m currently reading (The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri), I just finished a chapter containing one of the most effective depictions of grief I’ve ever read. It is beautifully written, of course, but no more so than the rest of the book has been. Its strength does not come from flowery language or overwhelming descriptions. There is no devastating itemization of the pain the characters are going through, no over-the-top metaphors attempting to capture all this human feeling and pin it to the page.
If there was, it wouldn’t have worked half so well.
Rather, she just takes several pages to describe the space the character that died once occupied and a few minor details of their existence, as well as an almost emotionless description of the actions taken by those they left behind. And the result is devastating.
It reminds me a little of That One Episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you’ve seen it, I suspect you know exactly which one I’m talking about; it’s not easy to forget. If you haven’t, I won’t spoil it here, other than to say that what the episode shows Buffy going through in the wake of a sudden and unexpected loss is similarly powerful in the way it is utterly mundane and so terribly painful in the way it seems to just stretch on and on.
Both, I think, are phenomenal examples of the writer’s constant quest to show and not tell. As mentioned above, they don’t expend much, if any energy, in depicting every feeling, every emotion. Rather, they slow the action down to a snail’s pace and invite the audience to walk beside the characters as they have to continue on, handling all the things that must be handled when such things happen. There is, if anything, a distinct lack of emotion as the characters that might be expected to feel those emotions don’t have the time, the space, the ability to do so while so many things have to take precedence.
Maybe it’s that very lack of catharsis that allows both to weigh so heavily. There is nowhere for the grief to go so it just builds, piece by piece, growing until it cannot be ignored.
Here in Colorado we’ve been having some truly gorgeous days, all sunny and in the 60s and 70s and it’s been wonderful (she says, thereby summoning a snowstorm in retribution). It’s been lighter in the mornings, too, which combined with the fact that I usually don’t have to scrape ice off my car before heading to work has been a very welcome change.
Kinda like last month, my writing continues to progress slowly but consistently as I figure out how to juggle it with other priorities and responsibilities. Like the need for sleep. And social interaction. My work schedule currently leaves me with a lovely opening of a few hours on Tuesday afternoons, which has been perfect for relocating to a local coffee shop to get some work done. Sadly, that will all be changing in a week or so, and I’m not yet sure what the new schedule will look like. Bidding for shifts every few months is rough, guys.
Reading this month went fairly well, though! I’m definitely enjoying the fact that I set myself a slower pace this year, if only because I don’t feel like I have to devour the words on the page or risk falling behind. Don’t get me wrong– I enjoy the chaotic drive of doing it that way, or else I wouldn’t do it. But having this year as something of a break is really nice and makes me feel like I can take the time to read things a little slower, or try out some slower reads.
One of those slower reads this past month was Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel. I only made it through about a third of it before my loan was up at the library and I had to go back on the waiting list (alas), but my impression so far is that it is beautifully written with some very interesting prose. For those unfamiliar, the book is the first of a trilogy of historical fiction novels set during the reign of Henry VIII and following the character of Thomas Cromwell. Mantel uses a really interesting mix of direct and indirect dialog in her writing that took a while for me to get used to, but once I did, I found it engaging and immersive. I’m very much looking forward to getting back to it.
I also started A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, a novel set during the Chechen conflict of the late ’90s and early 2000s, moving between various viewpoints and telling a very human story. Lots of lovely prose here as well and very real characters, and I’m looking forward to finishing this one too once the library gets another copy available.
As for books I actually finished, the one that was the most fun was the second of Brandon Sanderson’s secret projects. Since it’s still so new and I know there’s a lot of people (like myself) who have been enjoying the experience of going in blind when the new stories drop, I’ll just say this: it’s like no other Sanderson I’ve ever read, not to mention being a mix of genres and ideas that you wouldn’t think should work– and yet it does. It really, really does.
I also finished up Babel by R.F. Kuang, which is a fascinating combination of historical fiction/alternate universe fantasy (translation is magic!) that provides a biting commentary on colonialism (with a particular focus on 19th century British Empire) by tweaking the world just enough that you can look at the actual historical events with a slightly fresher eye. My one complaint is that it was almost too didactic at times, but given how many times I’ve caught myself thinking about it since finishing, it’s well worth the read.
Finally, I blitzed through The Way Home by Peter S. Beagle, in which he revisits the world of one of my favorite books, The Last Unicorn. Technically a pair of novellas, both following the character of Sooz, I really enjoyed dropping back into the gentle-yet-melancholy fairy-tale world that made me fall in love with Unicorn in the first place. The first (and shorter) of the pair is Two Hearts, which is my favorite of the two. With lots of characters fans will recognize, it felt the the most like the first book. The second, Sooz, I also liked, but the plot felt a little less carefully crafted, and some of the emotional and physical trauma our heroine suffers seemed somewhat gratuitous and over the top, though the writing was as beautiful as ever. Mostly, I just want to go re-read The Last Unicorn again.
Anyway! That was my April, more or less. Goals for May include more reading and setting myself back on a regular and more demanding writing schedule in the hopes of getting more finished– hopefully without burning myself out in the process. Onwards!