A Half Yearly Reflection

Posted July 12, 2017 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 8 Comments

I have been going through an extended period of self-reflection lately, mainly relating to my role in the world of literature. I love books and I constantly want to talk about them. However, I have struggled to find the motivation to do so. I went into the year with the goal of writing an essay a month; this was meant to push me to become a better writer and a better communicator of literature. I was able to produce a few essays and I am happy with them but I have not being able to push myself into producing more content. I really love my blog and I often see it as a place to store my writing, and normally I am unconcerned if I am not producing content but I went into this year with the goal to become a better writer.

I am not writing this as a way to get compliments; I can see that my writing has improved since beginning this blog, I am just reflecting on my situation. For me, I feel like there is much further I need to go before I am happy with my writing, although by the time I get there I might feel different. I never see this as a problem, I think it drives me to be better. One of my biggest challenges is writing momentum. I can sit down to write an essay with plenty of ideas in my head and they come flooding out, but I tend to get to about a thousand words and I have lost all steam. I would love to write longer pieces but it is a challenge. This is an issue I have had for a while and the situation is improving. When I first started blogging I struggled to get further than five hundred words. Most of my writing comes from a single typing frenzy but I still need to edit and clean up my work. I am trying to work on a way to allow myself to continue on a topic and write over multiple sessions but the beauty in writing essays is that I can practise my craft in short sessions.

I have so many ideas that I would like to get down on paper (or in my case on my blog). I would love to start writing my bibliomemoir, which I am still unsure if I should share with the world yet, but I feel like my reading journey is interesting and maybe writing it down would be beneficial for myself. It does not matter what comes of it but I think a project like this could be a good way to practise editing my own work. I have not talked much about my process but I know where my weaknesses are and that is in the editing/revising.

I also have not been writing many book reviews lately either. Not because I did not read anything, but because I want to step further away from them. I think reviews have become the backbone of my blog and while I know I should do more of them, my new focus is on personal essays. I have a list of books I would like to review at some point but I have shifted away from the need to review everything I read. I want to talk about literature, however I want to do it in a way that is less like a review. It may be that I feel restricted by the review format and I just need to approach them differently. If I call it an essay instead of a book review, I might feel like I have more freedom to write about the literature I have been reading.

Since I have been reflecting on my writing goal, I might as well do the same with my reading goals. In a previous post I mentioned that I wanted to push the percentage of books in translation to 50%. I am currently sitting at 53% books in translation (from 24 different countries) after completing 55 books so far. My other major reading goals included reading the five-book collection of Franz Kafka I have from Oxford World’s Classics; so far I have only progressed as far as re-reading The Trial. I also set out a list of books I would like to complete by the end of the year, which I have been making progress on, I just noticed that I have a tendency to be distracted by other books.

Statistics and goals help guide my reading and help me be focused but I have been beginning to wonder if it is more of a hindrance than a guide. Having re-read The Year of Reading Dangerously, I started to change the way I pick my books, I thought it might be better if I have a list of books to read next. I tried this with the book on my nightstand and it seemed to work until I got distracted by my local library, I think I need to return to this format. The idea was to have a collection of ten book on my nightstand and focus on reading those books. So that I am not being distracted by new books, or books on my shelves, instead just picking a small pile of books that I am interested in getting to soon and focus on those books. I know I am always distracted by other books, I just need discipline as well. My hope is to be able to plan my reading a little better.

Another part of me wants to abandon all reading plans and just read what I want to read. After the pleasure I got from re-reading The Trial, I have been picking up other books to re-read. I recently re-read The Sense of an Ending after watching the movie adaptation. The Bell Jar is sitting next to me as we speak waiting for me to pick up again. There are so many books I want to revisit and maybe if I had no goals, I could drift from book to book, just enjoying where my mood takes me, Project 5000 be damned.

This half of the year has been a great time to discover literature; I fell in love with Marguerite Duras, Muriel Spark, existentialism and books like Back to Moscow. I have had complicated feeling toward Toni Morrison after finally reading one of her books and I cannot stop thinking about a book that mostly bored me. I read some interesting non-fiction, including Nabokov’s Speak, Memory and I disagreed with the winner of the Man Booker International Prize. These are the joys of reading, you can have differing opinions or find joy in reading about unlikely subjects, like people drinking.

Moving into the next half of 2017, I am unsure where my writing or reading will take me. In fact this essay did not help me, it has left me with more questions than answers. In fact I did not even touch on my complex feelings towards booktube. Nevertheless, I hope there will be more content on my blog and more musings about literature in the future. I will leave you with my top five books of the first half of the year.

  1. The Lover by Marguerite Duras (translated by Barbara Bray)
  2. The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
  3. Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov
  4. Back to Moscow by Guillermo Erades
  5. The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark

8 responses to “A Half Yearly Reflection

  1. I’m not a writer in the way that you are, but I can relate to this post.
    There are many books I want to read because they are milestones in the world of literature… the sort of books you find in lists like 1001 Books or The Western Canon.
    And then there are book that mostly never get into lists like that, because they are translations. I like these because they broaden my knowledge of the world and of viewpoints that are different to mine.
    Not after that in the sense of being lesser, I like to read Australian books because they’re about my own world, and they bring me aspects of my own world that are unfamiliar and interesting.
    And I like to read the occasional book that is enjoying a moment in the sun because it’s won a special prize like the Booker or it’s a worthy bestseller.
    I’ve tried reading plans, and making bedside piles, and book groups but I never get the balance right. So now I just read whatever takes my fancy at the time, because for me, it’s all about reading for pleasure. But I suspect that a writer with serious ambitions like yours might well enjoy, and benefit from, a similar approach because the best thing for any writer is (a) to read and (b) to travel, between the pages of a book if the real thing with a suitcase isn’t an option. I look forward to seeing what comes of your writing journey:)

    • My first thought here was that ‘I’m not a writer’ and that got me thinking, do I think that because I don’t write fiction or because I don’t think I’m good enough. In any case I need to change my thought process, I want to write essays because I feel like it is the most effective way for me to talk about my passion in literature. When I first became a reader in 2009, I turned to the 1001 books like because I didn’t know what I should read, I still feel like I’m playing catch-up with everyone else. Even though I would love to finish the 1001 books list in my lifetime, I think I have gotten to a point where I know what I like or don’t like. Sadly I don’t read nearly enough Australian lit, but hopefully things will balance out in the future.

      I do hope a reading plan will help me, I love the idea of abandoning a plan all together (maybe I’ll try it for a year), but I still feel like there are too many books I need to read. I know this feeling may never go away but I think it is more about getting to those books on my own bookshelves that I feel are important before going out and buying more. I have drastically stopped buying books lately which sounds horrifying to say out loud as a book lover but there is never a shortage of books.

      • One thing I notice around the litblog network is that there’s a lot of guilt. People feel guilty about not reading enough or as much or as fast as other people do, about reading ‘the wrong things’, about getting distracted, about not reading what’s already on the TBR and about not supporting writers by buying enough books.
        Guilt, I say, is an unproductive emotion. There’s obviously a difference between readers who are reading to develop a writing career and those like me who just read for pleasure, but at the end of the day, it’s your *life*, and while I would never discount the importance of doing worthwhile (paid, or unpaid) work in a lifetime, I would also say that the best work is work that you enjoy. If you can negotiate that, then you’re on the right track, whatever you’re reading.

        • That guilt is a hard thing to shake off. I would love to read faster but then there are times I wish I took my time and read slowly. I would love to own more books but I have enough to read. I would love to make writing about literature a profession but I don’t write enough and refuse to read book like Harry Potter.

          Reading is fun and pleasurable, I get more enjoyment if I am learning from it. I think my problem comes from existential dread; there are so many books I want to read but only a limited amount of time, so I want to make the most of it.

  2. I’ve been grappling with whole definition of what I do on my blog too. I don’t write straight reviews that summarise the book, it’s more of a book journal, but then I also like to research many of the books, their authors, the time period the book was set in or the genre it falls under to round out my reading experience.

    But I am not writing an academic piece, so I’ve steered away from the word ‘essay’. However ‘personal essay’ sounds closer to what I do than anything else I’ve come up with….and I thank you for the spark of life you have injected into me (& my blogging life) again this cold & gloomy winters night.

    • You’re welcome, essays don’t have to be academic, some of the best writing I’ve read has been more a personal essay on a particular topic. The book The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel for example is a book of essays about libraries and their history all centered around Alberto Manguel building his own personal library.

  3. Michael, thanks for sharing so openly. It would seem that sometimes goals and creative flow fall out of sync with each other. Goals, or certainly the pursuit of goals, tends to follow a logical and systematic process. Creativity on the other hand seems to come about by almost the reverse process. I too feel overwhelmed when I pressure myself with things I feel I must accomplish, and this pressure almost always gets in the way of creativity. What would you do if there were no goal you felt you needed to achieve?

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