The title is from, and trivializes, Emily Dickinson, #466. With 700 posts averaging (at a guess) 500 words each, aside from whatever goes on in the comments, anyone with sense should occasionally ask whether this level of effort should be directed elsewhere. And that’s not counting the reading, a separate but similar question. Note that the useful question is not “Why read?” but “Why read so much?” Do you have a good answer?
Wuthering Expectations has served one purpose I set for it. Can I write with a certain level of discipline, a post every weekday (holidays and vacations excluded)? Yes. Can I write well with that discipline?. Ongoing. But see below.
Last year at this time, I quoted the critic William Pritchard, who says that he is attempting to do the same thing that I at least like to think I’m doing:
Under the confines of a thousand-word limit - or in more spacious situations double or treble that length - [the reviewer] can embrace limits as a provocation to speak out, sometimes doubtless recklessly, in order to elicit something essential about his subject.
Perhaps pricked by Pritchard, I’ve been reckless. How else to explain four straight days writing about mummified cats? Or two weeks on the great John Galt (seriously, The Entail is one of the great novels of the 19th century)? Or the thankfully temporary transformation of the site into Weeding Expectations? That last one was not so much recklessness as tomfoolery.
None of these ideas were exactly calculated to get hits or followers or whatever the relevant statistic is. No one is going to be paying me in pearls for any of that - hardly the path to being a Professional Reader. But a blog gives a writer a radical freedom. I try to use it.
A week on Rohan Maitzen’s anthology of Victorian criticism. Sympathetic Character Week. The Moby-Dick Fantasia. Where else would I be allowed to do any of that? Whether it was worth doing –
The thing is, here’s the thing. Typically, almost always, invariably, I would hit the Publish button with a sense of defeat. Whatever I was trying to do was only barely there. So, the next day, I would sharpen my spoon and once again begin tunneling through the prison wall. Recently, though, and not just once, I have put up pieces that were, I thought, well made. They were written the way I wanted them to be written, and made the argument I wanted to make. Maybe I’ve learned something. Or maybe I’ve lost my judgment. Dang worrisome. What does it mean? I had better write some more - maybe I'll figure it out.
I also recently wrote the single best joke in the history of Wuthering Expectations, “best” meaning, resembling a professional joke. It is unfortunately buried in a post about Thomas Carlyle that, I would guess, almost no one read. The perils of recklessness.
Last week, a number of other book blogs or commenters singled out my multiple posts – a week (or three days) on a single book (or mummified cats). So I want to mention some other people who are also embracing the limits of blogging: Five Branch Tree, bibliographing, Interpolations, IveBeenReadingLately, Fred’s Place, the exhaustive A Common Reader, Anecdotal Evidence (the best written book blog, easily). They write on a book or idea however they want, for however long they want. They’re all quite different than Wuthering Expectations, and each other. But they’re all free. See, for example, what Brian did with nothing but a bit of an interview with Javier Marías and a Chardin still life. Please remind me of other blogs that belong in this company.
A little while ago, I suggested that a few good readers was all that some writers should really ask for. I meant some great writers, but, somehow, I, too, have a few good readers, people who look at my notes on a draft of a notion and then respond in ways that sharpen my thoughts and push me to new places. Thanks! Thanks a lot. I own the ample sea.