Monday, January 3, 2011

Wuthering Expectations resolutions for the new year

Since, on my vacation, I seem to have forgotten how to do whatever it is I normally do here, I will have to resort to something else.  It’s a new year, yes?  Happy 2011!

My resolutions:

1.  “I vow not to write bad prose this year.”  Thus swears Prof. Mayhew at ¡Bemsha Swing!  No one expects resolutions to actually be kept, right?  So I, too, vow etc.

2.  I’ll read Middlemarch.  It tops my mental Should-Have-Read list.  Eliot and Les Misérables alone would be a perfectly satisfying pair, come the end of 2011, to check off the list.  The whole idea of the list is absurd.  The actual, secret, point of this resolution is to murder the impulse to write an entire dull post about my Humiliation checklist.  Who cares?  Impulse: strangled.

3.  Finish fewer books.  Dr. Johnson, who read more than anyone, was pressed about a new book.  Had he read it through?  “No, Sir, do YOU read books through?”*  Johnson was correct.  You are perhaps thinking of all of the marvelous books that it would be a crying shame not to enjoy from beginning to end and then back to the beginning.  Yes, yes.  But what about all of the other books?  I’m currently reading a book I won’t finish.  Or that I will finish, without having read it through.  A start.

4.  Write about music more.  Nathaniel Hawthorne, in the trip recorded in the Italian Notebooks, makes use of a standard guidebook (“Murray”) that is packed with Byron’s poetry.  Every line of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage describing actual locations in Italy or elsewhere is, in the guidebook, evaluated against the real thing.  Poor Hawthorne, perfectly aware of the idiocy of the exercise, cannot help but do the same, except that he is comparing the view before his eyes not just to Byron, but also to Murray and to Byron-in-Murray.

More or less simultaneously, I was discovering all sorts of curious traces of Byron in Emily Dickinson’s poems.  All of this somehow led me to repeated spins of Hector Berlioz’s Harold in Italy (1834), and a projected post or posts about all of the fascinating connections between the music and the various texts.  I would love to read those posts, but I guess I did not want, or know how, to write them.

One three year old post about Robert Schumann; that’s Wuthering Expectations and music.  I suspect this is less a resolution to write more than a reverie about a road not traveled.  But who knows.  Maybe I’ll think of something.

5.  Write shorter posts.  I seem to have found a comfort level in the vicinity of 600 to 750 words, which is too long for a blog post.  No, sorry, not your blog posts.  Those are perfect as they are.  Can’t wait for the next one.  Mine are too long.  Time to put ‘em in the vise, give ‘em a good squeeze.  Time to end this one.

*  James Boswell, Life of Johnson, somewhere in April 1773.


  1. I, for one, would love to read a dull post about your Humiliations checklist (Proust tops mine, and I supposedly have a doctorate in French.) And if you write shorter posts, will we at least get more of them?

  2. If I had to make a list of all the books I never finished reading, I'd be here till next New Year.... but I still enjoyed the bits I read. :D

  3. You had me until shorter posts. I wouldn't be able to write about music if my life depended on it, so good luck with that one, and it should be interesting.

    Continuing great short posts, some shorter, maybe an occasional longer one. Like marathon training: an extra hundred words on the long one every week. Your basic 500 words, some sprint days, easy cool down days, consistent pace for the most part. With music.

    Looking forward to a great year.

  4. There's a two year old Humiliation post (please ignore the hideous error) which had its function. Without trying too hard, I've read about half of the list. But a post actually identifying which ones I've read and which I haven't seems about as exciting as watching someone update his spreadsheets.

    Proust is a fine candidate for the "don't finish the book" resolution. Read Swann's Way to the end of the "Cambrai" section, then stop. I mean, don't do that. I've read the first six books twice. But still, read that one chunk and you have not only read Proust, but the very best of Proust.

    Eliza - you're an exemplar. That's the spirit.

    I fear that shorter posts will actually take longer to write. zhiv's metaphor is quite reasonable.

  5. I like your new avatar a lot-it looks like some one wandering through the land of the Dead Souls-I have found the more I read the bigger my list of books I know I should have read by now gets-1.5 years ago, for example, I had no conception of the Japanese novel, now I have 100s of them on my should read list-I hope to read Middlemarch this year-and maybe by first Hugo!

  6. What a great post; you always bring a fresh and unique perspective to the reading world. Blogging about music and books? Not finishing them all? Writing shorter posts? All ideas that I adhere to with all my heart. Except for one. Finishing Middlemarch? I'd throw that one out the window. Hated that book. Really.

    I'm just finishing a novel titled The Metropolis Case about opera singers and Wagner's Tristan and Isolde. Review coming shortly, but it ties in nicely to your thought of reviewing book and music together. What I know about opera isn't much...I was a piano major, myself.

  7. Well, I've read Swann's Way and the last volume as well, but nothing in between. Humiliation! Contre Sainte-Beuve is marvelous, though.

    Contrary to Bellezza, I loved Middlemarch. Looking forward to those posts.

  8. Hated Middlemarch! Don't let Rohan Maitzen hear that! May I ask why? You actually think it's a bad book? Ethically questionable, artistically deficient? Now there's a post I want to read!

    Jenny, that's a fair amount of Proust! I don't think The Guermantes Way is going to win your department's Humiliation contest. Surely someone will have never read Rabelais or The Song of Roland or a single word of Sartre or Malraux or something like that. The winner in the David Lodge novel is, more or less: "I've never read your bloody Hamlet!"

    The avatar, by Czech artist Josef Lada, is stolen, I mean borrowed, from this post at the magnificent A Journey Round My Skull.

  9. Middlemarch. Someday I will start that thing... and actually make it past page 20. I swear.

    That's a good point about finishing books, or finishing them without reading them through. I used to be very particular about "finishing" a book through, but I think there's a point at which I can say, "Skimming from here on out". Or reading with one eye shut. Wait, that'll probably give me a headache. Not a good idea...

    Regarding blog post lengths, while I don't often like to comment on how others go about writing their blogs (you're perfectly lovely just how you are!), I want to reinforce that your blog posts are exactly the length they should be. They're interesting and they therefore convey a lot of interesting information. That's the most important thing.

  10. Thanks for the kind words about the length. I am unconvinced, though. I have a long list of tics to stomp out and overused words to underuse. Shortening the posts is part of that process. Kill the clichés. Delete the throat-clearing.

    Your advice on not finishing is exactly what I am just learning to do. Really read up to a point - the point at which I realize that the rest of the book is probably just more of the same. After which, let the pages fly.

  11. I'm one that LOVED MIDDLEMARCH. Such a wonderfully constructed novel. It wasn't even painful to read -- just a delight.

    Looking forward to more Eliot, as SILAS MARNER was a disappointment after the wonderful world that was MIDDLEMARCH.