Don‘t deliberate too long before you begin to write a sketch. All kinds of nice ideas can disappear, never to be seen again. On the other hand, I advise you not to tremble in the face of months, years even, of procrastination, since there’s something quite formative and educational in waiting.
Such good advice from Robert Walser, as found in his 1933 sketch “Something about Eating,” as found in Girlfriends, Ghosts, and Other Stories (2016). I always flail around a lot after a break, as if I have forgotten how to write.
The reading and writing on Wuthering Expectations, now in the winter of its tenth year, will likely look much like it did last year, for a time, at least. More American literature, more Henry James, more poetry circa World War I. The chronological drift continues, though, so more of the James will be the dreaded, beloved Late James. The war poetry will become post-war poetry. Books from 18XX will become more rare, books from 190X more common.
Twelve or so years ago I began reading 19th century literature intensely, reading through it with a chronological bias – not neurosis, I hope – in order to see how the pieces of the different literary traditions fit together, and how the traditions bumped against each other. When I started Wuthering Expectations I was just leaving the 1830s, and thus writing about Balzac, Poe, and early Dickens. Now I am looking forward to the end of the long 19th, the years before the war. Conrad, Wharton, James; Lawrence, Kafka, Proust.
I spent some time reading Yiddish, Scottish, Portuguese, Scandinavian, Austrian, and Italian literature as a way to study those traditions from a different direction, separated from the drift. These literatures are small – I mean, in the 19th century and especially in English – and manageable. The chronological drift was really determined by British, French, American, and Russian literature.
For whatever reason, last year my reading of poetry raced forward into the 1910s. The story these books of poems are telling remains exciting. Even the early books of a diehard second-rater like Conrad Aiken, who aspired to the condition of music and thus labeled his poems “symphonies” and “nocturnes” and such nonsense, have been deeply interesting as part of the larger story of poetic Modernism. So it is likely that I will drift into the 1920s. Lorca, Eliot, Vallejo, WCW, Rilke, Moore, Yeats, Jeffers – what happened next? is what I keep asking.
The number of books published 18XX that I am excited about reading now and in reality, rather than someday and theoretically, has gotten pretty small. But I am about ten percent of the way into War and Peace, which I have not read for a long time, in part because I have doubts about its bloggability, and it is among other things making me excited to reread Anna Karenina. There are no rules here.
Book reading indeed requires good intentions… I must stress, incidentally, that very few contemporary books, books of today, fall into my hands.
That’s Walser again, from “A Woman’s Book.” “The reader might note that none of this is so terribly significant.” So true.