The year draws to a close, ‘tis a time again for reflections. And of course, I’ll focus on writing and literature, because that’s how I roll.
This has been a rather bewildering year. I began it as a Legal Assistant and end it poised for my second term in the McGill History Master’s program. I enjoyed that term immensely, though I’m afraid it hasn’t benefitted you readers all that much because a) I haven’t been posting very often and b) my non-academic reading dropped off to nil. So the obvious thing to do during my winter break was to read for pleasure again and to get back to writing fiction.
For the curious, I completely failed to fulfill my resolution of finishing my novel before the term began. My muse had managed to crawl up the chimney and escape into the wilderness, and it’s only now that I’ve donned my snowshoes, armed myself with harpoons, and gone pursuing the disobedient thing into the mountains so I could safely stuff it in a cage again. While my hunt this time was more or less successful, I shan’t be able to put the muse to good use until my Master’s degree is well and done. Michael Chabon once said that every novel tries to kill its author, so sometimes the only option is to beat it into submission first.
Which is to say, the weight of the book on my mind has generally smothered other burgeoning ideas, but I still managed to write a short story or two, none of which have found a home. I believe I’ll have to slay the novel first (which has once again climbed to over 250 pages in length) before the idea fountain will open again. The advantage, however, is that unlike George R.R. Martin and his “thousand-pound gorilla”, I don’t have thousands of fans worriedly debating my blood pressure and eating habits on forums and yelling to “finish the damn book, Michal!” The only people I have to satisfy with completing the first draft is myself. And my beta readers, but they tend to be far enough away from where I currently am that I needn’t fear bodily harm.
As for reading, the overwhelming “moment” this year was my belated discovery of Jane Yolen, who now stands up there as one of my favourite authors. The Pit Dragon Chronicles was where I started, but to others I think the short story collection Sister Emily’s Lightship will give some indication of why I enjoy her writing so much. The other unexpected find was Hans Bok’s The Sorcerer’s Ship, a truly wonderful pre-The Lord of the Rings romp across an island-planet that, in my mind, far outstrips the book which so obviously inspired it—A. Merrit’s The Ship of Ishtar, which I have yet to finish. A smaller highlight was stumbling across Cross Plains Universe: Texans Celebrate Robert E. Howard at Whitehorse’s local used bookstore Well-Read Books; the stories are of varying quality but the stories that are good are very good. Though with Gene Wolfe and other prominent fantasy authors on the roster including Michael Moorcock, I suppose that’s to be expected. The same could be said of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Changing Planes, a rather clever collection of what I’d best term anthropological sketches documenting various universes’ peoples accessed through the no-place of the airport. I wish I could learn the trick for slipping between worlds from the boredom of airport waits, but taking advantage of the free wi fi seems the closest I can get there now.
The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her own Making marks the first book by Cathrynne “is-that-really-how-you-spell-it?” Valente I’ve actually liked as opposed to putting down and never picking up again, and it might’ve been that you could read this one in a single sitting, but nevertheless it deserves recognition. Not all has gone well, however; The Boy in the Striped Pajamas was terrible enough to scare me away from The Book Thief just because the latter was so often packaged together with the former. My ambivalence to Young Adult Literature only grows having finished Goliath, the last book in Scott Westerfield’s Leviathan trilogy, which managed to insult the audience by ending on December 20, 1914. In this universe, the First World War really did end by Christmas thanks to the efforts of one girl and one boy, reducing one of the twentieth century’s great tragedies into a backdrop to display biotechnology and dieselpunk. The illustrations were still impossibly cool, but Westerfield’s writing just didn’t match up to them.
My recent reading has also uncovered some gems. Thomas the Rhymer completes my collection of Ellen Kushner’s novels, and it was well deserving of the World Fantasy Award. I was told The Urth of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe, the coda to The Book of the New Sun, wouldn’t really solve any of the original tetralogy’s enigmas, but it might be the most satisfying novel I’ve read this year that wasn’t a re-read and I can’t quite put my finger on why.
War and Peace, certainly, was the most rewarding experience for a book that was. During university I also obtained the audio book for Ellen Kushner’s The Privilege of the Sword via a usual method of abusing Audible’s promotion, though any guilt is tempered by the unpleasant surprise of finding Audible books don’t work with my mp3 player. So I listened to it off my laptop when I went to bed, and while the production was scaled-down from the truly excellent Swordspoint audio book in terms of cast it’s still a great way to “re-read” the novel in question—the second reader gets the voices of various characters pitch-perfect, and Felecia Day makes for a great Katherine, though she’s not featured as often as I’d have liked.
Non-fiction: It will come as no surprise to anyone that The City of Words tops my list—if only for the pleasure of reading someone who seems to love stories as much as I do, coming from a background much like my own.
As noted before, I haven’t been able to read for pleasure all that much during the school year: my chief source of entertainment has been web-series. They’re perfect for Masters student, unlike films or TV; you only spend a few minutes every few days keeping up with the story. By far my favourite series this through 2012 was The Lizzie Bennett Diaries. I have almost no interest in Jane Austen unless I’m poking fun at conventions started by her in steampunk parodies, but this show has managed to capture my attention in ways BBC and Keira Knightly have not. Elsewise, there’s Job Hunters, which takes place in a dystopian future where university graduates are expected to fight to death in competition for jobs; the show, being on a web series budget, isn’t really about action in the arena but how these people get along in the safe-house where they’re expected to behave like ordinary human beings. Dark comedy indeed! Add a fistful of podcasts to the series on my YouTube subscriptions and that’s about all I did to entertain myself in my leisure hours that didn’t involve drinking.
Expect a series of podcasts in 2013 about various sundry topics; I’ve found I’ve enjoyed recording/editing them as much as I enjoy listening to others. I have no resolutions except to finish my Masters without burning out and returning to the world of fiction when I’m done. Dr. Who averted the Mayan apocalypse so we may have quite the year to look forward to, and I hope you all have a great one!