In a Paris Review interview Julian Barnes dubbed weekends “a good working time because people think you’ve gone away and don’t disturb you.” Christmas, also. “Everyone’s out shopping and no one phones. I always work on Christmas morning—it’s a ritual,” he said.
Sounds a lovely time for Mr. Barnes.
My ritual during the quieter-time Christmas stretch is to devote an afternoon to excavating the catch-all contents of a dresser drawer in my study. What’s in there? Eleven plus months of paper scraps on which I’ve scribbled notes, ideas, books I’ve read, quotes—whatever my reading/writing brain took in and took up during that time frame. Reacquainting myself with that cache counts as a kind of holiday gift to myself. It can spawn a plan of action, writing-wise, for the year ahead. But even when it doesn’t, there’s fun to be had in the sifting through.
Some of what I took the trouble to write down gets immediately tossed, of course. (Typically the “possible titles” category takes the heaviest hit.) Still, in the sorting process, I try to give even my bad ideas their moment of reverie, if only to recall what prompted the clunker—and when. (It’s good to laugh during the holidays, isn’t it?)
A random sample of what made the cut for further mulling, 2014:
• Remember/use: Southern phrase “Hug on her a little.”
• Remember/use: “dog bread” (Corn meal and/or various leftovers, fried)
• Remember/use: the word noctuary
• Quote: Jane Austen in letter to sister Cassandra: “I hate tiny parties. They force one into constant exertion.”
• Quote: “God is not stoic.” Jack Miles
• Quote: “…the way the color sat…” Julian Schnabel
• Quote: “Hanging on to dreams is like trying to eat a smell.” Robert Coover
•Quote: “Go ahead, Lilly. Buy a sable coat.” Dashiell Hammett
• Character names: Tick. Adabelle. Jaybird. Pess Kight.
• Title: Bugs and Adultery
• Title: The Likelys
• Title: Vic Did His Best, But
• Spam email received, subject line: your life is to (sic) empty try our drugs
• Fact: Highway Act of 1956 funded 42,000 miles of interstate highway
• A thought: Historical characters are by necessity caricatures to us.
• A thought: Irony requires funding.
In 2013, I seemed to have gone on a (by and about) Lady Caroline Blackwood binge (For All That I Found There, The Stepdaughter, Great Granny Webster, The Fate of Mary Rose, Nancy Schoenberger’s Dangerous Muse, Ivana Lowell’s Why Not Say What Happened?). Followed by a Janet Malcolm binge. Followed by an Alan Dugan (rereading) binge. Followed by a Margery Allingham binge. Followed by a Sam Shepard binge. Among the year’s one-off reading pleasures: Claire Vaye Watkins’s Battleborn, David Canter’s Forensic Psychology, Carmen Bugan’s Burying the Typewriter and Philip K. Dick’s classic Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said.
And because I haven’t broken free of my Russian obsession—even though my novel For You, Madam Lenin is finished and published—I read Bertrand Patenaude’s Stalin’s Nemesis: The Exile and Murder of Leon Trotsky. And because a Los Angeles road trip was in the works, I hastened to finish a Ross Macdonald biography that included several of the author’s Santa Barbara addresses which I loaded into the car’s GPS for a bit of literary touristing along the way. And because as an insomniac I am a sucker for any title that aligns itself with my malaise, I read Jacqueline Rose’s On Not Being Able To Sleep: Psychoanalysis in the Modern World.
Best of the best part of my end-of-year assemblage, though, is my find it/buy it/read it note pile. The mere sight of all those titles-a-waiting puts me in a celebratory mood. If I have those volumes to look forward to, how awful can 2014 turn out to be?
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