Why can’t I write about books?

by f

Photo by Patrick Gage. via Flickr/Commons.

I have a serious problem. I can’t write about books.

It might not be unfortunate if I weren’t such a prolific reader. But I am. I read at least two to three books a day. I do my work from a library. And not in just any library. Mine is one of the nicest in the state. (The library I go to, I mean. My own town library is a piece of shit. No, really. I don’t know where my obscene property taxes go. It’s crap.)

Books helped me survive my adolescence. I’ve written about it before, but it’s true and bears repeating. I would not be here if I had not been a reader. Literature has enriched me beyond anything I can express. Perhaps this is my problem. For me, books have always fallen under category of Things I Don’t Talk About. Others are always willing to discuss books. I am afraid to talk about them and I feel vulnerable when I do.

When Blogger became a popular blogging platform, I started a book blog. D, whose excellent book review site had already been live for years, served as an inspiration to me. She writes well and wittily on a wide variety of literature. I’d link to it if not for the identification issue.

For inspiration, I turned to my fellow book reviewers. Each time I saw a piece discussing a book I’d already finished, I made notes. Did I disagree? Could I write a better review? What did the person miss? With my critical eye out, I read, dissected, and then decided I would neatly avoid the traps others laid for themselves. I could write the great American Book Review.

Could I?

I started out reviewing books with a great deal of enthusiasm. I was flush with ideas. My favorite book The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, would get a multi part treatment and analysis. It was a book I fell in love with from the very first cursed paragraph. It was a love letter to all the places Diaz knew and loved. Coincidentally, I loved some of his settings as well. I wanted my review to be free from sterile summary. This book meant something to me, and I wanted to write about that.

But from the very beginning I always found myself lacking. I wasn’t being true to what I thought of the book, I realized. So I tried to be true to myself. This resulted in a lot of posts so obnoxiously long I could not finish them. I suffered from my old, deepest problem. I had too much to say, but I just could not organize my thoughts.

After a constipated series of stops and starts, I just gave up.

For people who think organization is an easy skill to acquire, it’s not. Not in writing, and not in life. I am a lifelong sufferer of profound disorganization. It’s just not easy for me to sort things, and, if I have — usually with a LOT of help — it’s hard for me to stick to a system. I can hardly stay focused. And though I start with a lot of enthusiasm, I’m like the “jizz in my pants” crew. I get my high from the setup. Not so much from the follow-though. It frustrates me because I know that success has more to do with organization and perseverance than raw intelligence.

But the idea of blogging about books just wouldn’t die. So I tried and tried to do it. Each post I wrote gave me so much grief I abandoned it after a few deeply unsatisfying paragraphs. The posts I did finish, I hated. I hated them so much I couldn’t even look at them. I wasn’t capable of expression. My writing was always inexact. When I read my reviews out loud to myself, I felt as though I was reading the work of an untalented alien. The insidious voice in the back of my skull kept me begging to stop. I could only get hurt if I continued.

For the past year, D has been encouraging me to send a couple of review samples to a blog she writes for. It’s an amazing blog. Its contributors are incredibly talented. I love what they review. I get a small, jealous twinge each time D reviews a book that I might have liked to talk about. But when I try to write a review on my own, I can’t. I have a thousand samples sitting on both this computer and on my old laptop. Those fragments will stay there and rot to death. They don’t say — can never express — what I truly feel about reading.

I realize how depressing and self-defeating this sounds. I have already said that I can’t. Doesn’t that mean that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy? Perhaps. But I have tried, and it is so upsetting to see how my ideas just cannot come together. How I feel nothing for what I write about literature.

D, and at least a thousand other people, have continued to ask me to write. My mother just jumped on the blog bandwagon yesterday. “I don’t see why you can’t start a blog,” she said, “I’ve never seen anyone read as much as you do.”

I know that there has to be something better than this sense of inadequacy. When I write fiction, I feel invincible. Time melts. I am transported. But when I write reviews, I drag my heart through my mouth. For some inexplicable reason, I cannot let go.

3 Comments to “Why can’t I write about books?”

  1. Such an honest piece. My dear, you have performance anxiety! Fear not, my love, your pen is long and hard and glistening… ahem.

    I’ve made suggestions already, but on reading this a new one has occurred to me. Why not write only about the truly terrible books you read? You consume an awful lot of them along with the good. Start F’s Super Shitty Book Review. Eviscerate them. Mock them. Parody them. But take the pressure off yourself to be profound, to communicate your deep and enduring love of reading. You will find a way to express it one day, but now is clearly not the time.

    You did write something for me about some terrible romance I’d read. Steal your mother’s Mills & Boons and have at!

  2. I have quite a similar problem, F! But, you (along with others) have inspired to want to try harder, anyway! I think D’s suggestion was a good one. Once you get used to reviewing the shitty books, and getting used to the reviewing process and gain more confidence in what you say, you can eventually move on to the sorts of reviews you really want to give. Perhaps it will take a while, but the time WILL come.

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