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.
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.