Without doubt this has been the most troubled, chaotic and discontinuous blogging year I have ever had. And yet at the same time, it’s been one of the best ones for reading and writing. This post was initially destined for the books I couldn’t finish and/or didn’t like, and I abandoned that idea for lack of material. There were no books I put down halfway through and none that I struggled through, cursing. Only one book was a real disappointment to me, and that remains a bit unmentionable because it carries an endorsement from this blog on the front cover. It was by an author I usually appreciate; the publishers asked if I could let them have a quote, and I was delighted to oblige. But then when I read it, I liked it least of all the books I’d read by the author (although it still wasn’t a bad book by any means). Caught on the horns of an unusual dilemma, I have kept quiet about it, and will indeed say no more. But this little blip aside, I’ve read some wonderful novels and non-fiction works, and enjoyed pretty much everything on the list.
Blogging, though, has been a vexed arena. Generally, I like to have a vague plan for what I’m going to concentrate on in my blogging, and when the year began I was thinking that I should go back to my academic roots, given that I wasn’t writing much academically at that point. So I set off in January with a series of reading workshops and posts about literary critics, and when I hit a wave of blockbuster novels in February and March I tried to write about them in an intellectual way. But the strategy wasn’t really working for me; I had moved away from academic writing because it wasn’t scratching an itch and it continued not to do so. In fact, looking back over this year, I think it must be the first in which I have written more personal posts than bookish ones. There has been a notably bigger audience for them in the blogworld, and I felt more motivated to write them.
At the same time, I was working steadily on my non-fiction book, and finding it hard to sustain two voices. The book was proving very pleasurable and taking up more and more of my focus and energy. Plus, there’s a huge difference between writing for a 1,000 word blog post, and writing for an 80,000 word book. The rhythm is all different, the perspective is altered, what you can and can’t do changes. I was finding it hard to switch back and forth, and to muster enthusiasm for writing book reviews when my heart wasn’t in them. Here’s something about blogging: if you’re not enjoying it, it shows. My audience was dropping off rapidly because I wasn’t posting regularly, and I expect the oomph had gone. At the beginning of May, I decided to take an extended break from posting to put all my efforts into finishing the book. I felt really sad about that, but at the same time, relieved. I’ve never got much out of doing things if I don’t feel I’m doing them well.
And then I had an unusually emotional summer. Writing about chronic fatigue was far tougher than I ever imagined it would be, my cat died, I ended up feeling poorly and suffering from social anxiety. I felt like I’d taken myself apart for the sake of writing and needed to put myself back together again. I returned to the blog to talk about all of this and, as usual, you, dear blogging friends showed yourselves to be consistently supportive, sympathetic and insightful. Really, there is nothing like pouring your heart out in a blog post and then finding a swarm of comments coming back that encourage and enlighten and amuse and sustain. I thank you for that with all my heart. I figured you might have to put up with me writing substandard book reviews, as the community here is one I find I can’t do without.
So September I was back in the blogging seat, starting to post more regularly again and I’ve been here ever since, getting back into the swing of writing about books. But there’s been a fair amount of writing about writing about books, too, as well as posts concerning ebooks and the publishing market generally. The biggest effect that ebooks have had on me is to lift the final restraint on my book buying. As an effect, this ought not to be underestimated. I’m stockpiling now, shamelessly, and Mister Litlove is going around looking a bit grim and tight-lipped at the piles of books about the place. In the wider world, ebooks have been the last straw to break the back of a troubled industry. I still maintain that ebooks make a wonderful supplement to reading and a terrible substitute for the book, but I guess we’ll see what happens eventually, when the dust has settled. But I have no illusions about the difficulty of getting into publishing at present, and it seems to me that the audience I have here is the best one I am ever likely to get. Time and again I find that the people who stop by here distinguish themselves by being not just smart and responsive, but by possessing properly open, questing minds. Where else am I going to find readers like that?
I’m still not sure what I want to do with this blog, and because I don’t have a big plan at the moment, I find I’m a bit insecure about my writing on it, not always sure what’s working. And then, we’ve just been through a big shake-up in tertiary education, with an 80-100% cut to funding in arts and humanities, and this after years and years of steady attrition of the budgets. It’s going to become ever harder for people to learn about the arts now, and a diminishing place of study. I have all this experience in teaching literature; surely there must be something I can do with it, here in an open, easy access arena? But I don’t have any particularly bright ideas at this precise moment. So, next year has no plan at all attached to it; I’m going to just keep on reading and writing about my reading and seeing what happens. Hopefully something worthwhile will emerge. I thank all my readers for sticking with the blog this year, despite its trials and tribulations, and send you my warmest, most hopeful wishes for 2011 – may it be full of creativity, pleasure and insight.