Looking ahead (2011 & Beyond the Infinite)

This is the view from my window.  Notice the old, dessicated oak tree struggling for life alongside our big maple.  It’s a “witch tree”, all right, look at it.  Entangled in the strangling roots of its neighbor but somehow surviving, year after year.

Cold this morning, with a nut-cutting wind chill.  A good day to stay inside, build a fire and read.  Yesterday, I finished the new Lee Child novel, Worth Dying For, in about five hours.  Just tore through it.  Give Child credit, he’s got a sweet franchise going.  Sometimes his “Jack Reacher” novels are suspenseful, sometimes they slip into formula.  Reacher the unstoppable superman (yawn).  This one is better.  The story hums along and there are good supporting players.

January 1st, if you recall, I start my “100 Book Challenge”.  I’ve already set aside 18 first-rate tomes, fiction and non-fiction, that I’m hoping will get me going, build up some momentum that will carry me through the year.  These include some of the smashing great books Sherron, er, Mrs. Santa left under the tree for me.  Stuff I’ve wanted to read for ages.  Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet, Jim Shepard’s Love and Hydrogen, Ken Kalfus’s first short story collection, Thirst,  and Huston Smith’s autobiography, Tales of Wonder.

I’ll be spending most of the next two days finishing my year-end cleanup.  A ritual that goes back many years.  Remove all material related to last year’s projects and prepare for new work.  New Year’s Eve, sometimes pretty close to midnight, I clean and vacuum the crappy old carpet in my office and that’s it:  I’m ready for whatever comes.

I know, my family thinks it’s weird too.

And there are my resolutions to prepare, a roster of promises I try very hard to keep (and usually end up batting around .500).  Then I write out a list of “pending projects”, big and small jobs I’d like to focus on in the coming year.  Need to straighten up in the basement too; the workbench overflowing with crap that has to be put away (or shit-canned).

I find I’m feeling pretty good as 2010 draws to an end.  Two books released this year, a number of solid shorter efforts…plus there’s the music I’ve created with Garageband, two disks of weird ambient tunes that still make me smile.  I’ve discovered I love noodling around and experimenting with different media—Sherron has infected me with her belief that making art shouldn’t always be work, there can also be an element of play involved.  In 2011, I want to do some photography, stills and short videos.  Sometimes I get tired of working exclusively with words and need a break.  A chance to explore non-verbal, non-narrative concepts.  I’ve even tried my hand at painting.  I hope to do more visual experiments in 2011 (and beyond).

But the main focus, of course, continues to be improving as a writer, growing and developing,  moving the bar ever higher with each book or story I take on.  I’m certain the “100 Book Challenge” will introduce me to different influences/perspectives and it will be interesting to see how that affects my work.  God, wouldn’t it be wonderful if I started writing more like Italo Calvino or with the ferocity and power of a Celine?

Er, I forgot.  Louis Ferdinand Celine’s not exactly a popular figure these days.  Very difficult to find his work.  Awful man…but even Beckett  admired his writing and those two were miles apart, ideologically speaking.  Celine’s malign nature is as undeniable as his genius.  They probably went hand in hand.  But anyone who denies themselves the opportunity to read Death on the Installment Plan or Journey to the End of the Night because of his personal failings (however despicable) is missing out on some of the finest writing of the 20th century.

All that said, the first book I’ll likely tackle in the New Year is Michael Palin’s Halfway to Hollywood: Diaries 1980-88.  A volume I can zip through in less than a day.  Something fast and breezy and fun to get me started.

And then only 99 more to go…


  1. driftlessareareview

    Celine was a contemptible bastard, ideologically speaking. I’m reading “Death on the Installment Plan” right now. Wonderful stuff. Not to be missed. The great thing about Celine is its use of informal slangy language. The polar opposite of the polished affectation of Henry James or Marcel Proust. This is the poetry of the lower middle class in all its violence, vulgarity, persecution manias, and absurdity.

    While I’m not doing any 100 Book Challenge, I do have some writers I want to get into. The “It” Authors Who Met Untimely Early Deaths: Thomas Bernhard and Roberto Bolano. I want to read “Against the Day.” Reward myself once I finish Ayn Rand’s turd-screed “Atlas Shrugged.” Reread “Naked Lunch” and “Paradise Lost.” Try out some more William Blake. All while tackling the piles of review copies keeping me company.

  2. Rob

    Here’s five of my favourite reads from 2010 – won’t go wrong adding them to your list:

    Shiva Naipaul: ‘Fireflies’. (Incredible the little brother of Sir Vidia wrote this before he was 30; horrible he died so young.)

    Flannery O’Connor: ‘The Complete Stories’. (First read about a decade ago, but cracked again last year – dare I say much better than Faulkner and Welty as far as southern gothic lit goes?)

    Milan Kundera: ‘Life is Elsewhere’. (Read the later ones before this, but this earlier one is gold.)

    Salman Rushdie: ‘Shame’. (Strange this is so underrated compared to the two giant novels.)

    Martin Amis: ‘House of Meetings’. (For a great non-fiction go this year, try ‘Everyday Drinking’ by father Kinglsey, as handsomely re-issued with the help of the Hitch in 2008.)

    Keep up the great stuff this year – all the best, Cliff.


  3. Cliff Burns

    Excellent reading selections. Your tastes are first rate. Let’s ALL vow to do more reading in 2011, shall we? Turn off your terminals, your cable TV…and grow some brain cells. Thanks for dropping in, kid.

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