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Rounding the Next Turn

In 2022 I was thinking seriously about ending this blog. Then I realized that if I kept it going through 2023 it would have run for exactly twenty years, a nice round multiple of ten. (You can read the very first post, from January 4, 2004, here.) I liked that idea, and decided to give it one more year. (I don't recall mentioning that here, but I may have.) So all through the past year I've been seeing December 31, 2023, as the end of the line.

And I was looking forward to it. I was, I am, tired of the almost-constant sense that I need to be preparing the next post. The Total Posts number below sheds some light on that: over twenty years, it's an average of more than three posts every week. 

BlogStatsNotice the daily pageview average. That's not very many, compared to even moderately popular blogs, which get, I think (based on hearsay), several thousand views a day. Hundreds, anyway. And judging by the individual page stats, a majority of the visits are pretty random searches for something for which Google happened to turn up something here. For instance, back in 2012 I did a post called "Getting Started With Kierkegaard." For years afterward that post would get several hits per day from Google. It still shows up in the first page of Google results when you search for that phrase, which is a bit surprising because all the post does is ask for recommendations. I can't be sure, but my guess is that there are no more than a few dozen people, perhaps a hundred, who read the blog regularly. It never caught on in the way that some blogs did back in that heyday of blogging, before Facebook et.al. shoved it aside and made it somewhat unfashionable.

But though the Kierkegaard post itself doesn't contain any recommendations, there are some good ones in the comments. And notice the number of comments. That comes to an average of around eleven per post. And that's far lower than the actual number, because the first five or six years of the blog were the most active for commenting, and all those comments were lost when I had to move the blog from Blogger to Typepad, which I think was in 2010. It was unfortunate, and I'm sorry now that I didn't make more of an effort to convert the comments, or at least put them into some kind of archive, because there were some very good conversations there. I remember in particular a long one about Brideshead Revisited, and another about Ayn Rand, which I think was the record-holder for quantity, running over three hundred, if I remember correctly. Apparently the post, which was negative to say the least ("Ayn Rand, Crank"), had attracted the attention of some objectivists, and a vigorous discussion ensued. 

Those conversations have been one of the reasons I continued the blog as long as I have. I only have a few people in my physical vicinity with whom I can talk about the things I like to talk about, so the blog has provided a bit of social and intellectual life, albeit disembodied, that I would not otherwise have had. And it was more than just enjoyable--I have often been informed and challenged by it. At some point in the past ten years or so the amount of conversation declined, which I think, or at least speculate, was in part because of that general displacement of blogging. Or maybe what I was writing just wasn't as interesting. At any rate, that incentive for continuing wasn't quite as strong as it had been.

And though I don't like admitting it to myself I don't have as much energy as I did. I was in my mid-fifties when I started the blog, and am now past the biblical three-score-and-ten expectation for a reasonable lifespan. For the first twelve of those twenty years I was working full-time, and a pretty heavy part-time for another two or three. Yet I wrote some things which I think were reasonably well-thought and well-crafted, and still worth reading, and now I wonder how I did it, as it seems to take more effort now to write anything more than a very casual piece, though I have much more free time (I still put in a few hours on my old job). Words don't seem to flow as readily as they used to. Also, I have some other writing projects that I want to pursue, and have found that the constant need for a new blog post is pretty distracting. 

So my decision was pretty firm, and I had made mental notes for a goodbye post. But then around the end of November I resumed work on that Rilke post, which I had begun and abandoned months ago. And I really enjoyed doing it, and though it's hardly an important contribution to the literary world I felt a sense of accomplishment, which, unlike actual writing, is entirely pleasant. 

My resolution wavered. I realized that I would always want to write that sort of thing, and had no reasonable expectation of being able to publish it anywhere else. I'm in fact a compulsive writer. Light On Dark Water began as an outlet for that compulsion (and as a work-related exercise in learning the basics of HTML etc.). It was not originally a blog, just a static hand-coded web site, which I transferred to the Blogger platform in 2006. When I first set it up I included a tongue-in-cheek FAQ in the form of a self-interview (thanks, Walker Percy):

Why are you doing this?

—What?

Putting odds and ends of your writing on the web.

—Oh. Well, on Halloween 2003, a teenaged surfing star named Bethany Hamilton had her arm bitten off by a shark. Several weeks later, when asked if she would return to surfing, she said, “If I don't get back on my board, I'll be in a bad mood forever.”

Bethany Hamilton is now in her thirties and did in fact continue her surfing career; you can read about her on Wikipedia. And I appreciate the inspiration she gave me, which I suppose might surprise her. 

I knew I would still feel something of that bad mood if I gave up the blog. And I would certainly miss the conversation, even if there is less than there once was. As my resolution continued to waver over the past month or so, I remembered that initial sense of compulsion. I continued to change my mind right up until yesterday (I am also pathologically indecisive), when the encouragement of a friend finally tipped the balance in favor of continuing. 

But with a difference: I intend to write only about books and music. No more politics, no more analyzing and lamenting the apparently irreversible decline of our civilization--and even as I type those words I'm fighting the almost-overwhelming urge to go off into remarks about the nature of that decline and the possible destinations toward which our progress is taking us. No more mockery of ridiculous headlines, no more brief posts about this or that odd or amusing item, or complaints about broccoli. No more Church stuff, though the faith will necessarily be present in what I write. I will miss those, but I think giving them up is necessary. Sometime within the next week or so, if I can figure out a good way to do it, I'll add a subtitle to the blog's name: "A Journal of Reading and Listening." And that's what it's going to be, until I either change my mind or stop blogging altogether. 

Now, see, if I were a better writer I would probably not have blathered on like this, to the extent of 1300 words. But I want to post it today, at the beginning of the year, and I don't have time to revise it more carefully because I have to watch Alabama vs. Michigan an hour from now. So thank you for reading this far, and please continue to visit. And converse.

And Happy New Year.

Comments

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Happy New Year to you as well, Maclin.

I'm one of those who doesn't comment as much now as I used to. For me it's because of personal circumstances: less time, and in particular less time at a keyboard.

I'm glad you'll continue. My own blog gets fewer views than yours, and far fewer comments, and over the years my writing has narrowed in focus to be almost entirely about things I'm reading. For me, writing such things is, in itself, rewarding, and I'd continue to do it even if nobody at all was reading. Welcome to the club?

Thank you.

I have to admit that I've gotten behind on your blog, in large part because when I read things online I'm very easily distracted and waste a lot of time on ephemeral stuff, often of a sky-is-falling nature, and have trouble concentrating on more substantial things. But the truth is I think you do a better job than I do of writing mainly about books, not to mention music and film (which I have mostly abandoned). And your program of reading is admirable. I don't know how you do it all with a young family and a job. I think you'll find, years from now, that you have quite a collection of fine work that your family, at least, will enjoy.

Others reading this, if you don't know Craig's blog, click on his name in his comment. You won't be sorry.

I guess I'll have to go elsewhere for election year commentary.

I'm afraid so. Aside from what I said in this post, another reason why I need to give up writing about all that stuff is that it's eating me up.

Well, good. You will get rid of the stuff I don't read and keep the books, so that suits me fine.

I think Craig really put his finger on one of the main reasons that blogs in general get less attention now. I don't open my laptop very often anymore because I do so much of what I used to use it for on my phone. And, even if I see something I want to comment on here, I don't want to try to write anything very long on my phone. I am sure that is true for a lot of people.

BTW, Craig, I do still read your blog fairly often. I was wondering the other day how many children you have now.

AMDG

Maclin, I think about that Brideshead conversation all the time.

I am always thinking, "I want to write something about these books I've been reading," but then I never get around to opening my laptop, and I forget what I was going to write. I would probably be writing for no one, but I think that would be okay. Maybe not.

AMDG

It would definitely be okay. I mean, you might not feel okay, but in itself it would be a good thing. Thinking tends to produce writing, but it also works the other way around.

I regret to say that I don't remember very much of that conversation. Another reason to regret that I didn't keep it. I couldn't find a way to connect those comments to the blog, but surely I could have at least dumped them all into a text file.

I keep beginning to type something and it gets out of hand quickly (as in too many words that no one cares about). Therefore, I'll just say that I think that is a great decision, Mac! I enjoy the books and music much more than the doom and gloom stuff.
To Janet's comment about writing something about books you read, I was recently watching one of the BookTubers I enjoy and he was saying that was one of his ways to remember specifics of books you have read.
The 52 Authors year was really fun.
I recently completed Dombey and Son by Dickens. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys Victorian literature.
Happy New Year!

Only 6, Janet. The little ones are now 3 years old. Today they are vomiting, but usually they are really sweet.

Stu, I agree that writing about books is a great way to remember things about them. For myself, it's my main way of thinking through the things I read. And when I forget the details, or even the main points, I can go back and refresh my memory from my notes!

Happy new year, Maclin!
I am glad you will keep writing, and the limits you have set seem wise to me. It's a kind of decluttering of time and attention (both yours and your readers'), and that feels more and more important as I get older.

Thanks, Anne-Marie.

Stu, I'm considering Dombey and Son, though I really wanted to read Bleak House again. So maybe D&S first. When I finish the current Wodehouse.

Some literary critic, maybe Joseph Epstein, said when he reads he's always equipped with pencil and notebook. I thought that was a good idea but it's too physically inconvenient.

Yeah, the 52 Authors (et al) thing was a lot of fun. As were the other 52 Things. Those posts are frequently among the Google hits I described. Rumer Godden got one a couple of hours ago.

My sympathy on the vomiting children, Craig! Those were...um...those days.

Good turn, Mac. I like the book and music stuff, and feel like I need to cut back on the culture and politics as well. Read an essay by V.S. Pritchett the other day on turning 80, and he said that old people ought not watch the news, as it has the tendency to make then angry, even causing feelings of "sadistic vengeance." I see his point and I'm not really even "old" yet.

I'm reading Bleak House now and so far, while enjoying it somewhat, I'm not liking it as much as some of the other Dickens I've read. I am less than 1/4 of the way in though, so that may change once the plot becomes more apparent. So far it seems like a good deal of preparatory material.

Did anyone see this giant Austrian novel that Wiseblood has just reprinted? 'The Demons' by Heimito von Doderer. 1,600 pages in two volumes. I must say I'm tempted, as it seems pretty intriguing, but I'm going to get an older copy from the library and have a look-see first. I want to check it out style-wise before I invest in something that sizable.

"I don't open my laptop very often anymore because I do so much of what I used to use it for on my phone."

My answer to that is to not have a phone. LOL. I long ago decided that I will not get one until they're the only option (I've had a dumb phone for almost 20 years, but never a "smart" phone).

I meant to respond to Janet's remark about phones. I do have an iPhone but I really hate reading on it, mainly because the screen is so small. So I still do most of my (too much) online reading on a computer. Not having a smart phone is a good idea.

It would take a lot to convince me to read a 1600-page novel by a previously unknown (to me) author.

Pritchett is right about the news, including "sadistic vengeance." Can't remember whether I mentioned it or not, but I finally gave in to what I regarded as temptation and subscribed to Dreher's Substack. That makes the syndrome worse in some ways (which is why I resisted), but I find that it actually helped to reduce the impulse to write about all that stuff. My irrational motivation always had a big component of "people need to know about this!". Well, Dreher is doing far more in that respect than I ever could.

I read Bleak House in my 20s and don't really remember why I liked it so much. I have some sense of the plot but that may be due as much to the BBC dramatization as to memory.;

Here's something Stu pointed out to me a few weeks ago which might be of interest to you, Rob, or anyone else reading Dickens. It's a "readalong" of Dickens's novels. I'm not entirely sure what that means--basically an online book club, I guess. The current book is Bleak House. Here's a link to the first installment:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjJvWIhjFw0

I thought I might be interested in this but I'm afraid I find the young English woman who does the videos somewhat annoying. Her voice is kind of abrasive to my ears and she talks at a frantic rate. But others may not react that way.

LOL Mac, that was my first response to Katie Lumsden also, but now I have gotten used to her and watched untold numbers of those videos. I also purchased her book to read. So I guess I'm something of a fan. I am always surprised when people are so interested in classic literature and it is inspiring to me. She seems to have read each Dickens novel multiple times; and when I say multiple not like three but more like 5, 6, or 7 times!
I enjoyed Bleak House, and probably read it (only once) six or seven years ago. It is notable for having first person narration by Esther Summerson and also third person narration for the rest, I suppose when she is not in the action. About equal parts of each. My mentor Katie Lumsden points out that Great Expectations and David Copperfield are the only Dickens novels entirely told in the first person, and that while this makes them "easier" to read and very enjoyable, she feels that you have a richer experience with many of his other books that are omniscient and able to give the reader a broader view. BTW her two favorites are 1) Our Mutual Friend, and 2) Dombey and Son.

It's wonderful that she loves the literature, definitely. If she would even talk a bit slower and/or lower, or just generally not seem hyperactive....

It's become very clear to me over the past 10-20 years that I'm a slow reader. I used to think I was a fast reader. I don't know if I've gotten slower or just always was slow compared to really smart people, and just didn't know it. Katie Lumsden doesn't appear to be over 30 and yet she's already read all of Dickens more than once?!?

I probably got my notion that I was a fast reader from being (apparently) the fastest in a class of twenty or so people in a rural school ca 1960. :-)

I have a similar experience, Mac. I seem to be a faster reader than the "average" person, but I'm not a fast reader generally speaking. For as long as I have kept track of my reading (i.e., the last 30 yrs. or so) I've read on average about 50 books a year, give or take. This has gone up or down slightly depending on the events of a given year, but from what I can tell it has never gone above 60 or been less than 45. And my reading time per day hasn't varied much either; if anything it has gone down, now that the internet has become a distraction. I imagine my reading time averages one to one-and-a-half hours a day, every day. I should note that I read slowly intentionally -- I could read faster but I don't, because I don't want to miss things.

I know a guy who, when watching movies, fast-forwards through the "slow" parts. Personally, I think that's just dumb, because how can you know you won't miss something vital? Right or wrong, that's kind of the way I look at fast reading.

I never aspired to be fast, it just seemed that way. Not that there were any contests in school, but it seemed that I generally finished reading things more quickly than others.

I started keeping track of my book-reading a few years ago and I think the max has been thirty or so. I doubt that I consistently manage as much as an hour and a half a day of *book* reading, but probably twice that for all reading, including internet and magazines. I spend a lot of time on the latter, and generally have a compulsion to read every word, so that adds up to a few books a year.

I'm trying to break that compulsion. I started by skimming or even skipping altogether Jay Nordlinger's concert reviews in The New Criterion. I mean, what is the point of reading reviews of performances by artists I'll never hear live? For that matter, what is the point of even writing them for an audience outside New York? I've gone from finding them interesting to finding them boring to finding them annoying.

Of course probably at least 80% of the internet reading is a waste of time. I'm really trying to cut back on that.

Yeah, I'd be reading much more if I didn't waste so much time on the internet.

Dombey and Son is great. I'm only about 100 pages in, long way to go yet.

Close to the 200 page mark in Bleak House, and things have picked up significantly. Dickens' concern for the poor is really coming through in this one!

And his disdain for the rich in this one.

Both are great books!

I have yet to be disappointed by a Dickens novel, and I've read all but four or five of them.

I guess I've read about a third and would certainly say the same.

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