Missives from back pages and ones closer to the front

At the risk of this becoming another entry in a genre I continually declare to relinquish forever, that being of the blog post centered on the problem of my lack of writing, I wish to write for just a little bit on my lack of writing.

Rather, I want to just try something new, specifically my latest attempt to just write something without it needing to be something good or something clearly functional. Although I have more than enough ideas to write five such posts a week, well… I’m not writing them. So here we go, a little miscellany of ideas from my brain to keep this poor little blog alive in attention and imaginary pennies for another day.

This is at least partly, by the by, influenced by my reading quite some time ago now of Nick Hornby’s The Polysyllabic Spree, comfortably my favourite thing of anything he has written, a collection of articles he wrote one year on the things he was reading. I have recently somehow found the time to read beyond the boundaries of the classes I am teaching this semester, and I have thoughts on such things, with many blog posts planned. Planned but not written. I’ve always liked the idea of writing about my reading, if only because it will in theory force me to read more. So for now, allow me to share:

    • I read Neuromancer! Why the exclamation mark, you may ask? I, like many people who read, have a pretty significant backlog of books that I have bought with every intention of reading (or in the case of Dickens re-reading) but have not. My success not just in beginning Neuromancer but actually finishing it is thus extremely rewarding, or at least creates associative feelings of such achievement in my brain.

 

    • I liked Neuromancer! Why the exclama… I did that bit already. Actually, I was not at all sure I would like Neuromancer after a couple of pages, and was if anything less sure sixty pages later. It did just enough to keep me, though (I am an extraordinarily willful and fickle reader these days, shorn of all guilt by fatherhood, work and other important things) and by the time I finished it I was very happy indeed.

 

    • I was particularly struck by elements of the novel that are noticeably cliched in a 2017 context but of course were not in 1984, largely thanks to William Gibson’s success in foreseeing our use of virtual space (or cyberspace, to use Gibson’s word) and his immense influence on so much work to follow, particularly in the cyberpunk genre which he basically invented. Or helped invent. It was intriguing how quickly I recognized my initial frustration at cliche as anachronistic and embraced the tropes: trenchcoats, mirrored glasses and cosmically spiritual Rastafarians are quite enjoyable when you instruct your brain to forget they’ve been done a million times and worse. I would strongly recommend Neuromancer though because it has a lot more going for it besides. A couple of Gibson’s characters have been tried since but with far less success.

 

    • I put Neuromancer down, picked up The Crying of Lot 49, another backlog book, feeling I was on a roll, but never actually started it and got into Infinite Jest instead. I’ve owned Infinite Jest for years, and it’s funny, as for a very long time I read nothing out of an astonishingly elevated and rather misinformed sense of dedication to literary snobbery, which involved rejecting all modern literary fiction, at least written during my lifetime. I know, I know. Ridiculous. I do still have somewhat of an issue with pretentious literature. I was pleased to find that the first fifteen pages of Infinite Jest are nowhere near as pretentious as I worried they might be, and were actually not as pretentious as the book’s introduction by another author who will here, at least, remain nameless. I can see why the book is so popular with literary types though. Even early on it really is extraordinarily impressive, and Wallace writes with confidence and a genuine sense of fun, though that seems lost quickly in all the things he does that impress everyone so.

 

    • I’m not sure how long I’ll stick with Infinite Jest. I’m already thinking of dipping in and out every month or two but I don’t trust my memory enough. I might pop into Dave Eggers’ The Circle, which has sat on my bookshelf for months now but has never tempted me. Recent trailers of the upcoming film have alerted me to the fact The Circle features a nefarious character several people, including Tom Hanks, later decided should be played by Tom Hanks in a film adaptation. This merits some form of revisiting, and given the trailer gives off a distinct “Weren’t those Da Vinci Code movies a BLAST?” vibe, a rather important tweaking of one’s expectations. Or reductions of one’s biases and preconceptions, fair or otherwise.

 

    • Finally, all this reading has put me in the mood to write, which is great fun, and brings up an old problem, which is the consistent concern and self-correctives over my tendency to write a little differently once I’ve been reading with a decent rate of regularity. Am I writing more confidently, more adventurously, or more pretentiously? All three? Should I care? The short answer is no, as I think the longer answer is also, but all the work in between the two is more interesting to me than to you, and so I think I’ll call it a day.

 

John

John is an assistant professor of History at Centre College. He is fascinated by the development of modern popular sport and the evolution of video games within modern popular culture.